A Year in Reading: Amy Waldman

December 7, 2011 | 4

coverJude the Obscure will stay with me longer than any book I read this year. Its opening scenes, in which the poor country boy becomes obsessed with the fictional city of Christminster, shimmering in the distance, promising the elevations of knowledge, are as engraved in my mind as the harrowing final ones. Tragedy is what the reader sees waiting in the distance for Jude, yet the route there is unpredictable, and so compelling. The plot is full, especially near the end, of excessive twists, absurd coincidences, and an occasional staginess. It doesn’t matter. Jude is a page-turner that made me think harder about the conventions of marriage, the meaning of morality, and the permutations of faith than any recent contemporary novel. It’s a story – a fable, almost – of passion and ideas, and both figure in the ill-fated relationship between the cousins Jude and Sue. Jude is doomed as much by his best qualities – his desire to find something admirable (a university, a woman) to anchor himself to; his noble aspirations, so discordant with his class; his refusal to conform; an overly tender heart – as by his ostensible worst, said to be his love of drink and women. Sue, mystifying, mercurial, and modern until she isn’t, manages to be convincing as both Jude’s soul-mate and his ruin. It’s awe-inspiring to think how bold Thomas Hardy was for his time.

More from A Year in Reading 2011

Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

The good stuff: The Millions’ Notable articles

The motherlode: The Millions’ Books and Reviews

Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions, The Millions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr.

’s first novel, The Submission, was published in August. It has been named Esquire’s Book of the Year and a New York Times Notable Book for 2011 and was short-listed for the Guardian’s First Book Award. Her fiction has appeared in the Atlantic and the Boston Review.


  1. I was forced to read Hardy’s Return of the Native in school, and it was torture (I never finished it). Not sure I can ever bring myself to read him again. Is it possible I will enjoy him after all these years? Maybe….

  2. I read it 30 years ago, and it is still with me. How can the exploration of Christianity, hypocrisy, marriage, sexual repression, social ostracization, odd children and murder-suicide not still resonate? “Done because we are too menny.” I love this book. More than the much read and filmed Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Far From the Madding Crowd, though I like both a lot. And Hardy’s poetry! (And I’m basically an American lit kinda person, but I do love Hardy.)

  3. I loved Tess of the d’Urbervilles as well.
    I’ve shied away from Jude the Obscure all this time because I do not think I have the stomach for it. I think I will go on doing so.

Add Your Comment:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.