Marriage, By Thomas Hardy

Marriage is a topic whose perceived importance is constantly changing with the passage of time, but marriage remains, and has remained, a heated topic of discussion for centuries. Thomas Hardy wrote Jude the Obscure in 1896, and used it to critique marriage, among many other things.

The novel explores the implications of the state of marriage, the foolishness of the marriage of convenience, and the contractual nature of love in matrimony. Thomas Hardy 's novel Jude the Obscure offers a critical portrayal of marriage, illustrating the contradictions and pitfalls of matrimony through explorations of unison, division, and love, as well as the misconceptions and social connotations that often contribute to unhappy couples.

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The first marriage portrayed in the novel, the marriage of Jude to Arabella, is a catastrophe; it falls apart because the couple, and in particular Arabella, treats marriage as an end-goal, not realizing the implications of living in a marriage. Firstly, Jude has no intention of marrying Arabella until she essentially forces him to by trickery and seduction; Arabella treats Jude, and the potential marriage to him, as an object that must be obtained, and does not see the difficulties that arise when it must be maintained.

Arabella 's desires are clearly depicted when Hardy writes “she had gained a husband; that was the thing – a husband with a lot of earning power in him...” (67). Arabella 's plans represent the ill-conceived, yet often heard, passionate desires that people have for spouses, which rarely take into consideration the implications of permanently living with a spouse. Another moment when matrimony is critiqued as being too conclusive is when Jude gives up his goals in life to be a married man; society treats marriage as an end-game, where none of Jude 's other pursuits may be valid because marriage is a finale.

He must terminate all his ambitions because he has to devote himself to being a husband. When depicting Jude 's disdain, Hardy writes “There seemed to him, vaguely and dimly, something wrong in a social ritual which made necessary a cancellation of well-formed schemes involving years of thought and labour...” (72). The fact that, during the Victorian era, both husbands and wives were often expected to be nothing more than husbands and wives offers a counterpoint to the idea that marriage is a perfect union, as the individuals within it lose too much of their identity to be happy.

Due to the aforementioned aspects of their marriage, any feelings that Jude has for Arabella dissipate when they are married, and he realizes that marriage does not ensure life-long love, as a bond is not set in stone just because it is recited in a church. Jude 's realization that romantic feelings are fickle and fleeting offers another great counterpoint to the arguments for marriage. Of Jude 's epiphany, Hardy writes “Their lives were ruined, he thought; ruined by the fundamental error of their matrimonial union: that of having based a permanent contract on a temporary feeling which had no necessary connection with affinities that alone render a life-long comradeship tolerable.” (81).

Marriage should not be treated as a conclusion, because the feelings of the individuals within the marriage will doubtlessly change over time, and therefore so will the relationship between the couple. To conclude, the matrimonial bond between Jude and Arabella breaks because they do not fully understand the fickle nature of marriage and romance before getting married, and instead maintain a short-sighted view that only sees as far as the wedding ceremony itself. 

Another marriage that Hardy critically depicts is Sue 's marriage to Phillotson, which is a misguided attempt to bow down to the social conventions of the day, and shows a popular type of marriage in time period in which the novel was written: the marriage of convenience. Phillotson is Sue 's boss, and is relatively well-off and intelligent; Sue marries him because it makes sense, not because she loves him.

When Sue speaks of her engagement to Phillotson with Jude, she speaks of it in utilitarian terms, indicating that she feels no passion for Phillotson, and is marrying him for financial and social stability. When she speaks of the new life that she will have, she says “his plan being that we shall take a large double school in a great town – he the boys ' and I the girls ' – as married school-teachers often do, and make good income between us.” (163).

Her words indicate that her vision of the future is settled purely in rational terms, and does not allude to any feelings of the intense love and respect that are necessary for a marriage to be happy. Another reason why Sue marries Phillotson is she feels obligated to, due to the fact that he shows charity and altruism towards her. When she speaks of him, the nicest thing she can say is “He is considerate to me in everything...” (264). Her lack of romantic affection for Phillotson truly reveals the nature of the marriage, one purely of serviceability. As expected, whatever slight feelings of attachment Sue has for Phillotson dissolve when it becomes her legal obligation to love him and be a house-wife for him.

Phillotson can plainly see his new wife 's pain, and understands that she married him for convenience, which can not preclude a successful matrimonial bond. When talking of Sue, Phillotson says “For though as a fellow-creature she sympathizes with me, and pities me, and even weeps for me, as a husband she cannot endure me...” (316). Phillotson 's words show that, although rational and convenient, a marriage based on utility is improbable to succeed. To summarize, Phillotson and Sue 's marriage is unhappy because Sue marries him for advantage and gains, as people often do, but to live with someone requires a commitment to them that is larger than a desire for the benefits a marriage confers. 

In addition to the two ill-conceived marriages that Hardy writes of, he also depicts the non-matrimonial romantic relationship between Jude and Sue. Their bond is strong and they feel no obligation to marry, even though society deems it incorrect for them to remain unmarried in the eyes of God; Jude and Sue want to maintain an open and loving relationship with no contractual obligations to one another. Jude and Sue recognize that marriage is a societal norm, and offers no benefits other than public acceptance.

Sue is cynical on marriage, and comes to a realization that marriage is too often used as a social boon, rather than a special bond between two loving individuals. Sue says to Jude “Fewer women like marriage than you suppose, only they enter into it for the dignity it is assumed to confer, and the social advantages it gains them sometimes – a dignity and an advantage that I am quite willing to do without.” (323). Sue 's words offer a depiction of the often social nature of marriage during the Victorian era, and cynically announce the way that marriage can be used as a means to gaining acceptance within a community.

Another reason the couple does not marry is that Jude and Sue 's unmarried relationship is filled with love and commitment, whereas their past marriages were devoid of love; they realize that a marriage in no way denotes love, and that therefore they do not need marriage to love each other. They come to understand that marriages often become the antithesis of love, as is demonstrated when Sue says “It is none of the natural tragedies of love that 's love 's usual tragedy in civilized life, but a tragedy artificially manufactured for people who in a natural state would find relief in parting.” (268).

They realize that marriage can also be signified by regret, and therefore is not a construct they, a couple madly in love, would like to be a part of. Furthermore, Jude and Sue want to love each other out of their own free will. They accept that love is temperamental; they do not want a piece of paper saying they must love each other. They are afraid that obligation will ruin the spontaneity and irrationality of the love between them, as is illustrated when Sue says “I have just the same dread lest an iron contract should extinguish your tenderness for me, and mine for you...” (321).

The couple decides that their love must be free, as love 's nature is one that can not be bound or caged. Due to the aforementioned factors, Jude and Sue make a conscious decision not to marry, as through their first-hand experiences they realize that love can exist equally in all relationships, and perhaps more emphatically in free and unbinding ones. 

Jude the Obscure 's exploration of the many faces of marriage and its inherent vices is a thoughtful critique of the matrimonial union. The three key relationships in the novel elucidate key elements that make marriages unsuccessful: the pitfall that is contractually obligating love, marrying out of convenience, and the treatment of marriage as a goal. Thomas Hardy gives the characters in the novel voices and stories that allows them to portray the sour aspects of marriage, and in doing so function as an argument against marriage. As the world moves forward, views and opinions on marriage will doubtlessly change, but Jude the Obscure will always remain both a perfect example of a thoughtful critique of the state of marriages during the late 19th century, and a universal argument against the tradition of matrimony. 



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