Home > posts > Hardy: the slow grind into dust of Jude’s scholarly dreams (1895)

Hardy: the slow grind into dust of Jude’s scholarly dreams (1895)

August 21, 2019

SOURCE: Thomas Hardy (1840-1928). Jude the Obscure (novel), 1895.

SETTING: Jude, the title character of the novel, is trying to find a way to enter Christminstir University to become a scholar. The extract below details some of his failed efforts.


During the next week or two he [Jude] accordingly placed himself in such positions about the city as would afford him glimpses of several of the most distinguished among the provosts, wardens, and other heads of houses [of Christminster University]; and from those he ultimately selected five whose physiognomies seemed to say to him that they were appreciative and far-seeing men. To these five he addressed letters, briefly stating his difficulties, and asking their opinion on his stranded situation.

When the letters were posted Jude mentally began to criticize them; he wished they had not been sent. ‘It is just one of those intrusive, vulgar, pushing, applications which are so common in these days,’ he thought. ‘Why couldn’t I know better than address utter strangers in such a way? I may be an impostor, an idle scamp, a man with a bad character, for all that they know to the contrary… Perhaps that’s what I am!’

Nevertheless, he found himself clinging to the hope of some reply as to his one last chance of redemption. He waited day after day, saying that it was perfectly absurd to expect, yet expecting. […]

Meanwhile the academic dignitaries to whom Jude had written vouchsafed no answer, and the young man was thus thrown back entirely on himself, as formerly, with the added gloom of a weakened hope. By indirect inquiries he soon perceived clearly what he had long uneasily suspected, that to qualify himself for certain open scholarships and exhibitions was the only brilliant course. But to do this a good deal of coaching would be necessary, and much natural ability. It was next to impossible that a man reading on his own system, however widely and thoroughly, even over the prolonged period of ten years, should be able to compete with those who had passed their lives under trained teachers and had worked to ordained lines.

The other course, that of buying himself in, so to speak, seemed the only one really open to men like him, the difficulty being simply of a material kind. With the help of his information he began to reckon the extent of this material obstacle, and ascertained, to his dismay, that, at the rate at which, with the best of fortune, he would be able to save money, fifteen years must elapse before he could be in a position to forward testimonials to the head of a college and advance to a matriculation examination. The undertaking was hopeless.

COMMENT: I read Jude the Obscure as a teenager and none of its (in)famous criticisms of religion or marriage or sexual repression or anything like that had much of an effect on me. It was all small potatoes compared to what I, a budding academic, felt was the over-arching horror of the novel: the pure helplessness, frustration and anger of Jude’s impossible dream to become a scholar. Jude tried to get into any college of Christminster (a fictionalized version of Oxford) but there was no path, despite infinite desire and infinite capacity to work for it. His station in life upon birth secured his fate to never have a chance.

It is very sad to think that there are still “Judes” out there now, even within our rich societies, with scholarly dreams having no little chance of realization. But universities in America and abroad are continuing to work hard on this problem.

Categories: posts