Two completely different women, Susanna Bridehead and Arabella Donn, share the same man in Thomas Hardy´s Jude the Obscure.
Jude´s cousin Sue is a “pretty, liquid-eyed, light-footed young woman”1. Her mind, her education, her unconventional beliefs and especially her insistence on these beliefs impress Jude. His affection to Arabella Donn is quite different.
She whom he addressed was a fine dark-eyed girl, not exactly handsome, but capable of passing as such at a little distance, despite some coarseness of skin and fibre. She had a round and prominent bosom, full lips, perfect teeth, and the rich complexion of a Cochin hen's egg. She was a complete and substantial female animal -- no more, no less.2
Of course, Sue and Arabella are not just contrasting in their appearance but they have oppositional ideas, beliefs and attitudes towards life. Therefore, they lead their lives under different circumstances and get different social recognition. By this example, Hardy criticizes the rigidity of certain conventions in the Victorian Age.
In the following I will analyse various aspects which demonstrate the differences between the two characters, namely the two women’s relation to Jude and their attitude towards sexuality, marriage, motherhood, religion and education.
II. Main Part
1. Relation to Jude
Jude Fawley, the protagonist of Hardy´s novel, links the two female characters. Although they are so unlike, he has a relationship to both of them because he yearns for a merge of rationality and feeling. His cousin Sue symbolizes rationality. She supports his dream to study at the University of Christminster, in the town they meet for the first time. Both enjoy sharing the interest of reading books. Talking about literature and education makes Sue a part of Jude´s wished life in Christminster. Her intelligence and freethinking has great influence on Jude, so that she becomes an ideal woman in his eyes. The more they spend time together and come closer, they begin to feel more than a friendship or a cousinship. Jude falls in love with Sue, “the most artless and natural kind”3. He desires her as a lover, though they do not marry, because of the belief that the marriages in the Fawley family have a tragic end. Moreover, Sue is in need of a partner who is a good friend and not a lover. Her rationality prevails her emotions because she fears to loose her self- restraint, so she blocks her longing for a relationship which oversteps the boundaries of a friendship. After recognizing that the close friendship with her cousin results in rumours, she chooses to marry another man, Richard Phillotson. Besides protecting her reputation, he would give her the friendship she is longing for. Working together at a school, they spend much time together. In his company Sue can continue her education, feels accepted and encouraged to actualize her ideals. Nevertheless, she does not find her happiness on Phillotson´s side. She misses Jude and the emotions she refused in his presence. She asks Jude not to give her up, while she has wanted him to forget her before. The reason for her contradictory behaviour is her hopeless waver between her mind and her heart. She cannot find a balance which satisfies her requirements. First, she believes that a marriage with Phillotson would be reasonable but she misses Jude and the desire which she refused. As Sue is honest to her husband, he shows her understanding. Even more, he thinks that Jude and Sue “seem to be one person split in two”4. Therefore, Phillotson allows his wife to go back to Jude.
Sue and Jude begin to live together and except for sexuality, they are like husband and wife. Sue asks for Jude´s patience and he shows respect although he wants to love her in everyway. At this point, Jude is confronted with the seperation of his needs. Sue´s intellect enriches him, she is everything to him but obviously the lack of sexual intimacy causes an imperfection of their relationship. Jude sees no other choice than satisfying his craving with Arabella. Actually, he does not want to betray Sue but Arabella is his legal wife and he has the right to be together with her.
From their first meeting on, Jude has a soft spot for Arabella: “[He] was almost certain that to her was attributable the enterprise of attracting his attention from dreams of the humaner letters to what was simmering in the minds around him.”5 He cannot retain himself from her attraction and beauty described as “a fine dark-eyed girl, not exactly handsome, but capable of passing as such at a little distance, despite some coarseness of skin and fibre. She had a round and prominent bosom, full lips, perfect teeth, and the rich complexion of a Cochin hen's egg.”6 In spite of everything, this does not suffice Jude. Comparing to his relationship with Sue, Arabella is just a woman fulfilling her husband’s desires. They have no other similarities or bondings holding them together. Both, Jude and Arabella, realize this, but unfortunately at a different point of time. In the widest sense of the word, their first meeting at Marygreen is an attack on Jude. Arabella throws a piece of flesh at him. Besides, she attacks him with her magnetism and Jude cannot defend himself. “The unvoiced call of woman to man, which was uttered very distinctly by Arabella's personality, held Jude to the spot against his intention -- almost against his will, and in a way new to his experience.“7 While Jude behaves shy, she is fearless and even after a short time she tells her friends she wants to marry him. Jude thinks that they are not made for each other and regrets that the relationship has even started. Whereas he dreams of books and degrees, she does not have any interest in education. There is only one thing that carries on their relationship, which is sex. Arabella is aware of that and she uses it. She is resolved to marry him and tells him that she is pregnant. Again, she does not leave him any other choice than doing what she wants. When it comes out that this was a lie, she vindicates herself by saying that she is a woman. Instead of blaming herself or apologizing, she wants Jude to accept her mistakes which she ascribes to her nature: “Woman fancy wrong things sometimes”8. She utilizes her power, her strong personality, her determination, her intelligence and her sex to oppress Jude. But what is the purpose of this marriage? A man and a woman living two different lives, try to get along with each other. Jude thinks his wife is cruel and despiteous because she kills pigs. Arabella throws her husband´s books on the floor because she does not want to have them in her way. The couple does not have interest or respect for each other. Jude is afraid of that before they marry but he wants to bear the responsibility of becoming a father. After hearing that the pregnancy was a lie, he is not consistent enough to leave her. However, she acts more selfish when she understands her fault. “Arabella´s lonely isolated existence in a roadside cottage, caring for a vegetable garden, a single pig and Jude, is clearly miserably unfulfilling for a woman of adventurous and enquiring mind.”9 So she just leaves him with a final letter and goes to Australia. There she lives with her parents who later take care of her son. Jude does not know about his child before Arabella needs someone to look after him. After eight years neither her parents, nor herself can afford rising up a child and Arabella needs Jude´s help. She gives her son away to Sue and Jude. This is an example of Arabella´s life attitude. She makes her own decisions without being worried about the consequences, about other people´s opinions or about regretting her actions in the end. She just tries to live every day to its fullest.
1 Hardy, Thomas. Jude the Obscure. (London: Wordsworth Classics, 1993) 79.
2 Hardy 30.
3 Hardy 84.
4 Hardy 201.
5 Hardy 31.
6 Hardy 30.
7 Hardy 32.
8 Hardy 50. Morgan, Rosemarie, Women and Sexuality in the Novels of Thomas Hardy. (London and New
9 York: Routledge, 1988) 103.