Even as Sue punishes herself by returning to a husband she has never loved, she abandons the lover who has remained devoted to her. Sue occupies a dual role in the novel, victim (of Phillotson) and victimiser (of Jude). The roles are interrelated. In terms of ego psychology she identifies with the aggressor—a process, Anna Freud remarks, in which passive is converted to active. Here’s the fourth-part of the eight parts, from Prof. Ashoka’s book that explores self-love in the works of Thomas Hardy, in his erudite research, in the weekly column. A Different Truths exclusive.
In remarrying Phillotson, Sue chooses to act out rather than analyse her conflicts. Unable to divorce herself from the institution of marriage she no longer believes in, she falls back upon martyrdom. Even as she punishes herself by returning to a husband she has never loved, she abandons the lover who has remained devoted to her. Sue occupies a dual role in the novel, victim (of Phillotson) and victimiser (of Jude). The roles are interrelated. In terms of ego psychology she identifies with the aggressor—a process, Anna Freud remarks, in which passive is converted to active. “By impersonating the aggressor, assuming his attributes or imitating his aggression, the child transforms himself from the person threatened by the person who makes the threat.” Sue invokes an unsound social code to rationalise an unhealthy psychological situation. The repressive institution of marriage—repressive to Hardy because its rigidity did not allow a relationship to be dissolvable as soon as it became a cruelty to either party — legitimises her self-punishment. Sue’s second marriage thus becomes a more sinister replay of her first marriage, an example of a repetition compulsion principle that dominates Jude the Obscure.
In acting out their parents’ broken marriages, Sue and Jude demonstrate how the present repeats the past. Sue’s family background is almost identical to that of Jude, her first cousin. In endowing them with similar family backgrounds, Hardy intimates their unity of character. “They seem to be one person split in two,” Phillotson remarks, vexed by his failure to understand either of them. To this extent, Sue and Jude resemble Catherine and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, who struggle to regain lost unity. The products of broken marriages, Jude and Sue have lost one or both parents at an early age and are raised by indifferent caretakers. According to Arabella, Jude’s father ill-used his wife in the same way that Jude’s paternal aunt (Sue’s mother) mistreated her husband. Both marriages are doomed. After Jude becomes involved with Arabella, his great-aunt, Drusilla Fawley, informs him that his parents never got along with each other, parting company when he was a baby. Jude’s mother continues Arabella, drowned herself shortly afterward. Drusilla makes no effort to soften the revelation or anticipate its terrible impact upon Jude. Drusilla’s empathic failure repeats his mother’s earlier rejection of him and foreshadows Sue’s rejection of Father Time. After hearing the details of his mother’s death, Jude attempts suicide in a similar way by walking on a partly frozen pond. The cracking ice manages to sustain his weight, temporarily thwarting his self-annihilation.
Hardy does not elaborate on the reasons for Jude’s half-serious suicide attempt, but the painful repetition of the past cannot be ignored. As with most suicide attempts, including Father Time’s, the motivation is overdetermined. Jude’s attempt to repeat his mother’s suicide is unmistakable, recalling John Bowlby’s observation that children who suffer early maternal loss are vulnerable to suicide. Jude’s suicide attempt suggests a wish for reunion with the lost mother, a desire for revenge, a need to punish himself for harbouring murderous feelings toward the lost love object, and a feeling that life is not worth living. Both Jude and Father Time attempt or commit suicide following a maternal loss; they are mirror images of each other, portraits of the same abandoned child. After his mother’s death, Jude is raised by a father about whom he never speaks, not even after he has grown up and become a father himself. As with Frankenstein and Wuthering Heights, Jude the Obscure remains preoccupied with the consequences of defective parenting but gives little information about absent parents. After his father’s death, Jude is taken in by his great-aunt, who makes it clear that he would have been better off dead, like his parents. “It would ha’ been a blessing if Goddy-mighty had taken thee too, wi’thy mother and father, poor useless boy!”
Against a background of parental loss, Jude develops into a compassionate and idealistic man. Nothing in his family history accounts for his remarkable sensitivity, and for a time it seems as if he has escaped his past. His willingness to adopt Father Time demonstrates his generosity of spirit, and he remains devoted to his wife and children. Jude is a better parent to his newly discovered son than presumably, his own parents were to him. Nevertheless, Jude is absent when Father Time most needs him, during the moments preceding the suicide. Although his role in Father Time’s suicide is more ambiguous than Sue’s, Jude readily accepts the inevitability of his son’s death.
Sue’s background reveals a similar pattern of parental loss. According to Drusilla, Sue’s father offended his wife early in the marriage, and the latter “so disliked living with him afterwards that she went away to London with her little maid”. We never discover the length of time she lives with her mother in London or the circumstances of their life. Sue is then brought up by her father to hate her mother’s family. Like Eustacia Vye in The Return of the Native, another motherless daughter raised by a remote male guardian, Sue grows up to reject conventional society. Her rebellion, no less than Eustacia’s, is singularly unsuccessful. Sue’s defiance as a twelve-year-old girl, boldly exhibiting her body as she wades into a pond, reveals a spiritedness that contrasts her later inability to be touched by her husband. Her craving for conformity culminates in her sexual surrender to Phillotson. In a novel filled with agonizing self-inflicted deaths, Sue’s decision to remarry is one of the most horrifying moments—in effect, another suicide. She returns to her former husband, not to seek a better life, but to punish herself for the past. Sue can survive, paradoxically, only through self-debasement. Jude the Obscure reflects a closed system in which loveless marriages, restrictive social conventions, and unmerciful superegos thwart the possibility of a fulfilling life.
Sue’s pattern of defiance followed by blind submission suggests, clinically, the child’s ambivalence toward the parents: the rejection of the mother, the original love object, followed by the need to recover the lost unity of infancy. Sue and Jude return to the wrong marital partners, and the attempt toward reparation is doomed. From the viewpoint of object relations, Sue and Jude’s inner world is precarious and turbulent. Each returns to a despised marital partner, suggesting the child’s inability to separate from a defective caretaker. Phillotson and Arabella represent the omnipotent parents who can never be defied successfully. They offer punishment, not love, to the returning child, humbled and broken. Sue’s submission to Phillotson parallels Jude’s submission to Arabella. Both Sue and Jude regress to infantile modes of behaviour (one is creed-drunk, the other is gin-drunk), obliterating themselves in a fatal union with hated love objects.
(To be continued)
This is an excerpt from Prof. Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad’s book, Self-Love in Literature. The book is dedicated to the Principal of Colvin Taluqdars’ College, the author’s boarding school, H.L. Dutt, one of the most respected figures in Indian secondary education and a teacher par excellence, who kindled many nascent literary instincts.
©Prof Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad
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