Imágenes de páginas

It was

letters to offer him immediately a fellowship ? We may admit to the full the pathos of Jude's position-nothing is more heart-rending than the obscurity of the half-educated--but surely, the fault did not lie with Oxford.

The scene at Commemoration (Part VI.) is of a marvellous truth and vividness of presentment, but it would be stronger, and even more tragic, if Mr. Hardy did not appear in it as an advocate taking sides with his unhappy hero. In this portion of his work, it seems to me, Mr. Hardy had but to paint-as clearly and as truthfully as he could-the hopes, the struggles, the disappointments of Jude, and of these he has woven a tissue of sombre colouring, indeed, and even of harsh threads, but a tapestry worthy of a great imaginative writer. straightforward poet's work in invention and observation, and he has executed it well.

But in considering the quadruple fate of the four leading characters, of whom Jude is but one, we come to matter of a different order. Here the physician, the neuropathist, steps in, and takes the pen out of the poet's hand. Let us for a moment strip to its barest nomination this part of the plot. Jude, a neurotic subject in whom hereditary degeneracy takes an idealist turn, with some touch, perhaps, of what the new doctors call megalomania, has been warned by the local gossips not to marry. But he is physically powerful and attractive, and he engages the notice of Arabella, a young woman of gross instincts and fine appearance, who seduces and marries him. He falls from his scholastic dream to the level of a labourer, and is only saved by the fact that Arabella wearies of him and leaves him. He goes to Oxford, and, gradually cultivating the dream again, seems on the first rung of the ladder of success, when he comes across his own cousin Sue, and loves her. But she has promised to marry Philottson, a weary middle-aged schoolmaster, and marry him she will, although she loves Jude, and has forced him to compromise her. But she finds Philottson intolerable, and leaves him to join Jude, only to find herself equally unhappy and unsatisfying, dragging Jude once more down to mediocrity. Arabella crosses Jude's life again, and jealousy forces Sue to some semblance of love for Jude. Sue becomes the mother of several children, who are killed in a fit of infantile mania by a boy, the son of Jude and Arabella, whose habitual melancholy, combined with his hereditary antecedents, has prepared us for an outbreak of suicide, if not of murder. This horrible event affects Sue by producing religious mania. She will live no longer with Jude, although both couples have got their divorce, but fatally returns to be the slave of her detested schoolmaster, while Jude, in a paroxysm of drunken abandonment, goes back to Arabella and dies.

It is a ghastly story, especially when reduced to this naked skeleton. But it does not appear to me that we have any business to call in question the right of a novelist of Mr. Hardy's extreme distinction to treat what themes he will. We may wish--and I for my part cordially wish—that more pleasing, more charming plots than this could take his fancy. But I do not feel at liberty to challenge his discretion. One thing, however, the critic of comparative literature must note. We have, in such a book as “ Jude the Obscure,” traced the full circle of propriety. A hundred and fifty years ago, Fielding and Smollett brought up before us pictures, used expressions, described conduct, which appeared to their immediate successors a little more crude than general reading warranted. In Miss Burney's hands and in Miss Austin's, the morals were still further hedged about. Scott was even more daintily reserved. We came at last to Dickens, where the clamorous passions of mankind, the coarser accidents of life, were absolutely ignored, and the whole question of population seemed reduced to the theory of the gooseberry bush. This was the ne plus ultra of decency; Thackeray and George Eliot relaxed this intensity of prudishness; once on the turn, the tide flowed rapidly, and here is Mr. Hardy ready to say any mortal thing that Fielding said, and a good deal more too.

So much we note, but to censure it, if it calls for censure, is the duty of the moralist and not the critic. Criticism asks how the thing is done, whether the execution is fine and convincing. To tell so squalid and so abnormal a story in an interesting way is in itself a feat, and this, it must be universally admitted, Mr. Hardy has achieved. “Jude the Obscure” is an irresistible book; it is one of those novels into which we descend and are carried on by a steady impetus to the close, when we return, dazzled, to the light of common day. The two women, in particular, are surely created by a master. Every impulse, every speech, which reveals to us the coarse and animal, but not hateful Arabella, adds to the solidity of her portrait. We may dislike her, we may hold her intrusion into our consciousness a disagreeable one, but of her reality there can be no question : Arabella lives.

It is conceivable that not so generally will it be admitted that Sue Bridehead is convincing. Arabella is the excess of vulgar normality ; every public bar and village fair knows Arabella, but Sue is a strange and unwelcome product of exhaustion. The vita sexualis of Sue is the central interest of the book, and enough is told about it to fill the specimen tables of a German specialist. Fewer testimonies will be given to her reality than to Arabella's because hers is much the rarer case. But her picture is not less admirably drawn ; Mr. Hardy has, perhaps, never devoted so much care to the portrait of a woman.

She is a poor, maimed “degenerate,” ignorant of herself and of the perversion of her instincts, full of febrile, amiable illusions, ready to dramatise her empty life, and play at loving though she cannot love. Her adventure with the undergraduate has not taught her what she is ; she quits Philottson still ignorant of the source of her repulsion ; she lives with Jude, after a long, agonising struggle, in a relation that she accepts with distaste, and when the tragedy comes, and her children are killed, her poor extravagant brain slips one grade further down, and she sees in this calamity the chastisement of God. What has she done to be chastised ? She does not know, but supposes it must be her abandonment of Philottson, to whom, in a spasm of selfabasement, and shuddering with repulsion, she returns without a thought for the misery of Jude. It is a terrible study in pathology, but of the splendid success of it, of the sustained intellectual force implied in the evolution of it, there cannot, I think, be two opinions.

One word must be added about the speech of the author and of the characters in “ Jude the Obscure.” Is it too late to urge Mr. Hardy to struggle against the jarring note of rebellion which seems growing upon him ? It sounded in “Tess,” and here it is, more roughly expressed, further acerbated. What has Providence done to Mr. Hardy that he should rise up in the arable land of Wessex and shake his fist at his Creator ? He should not force his talent, should not give way to these chimerical outbursts of philosophy falsely so called.

His early romances were full of calm and lovely pantheism ; he seemed in them to feel the deep-hued country landscapes full of rural gods, all homely and benign.• We wish he would go back to Egdon Heath and listen to the singing in the heather. And as to the conversations of his semi-educated characters, they are really terrible. Sue and Jude talk a sort of University Extension jargon that breaks the heart. “The mediævalism of Christminster must go, be sloughed off, or Christminster will have to go," says Sue, as she sits in a pair of Jude's trousers, while Jude dries her petticoat at his garret-fire. Hoity-toity, for a minx! the reader cries, or, rather, although he firmly believes in the existence of Sue, and in the truth of the episode, he is convinced that Mr. Hardy is mistaken in what he heard her

say. She could not have talked like that.


A fact about the infancy of Mr. Hardy has escaped the interviewers and may be recorded here. On the day of his birth, during a brief absence of his nurse, there slipped into the room an ethereal creature, known as the Spirit of Plastic Beauty. Bending over the cradle she scattered roses on it, and as she strewed them she blessed the babe. “He shall have an eye to see moral and material loveliness, he shall speak of richly-coloured pastoral places in the accent of Theocritus, he shall write in such a way as to cajole busy men into a sympathy with old, unhappy, far-off things." She turned and went, but while the nurse still delayed, a withered termagant glided into the room.

From her apron she dropped toads among the rose-leaves, and she whispered : “I am the genius of False Rhetoric, and led by me he shall say things ugly and coarse, not recognising them to be so, and shall get into a rage about matters that call for philosophic calm, and shall spoil some of his best passages with pedantry and incoherency. He shall not know what things belong to his peace, and he shall plague his most loyal admirers with the barbaric contortions of his dialogue.” So saying, she put out her snaky tongue at the unoffending babe, and ever since, his imagination, noble as it is, and attuned to the great harmonies of nature, is liable at a moment's notice to give a shriek of discord. The worst, however, which any honest critic can say of “ Jude the Obscure” is that the fairy godmother seems, for the moment, to have relaxed her guardianship a little unduly.


« AnteriorContinuar »