His last and most controversial novel, Jude the Obscure provoked such widespread and bitter attacks that Hardy claimed it caused him to stop writing novels. The primary causes of the uproar involved Hardy’s frank treatment of sexual themes and his unconventional portrayal of the pillars of Victorian society: the British university system, marriage, and religion. Today, many consider this to be Hardy’s finest work.
The story involves the tragic relationship between Jude Fawley, a village stonemason who is thwarted in his aspirations to the ministry, and Sue Bridehead, a freethinking cousin who is shunned by society for her social and sexual rebellion. Concerned with the annihilation of innocence, Jude the Obscure is powerful in its portrayal of suffering, rich in its evocation of nature, and tragic in its vision of life.
Thomas Hardy (1840–1928), English poet and novelist, was born on the Egdon Heath in Dorset. He studied in Dorchester and apprenticed to an architect before leaving for London, where he began to write. Unable to find a public for his poetry, which idealized the rural life, he turned to the novel and met with success as well as controversy. The strong public reaction against some of his darker themes turned Hardy back to writing verse. Today, several of his novels are considered tragic masterpieces.