Places: Jude the Obscure

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1895

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Philosophical realism

Time of work: Nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Wessex

*Wessex. Jude the ObscureFictional region of England in which Thomas Hardy set most of his major novels. It is situated east of the Cornish coast, between the River Thames and the English Channel. There, Hardy freely constructs a partly real and partly fictional locale to accommodate a series of “local” novels, including Far from the Madding Crowd (1874). The countryside in many ways resembles that of southwestern England–rolling hills, babbling brooks, quaint villages, and rustic rural folk.


Marygreen. Jude’s hometown village in Wessex, where he is reared by his aunt. Marygreen’s landscape is idyllic and contrasts with the coarseness of its working-class population, as represented by Arabella’s family. Jude is initiated into adulthood in Marygreen; he learns a work ethic and experiences the temptation of fleshly desires. Here he marries Arabella and gives up his dreams of pursuing an education. This town is set in opposition to the university town of Christminster, which Jude views as an enlightened place of learning. This village is based on Great Fawley, Berkshire, where some of Hardy’s ancestors are buried and where his grandmother lived. Jude’s surname is taken from this place.


Christminster. University city. Christminster represents a typical university institution of the nineteenth century. It professes Christian values of humility and generosity yet excludes applicants based on class and gender. Jude moves to Christminster after his failed marriage to Arabella. However, Christminster will not accept him because he is a stonemason and therefore part of the working class. Even though Jude is intelligent and has studied independently, his application is rejected. Thus the city represents the belittling attitude of the Victorian upper classes toward the lower classes. Here, too, Jude meets his cousin, Sue Bridehead. Sue’s intellectuality is also dismissed at Christminster because she is a woman. At the end of the novel Jude returns to Christminster to die a broken man still enamored of the city’s beautiful spires and colleges. This town is modeled on Oxford with its many colleges and exclusive intellectual atmosphere. Hardy identifies particular places in Christminster as real places in Oxford: The meeting place of Jude and Sue is the cross in the pavement on Broad Street (the cross marks the place where Protestant bishops were burned to death during the reign of Queen Mary); Cardinal College is modeled on Christ Church College; St. Silas is inspired by St. Barnabus.


Melchester. Village to which Jude follows Sue after his failed attempt at Christminster. Here Sue and Jude finally recognize their love for each another and its dangers. When Sue is expelled from the teachers’ college after an innocent, all-night escapade with Jude, she redeems herself in the eyes of Melchester society by marrying Phillotson. Thus Melchester represents Victorian society’s rigid social standards for women, which inhibit Sue from acting independently. Melchester is a city found in several of Hardy’s Wessex novels and represents Salisbury, Wiltshire, with its well-known Salisbury Cathedral and Anglican religious foundation.


Shaston. Village modeled after Shaftesbury in Dorset that Hardy uses as the backdrop for Jude and Sue’s troubled reunion. When Phillotson and Sue settle in this city in southern Wessex, where they teach together, she realizes that she has betrayed herself and can no longer stay with Phillotson. Sue and Jude reunite, and breaking all conventions for marriage standards, Phillotson reluctantly gives his blessing for their future. Because Shaston is a peculiar mixture of permanence in Gothic churches and unpredictability in itinerant workers, it becomes an appropriate symbol for Jude and Sue’s relationship. Always struggling against society’s expectations for marriage, they are unable to preserve their unique relationship.


Aldbrickham. This city symbolizes Jude and Sue’s final downfall. Jude and Sue move to Aldbrickham to escape criticism and pose as a married couple, while Jude works repairing and creating ornamental Gothic architectural works. They further their deception by creating a family-like situation with Little Father Time (presumably Jude and Arabella’s son) and their two children. When the vestry discovers that they are not married, they are ostracized from the community. Again they move to an out-of-the-way area, where Jude’s health fails. In a run-down house, symbolic of their demise, the son kills his younger siblings and himself in what he thinks is an act of mercy. The horror of this act is symbolized in the derelict conditions to which Sue and Jude have been reduced. Fashioned after Reading, Berkshire, Aldbrickham represents a typical Victorian village with its rigid prescriptions for social behavior.

BibliographyButler, Lance St. John. Thomas Hardy. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1978. A short introductory study that deals with the issue of flesh versus spirit in Jude the Obscure. The quality of the novel, Butler claims, lies in its plotting.Gatrell, Simon. Thomas Hardy and the Proper Study of Mankind. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993. Discusses the way Hardy treats the theme of the conflict between the sexes and notes that Hardy believes sexual union to be the essence of marriage.Hardy, Thomas. “Jude the Obscure”: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Sources, Criticism. Edited by Norman Page. New York: W. W. Norton, 1978. Contains, in addition to the text of the novel, six contemporary reviews, comments from Hardy’s letters, and ten twentieth century critical essays. These deal with Jude the Obscure as a distinctively progressive novel and as tragedy; the authors discuss the novel’s poetic power, its pessimism and meliorism, its imagery and symbolism, and Hardy’s portrait of Sue Bridehead.Hawkins, Desmond. Hardy: Novelist and Poet. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1976. In this bio-critical study, Hawkins maintains that the significance of the changing partnerships in Jude the Obscure is the fact that the two lesser characters, Arabella and Phillotson, represent the more conventional, tolerant, conformist elements in society, while Jude and Sue are unconventional, rebellious, and critical of the social order.Vigar, Penelope. The Novels of Thomas Hardy: Illusion and Reality. London: Athlone Press, 1974. Emphasizes that Jude the Obscure achieves its intense psychological verisimilitude from its many short scenes and episodes in which the abstractions of feeling are transcribed into observable actions and events.
Categories: Places