Archive Project: The Peculiar Love Triangle in Jude the Obscure

Queerness, according to Holly Ferneaux, is “that which differs from the life-script of opposite-sex marriage and reproduction.” Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy, as a whole, is a fairly unusual example of queer relationships. Jude Fawley and Sue Bridehead each weave in and out of their separate marriages, divorces and remarriages with their other partners–Arabella and Mr. Phillotson. They do get together at some point, but not only do they never get married, they stay together without having sex for quite a while. In other words, while the relationship is heterosexual, the main characters have children but never get married with each other.

The moment of conversation between Sue and Mr. Phillotson–Sue’s husband, later left and divorced–in particular is an interesting moment. It reveals Sue’s perspective of marriage that must have been quite unusual, as she acknowledges herself, at the time.

The beginning half of her claim is that if married people are not happy together, there should be something done to free each other. While this might have been quite a radical thought in the Victorian era, this in itself is not very peculiar. One should note, however, that Sue wants from the conversation is not divorce. Breaking the marriage is not within her interest, whatever reason may be. Instead, what she asks Mr. Phillotson is to let her go and live away from him–essentially, with Jude. When Mr. Phillotson asks her if she would be alone when she moved away, then Sue admits reluctantly that “if you [he] insisted, yes. But I [she] meant living with Jude.” And when he asks back “As his wife?” she answers, “As I choose.”

While her answer does not necessarily mean that she would be living with Jude as his wife, it does suggest that even though she is married, she has the freedom to be another’s partner as well. The use of “wife” is also interesting, as it is not a partner of something else of the sort, but a word that explicitly referrs to marriage. Because Sue is not suggesting a divorce or breaking her relationship with Mr. Phillotson in any way, this can only suggest a polygamous relationship.

The polygamy dives further in as Sue explains that she does actually like Mr. Phillotson. One could wonder if this genuine, or is just what is said to make her husband feel better and therefore lend a better chance of convincing him. The context could certainly justify for the latter, looking at the passionate way by which Sue presses her point. Yet the way she calls him a friend, and reflects upon her own affection of him and how different being in intimate terms with him is from her guesses from before, suggests that she indeed has some genuine feelings for him–just not that of love.

Is her desire–or decision–to keep the marriage while leaving away, then, an act for Mr. Phillotson to keep him from going through more pain? Or does she actually desire having a relationship with both him and Jude? It is difficult to tell, but it is worth noting that Mr. Phillotson writhing under her words seems to be causing quite enough pain already. Her living away with another man would be quite enough a scandal; no better than a divorce, if not worse.

And the line at which the conversation ends is also quite funny. She remarks, upon hearing Mr. Phillotson lament that she is in love with Jude, that he may go on thinking what he wants to think, but asks whether he thinks “if I had been I should have asked you to let me go and live with him?” Her suggestion that she might not be in love with Jude, either, when she is so strongly asking to go and live with him, is even more bezarre. To be in a polygamous triangle is one thing, but to imply that she may be in love with neither of them is indeed, even queerer.

The link at the Victorian Queer Archive contains the text of the conversation, as well as Thomas Hardy’s response in his second edition to the criticism he received of his being against marriage itself.


Hardy, Thomas. Jude the Obscure. London: Osgood, McIlvaine, & Co, 1895.

Whose dream, indeed?

Alice deconstructs her fantasy herself. By saying “You’re nothing but a pack of cards!” she denies the existence of the part which she had built with her imagination (102). Nobody in the dream reminds her, like perhaps the rabbit telling her to wake up, in her sister’s voice, for instance. Although the cards to rise up in what looks like an attempt to attack her, they are harmless as she had already denied them of their life and she wakes up moments after. In this way, she is in control of her dream—at least, how it ends.

The way the second dream—of Through the Looking Glass—ends is quite similar as well. She seizes “the tablecloth with both hands: one good pull, and plates, dishes, guests, and candles came crashing together in a heap on the floor” (225). Way to assert power over everyone and everything in the dream! Here she had not yet even grown back to her own size yet, but there is little hesitation in the way she ruins the party.

Then this leads to her grabbing the red queen and declaring that she would “shake you into a kitten”—another ending where she peels off the identity that she had constructed in her dream—or, perhaps, the identity that had been constructed by the dream (225). And she shakes it, until it does become the black kitten, as she had ordered it to be.

All this power assertion makes an interesting intersection with the moment where Alice wonders to whom the dream—which is, then the story—belongs. Is the red king’s—a male figure—or Alice’s? The red king doesn’t have much to call a presence throughout the story, and all that wondering of whose dream is it—and why the red king, of all characters?—has given me the idea that perhaps Lewis Carroll is the red king. So it is indeed the question of whose story is it—the author’s, or Alice’s?

I do believe that the story itself is an argument that the story belongs to Alice. The moment of considering whose dream it, in fact, works to bring up the possibility of this actually being Alice’s story, not the author’s. And the story goes to much length to show how Alice asserts her power, as seen in the moments above and many more, over this story. On top of that, she loves it. Both the dreams are nothing short of a great nightmare, considering all the absurdities Alice goes through in them, yet to Alice, they are not troubling—“what a wonderful dream it had been” (102).

So perhaps these dreams were all just Alice’s attempt to get away from the bleak reality of growing up to become a Victorian lady taking care of the house, and explore her sexuality and her desires to become powerful. And perhaps, this all is only proof that she has no actual power of what happens to her in real life, and this story is actually all in Carroll’s dream, and should he cease to write she would disappear with a small poof.

But the stories end not with such sadness, but instead with Alice’s sister picturing Alice’s future.

… how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood; and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago; and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.

So the story is Alice’s—she has taken it to be her own, so that it would accompany her through the moments of her journey in real life. And if even that real life is “but a dream”, then even her life as she grows is in a way just another Wonderland (231). This way, despite all the social construction and gender conventions that may attempt to stop her, she would own her own life fully and wholly as well.

Delicate, Fair and Naive–but Beautiful?

Two points about the connections between the picture above, Feeding the Motherless, by the Illman Brothers, and The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.

One, her face. Not that she isn’t beautiful–although it would be truthful to note that her face is not crafted to the perfect subtle beauties in some of the other prints. Her eyes have a little strangeness to them in the way they droop, and her lips lack the perfect delicate fullness of, perhaps, the one in Expectation.

Yet from her neck down, there is little, if at all, one could point out to be at fault. The somewhat simple dress (of all colors, white) traces the graceful shape made by her figure, and the fabric of her dress makes slight creases about her arms. And even more so, her hands are crafted to perfection. The one holding the spoon has the most elegant curves, the fingers bending tenderly, and the other holds the nest at a becoming angle. Both are softly shaded.

This reminded me, in fact, of the female characters of The Woman in White. Marian is described to have a very becoming figure, then an ugly face, for one. (With a mustache, hence my pseudonym) Laura Fairlie, more interestingly, is described more on the basis of her body than her face also. It is her bosom and her ribbons that brush against Walter Harwright and make his heart beat, not, for example, her full lips or her wide, sparkling eyes. It makes me wonder, then, if Laura was actually the perfect beauty at all. Perhaps in the standards of the time, she was so well adorned by her figure, her white dress, her passive loving nature and her status as an heiress that she didn’t need those pearly teeth and long eyelashes at all. The only person described to be handsome regarding the face was actually Count Fosco–the increasingly feminine male villain with beautiful eyes.

The second thing I noticed about the picture was still about the face. I don’t take any problem with the distance it has from the “classic beauty,” at all. But something about her expression is still troubling. The woman in the picture doesn’t actually seem to be looking at the baby birds. Her gaze lies somewhere between then and us, the viewer. What is she looking at? We don’t get to find out, but only that she isn’t really concentrating on the task. Is she “feeding the motherless” because she wants to? Despite being engaged in what must surely be a very maternal, loving action, her expression yields no tenderness, no affection or pity at all. This is, to say the least, troubling. What’s going on in her mind…?

I wonder if this is, in a way, also a connection to Laura Fairlie. We never get to find out her thoughts, and never get to hear her voice. Although we didn’t get many hints on whether she was actually not what the people around her thought her to be, it is true that the narrators (especially Walter Hartwright) may have consciously and unconsciously manipulated the story to reflect their own perceptions.

I also wonder if Laura cared about animals all that much. Count Fosco (again) was the one who was good with animals, and Marian was the person who took care of Mrs. Catherick’s wounded dog until its death. Laura Fairlie too had a dog, which strangely disappeared after her marriage and she didn’t seem to look for it… The image of the tender-hearted naive beauty who sings with her birds, then, may not be Laura Fairlie either.


Illman Brothers. “Feeding the Motherless.” Trout Gallery,

Mrs. Catherick and her Golden Watch

When one really thinks about it, Mrs. Catherick falls no short of qualifying as the protagonist of this book. She is involved with two of the most evident scandals, two of the most important marriage plots in this book–one having to do with bringing about “the woman in white” and the other, the mystery to bring forth the downfall of Sir Percival Glyde.

Yet, she is nothing. She sits with her hands crossed on her lap, in her little house in the town where the clergyman bows to her. She sends Haltright away the first time he comes–although he wasn’t much better at dealing with her than she was with him–and the second time, sends him a letter in a pretense handwriting to show her “gratitude.” The text goes to much extent, indeed, to make Mrs. Catherick an unlikeable character–and this would be an understatement.

She is extremely vain. She was so when she was young, years ago with Sir Percival, and although she calls herself foolish, she never changed–“the allowance was a handsome one” (534), and she lived on the money from her so-called “enemy” for as along as before Sir Percival died, and her savings from that after. She supports a better house, better carpets, and better dresses–silk–with the money from the man she wished dead than anything else. She enjoyed her “comfortable income, in return, paid quarterly” (534). She was unjustly used by Sir Percival, thus justifying her hatred towards him. Yet it was a bargain and she enjoyed it–how to call that unjust at all? To her, the foolishness was not in vanity, but in not checking if it was safe to do so. Despite of everything that happened due to her longing for it, despite the fact that it directly ruined her life, she still cherishes the watch–“I have got them still – the watch goes beautifully” (532).

Would she ever look back to herself, and consider even remotely the fact that she might, at times, not be in the most correct position? Highly unlikely. She considers herself to “have written in the friendliest possible spirit,” and if Hartright “see[s] the necessity of writing me[her] an apology,” she would be willing to accept it (539). Friendly she may indeed have been, as she is at least being honest with her opinions. She shows without holding back how she hasn’t moved an inch from where she had been years ago, when she couldn’t resist helping a stranger for a golden watch. One might even say she was a better person than she is now, at the time–when she was young and perhaps, less caught in her own shallow pride.

This makes her, despite of everything she knows, despite of the keys she holds to so many of the mysteries throughout this novel, an insignificant character. Could she really have done so little to get revenge on Sir Percival Glyde had she not been caught up in the handsome payment she received four times a year? Had she possessed half the character of Marian Halcombe, would she have been limited her life to the sad person she had become? Yes, indeed, this novel may have never existed, this story and mystery all never created, had this one woman not labled her voluntary, self-imposed inaction as pride.

Is Laura Fairlie in Love at all?

Laura Fairlie lies in the center of the romance in “The Woman in White.” Walter Hartwright hopelessly falls in love with her during the period of his narrative, then after the parting, gets reduced to a bitter mess both Gilmore and Marian are surprised and sorry to find. Then there is Sir Percival Glyde, pursuing his engagement with “unchangeable love and admiration of two long years” (174), apparently not only for Laura but her inheritance. And then, there are Gilmore and Marian. They appear to be armed with a different kind of love, but the bitterness by which Marian writes–“She will be his Laura instead of mine!”–makes a reader wonder if she, too, may act as one of the voices driving Laura into confusion.

And yet, for the woman in the center of all this attention, Laura is given very little power. This is not to argue that her environment is at fault. True, the Victorian era gives no legal power for women, but Marian is doing just fine with her “robust nervous system,” to the envy of Mr. Farlie (176). Upon coming of age, Laura is also entitled to an inheritance of twenty-thousand pounds, a sum that is “absolutely Miss Fairlie’s own” (150). And on account of her marriage, it is not, to be strict, a forced one, either. Sir Percival Glyde, as pale as he gets when Laura calls to talk to him (165), still voluntarily leaves one window open by passing onto Marian that he could, under Laura’s desire, “sacrifice himself by leaving her perfectly free to withdraw from the engagement” (138).

She is not yet of age–three months short of being twenty-one (146). And while this puts her in roughly the same area as the readers in our class, her emotional state does not seem to be parallel at all. Again and again, she is referred as not only a ghostly figure in white, but as a child.

Her encounter with Gilmore is especially so. On trying to express her desire to leave some inheritance to Walter Hartwright, she bursts into tears and Gilmore “drie[s] the tears that were gathering in her eyes, with [his] own hand, as if she had been the little Laura Fairlie of ten long years ago” (144). And from the way she leans towards him and smiles, she apparently is still a little girl of ten, at heart. The later page supports this by mentioning that she was “[s]till clinging to the past – that past which I represented to her, in my way, as Miss Halcombe did in hers!” (145).

Her love for Walter, too, then becomes questionable not in its existence but its meaning. Is it actually love, or is it a form of idolizing admiration and affection that a little girl might have towards an older man? The time spent alone upstairs looking at the album Walter had given her, the act of pinning her hair to it and asking to give it to him upon her death, and of saying to Marian “say for me, then, what I can never say for myself – say I loved him!” (173) all points to a kind of love that is just pure and selfless. This is comparable to Walter’s remembering “at one time to be bending over her, so close to her bosom as to tremble at the thought of touching it” (65). There is nothing sexual about Laura’s love at all–not just, I daresay, because this is a Victorian novel and women are not “qualified” to have such thoughts, but because her love does not include any at all.

She is, in this way, caged and deprived of power not by her environment or her situation, but by the limits of her own naive self. All she can do in the center of attention, is to do what she thinks she “should do,” then cry in her bedroom in secret. She is too young in spirit to execute her right to refuse her marriage, or pursue her romance–which may not be romance at all.