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I first read this book about 40 years ago, and coming back to it now, with Stephen Thorne's wonderful narration, I feel the same sense of overwhelming tragedy. The climax of the book is shattering.
Jude is a country laborer with a dream, and with patience and determination to match. He teaches himself Greek and Latin while supporting himself as a stonemason, and he hopes to become a fellow at the University. But one thing after another happens, and his opportunities become more and more constricted. Personal drama takes center stage. He falls in love with his cousin Sue, a relationship doomed not only by his own prior entanglements but by Sue's own indecisiveness and apparent horror at physical expressions of love. (There's something damaged about Sue that Hardy never tries to explain: it just is.)
Stephen Thorne is a terrific reader: all characters distinctively voiced in a variety of accents, with the brooding narrator hovering over all. Enthralling throughout: but be forewarned that it ends badly for pretty much everybody you care about.
I thought the narrator was good as far as creating the environment but his portrayal of the female characters is weak and kept slightly pulling me out of the story. Not enough, however, to bring me to quitting it all together. I don't regret the time spent on the book.
I love this book, and have loved it since I was a teenager dreaming of how Jude and I would have been soulmates, but this narrator is the worst! His deadpan, inflectionless reading of this heartrending text is unlistenable-too. I had to stop. Poor Jude, he was sounding as exciting as last year's weather report. Oh my, what a lost opportunity to bring a fantastic novel to life!
Just as the book description clarifies, through this book Hardy criticizes the three institutions - marriage, religion and education - during Victorian times. Although I agree with his criticism, he exaggerates; he finds example that go beyond a fair analysis. Some of the characters are good and some evil, as in all novels, but Hardy goes beyond this and throws in characters that are mentally instable. Their behavior cannot be seen as a just criticism of the inflexible morals, rules and beliefs. A better criticism would have been achieved through more stable characters.
I have nothing against depressing books, but this is excessively depressing and frustrating beyond words since the characters cannot make up their mind. Talk about vacillation! It was tiring to see how they make a decision and then changed their minds, not once, but over and over again. Yes, such rigid institutions can force people into craziness, but not to the extent portrayed here. These people would not even be happy in less restrictive times, and thus Hardy's message loses impact.
I listened to the audiobook narrated by Stephen Thorne. I was not pleased with the women's voices, and you could not tell who was speaking. The tone was disagreeable, but so were the characters.
I liked Jude, but felt such pity for him. It is hard to see a man so crushed by life, and his choice of women could not have been worse.
I might try another book by Hardy.
"Hardy at his best and darkest"
Thomas hardy reminds us how far he was ahead of his time with this stunning, sad, story on the perils of love and marriage.
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