Male Female Relationships Lack Real Communion English Literature Essay

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This comment is surprising to those who see Florence Nightingale principally as 'the lady with the lamp'. Yet the reforming zeal she displays, which included early feminism, influenced such seminal works as John Stuart Mill's essay The Subjection of Women (1869). Her choice of name, 'Cassandra', reflects the idea that as a woman, she was, like the mythical prophetess, unlikely to be heeded, even if heard. This did not, however, prevent her from speaking on issues as diverse as health, slavery and female suffrage, at a time when women were seen as 'chattels', to be 'bought and sold', robbed of all rights, including freedom of speech.

Nightingale was brought up sharing conversation on 'equal' terms with her father, his having no son, so she was familiar with the freedom of expression more usually associated with the male and this was, perhaps, one reason why she recognised the injustices women suffered in the patriarchal Victorian society. Especially since, despite her parents' apparent liberality, they were horrified that she should not simply 'do her duty' by marrying well. She saw her 'duty' or, more correctly, 'vocation', quite differently; indeed, her personal relationships reflect this. Lytton Strachey notes, in the chapter devoted to her in Eminent Victorians, published in 1918:

'I have an intellectual nature which requires satisfaction,' she noted,

'and that would be find it in him. I have a passionate nature which

requires satisfaction, and that would find it in him. I have a moral,

an active nature which requires satisfaction, and that would not find

it in his life. Sometimes I think that I will satisfy my passionate nature

at all events. ...' [1] 

Thus, sexuality, the 'passionate nature', is fully embraced as part of the 'satisfaction' which she 'requires', yet 'moral' and 'active nature' are equally desired. She sought the equality for all women that she fought so hard to achieve for herself, to some extent rejecting the Victorian values with which she had been imbued. Like contemporary authors such as Mary Ann Evans ('George Eliot'), she lived a life against the accepted Victorian mores and achieved much.

Almost fifty years later, Thomas Hardy was one of an emerging group of writers who attempted to address some of these issues in a 'realist' fiction which owed much to French novelists like Guy de Maupassant and Emile Zola. Hardy was vilified for this to such an extent that the negative critical reception to his semi-autobiographical novel, Jude the Obscure (1895), was largely the reason why he abandoned novels. As Martin Seymour-Smith has said:

What was most grotesque, for all that we are used to the peculiar nature

Of Victorian sexual morality, is the nature of the fuss that was made. [2] 

Certainly, the central relationship, between Jude and Sue, would seem to endorse Florence Nightingale's comment that 'real communion' is lacking in relationships between the sexes. However, Hardy is keen to guide the reader towards the inference that the 'fault' lies principally with Sue, seeking to portray Jude as the one who sublimates himself in the relationship in order to achieve a 'descent into the depths of their being'. Nevertheless, a careful reading of the novel produces a far more complex picture of the inevitability of the failure of men and women to achieve 'real communion' in Victorian culture and much of this is due to seeing the book as reflective of fin de siecle concerns which Nightingale, to some extent, anticipates with her comment.

When Jude the Obscure was first published, Hardy gave up the writing of novels in favour of the poetry which, in truth, he had always preferred. As he wrote in the 'The General Preface' to 'The Wessex Edition' of the novels, in 1912:

Thus much for the novels. Turning now to the verse - to myself

the more individual part of my literary fruitage - I would say that,

unlike some of the fiction, nothing interfered with the writer's

freedom in respect of its form or content. [3] 

The difference is clear. The authorial freedom which Hardy felt was denied him in the novels - partly by the restraints of the genre, partly by the 'moral' restrictions of contemporary society - was less confining in the verse; thus, the poems are closer to what he sees himself to be. It is certainly true that:

He took it [Jude] more seriously, more emotionally, than any other

novel he wrote. [4] 

Nonetheless, it is perhaps true to say that much of Hardy's sensitivity to the adverse comments Jude received was due to the fact that it revealed, indeed exposed, so much of his own life. As he reflected in the 'Postscript', added in 1912, to his 'Preface' to the first edition of the novel in 1895:

No doubt there can be more in a book than the author consciously

puts there, which will help either to its profit or to its disadvantage

as the case, may be. [5] 

This invites an inferential reading of a deeply personal subtext to the novel for which the author seeks to avoid direct responsibility. It is also a profound acknowledgement of the role in the creative process played by the reader and the subliminal connection between the author and his 'interlocutor'.

This 'exchange' is particularly important when one considers the representation of intimacy between the sexes. In the character of Jude, Hardy presents the reader with:

the sort of man who was born to ache a good deal before the fall of

the curtain upon his unnecessary life should signify that all was well

with him again. [6] 

From the first, Jude is seen to experience intense, wounding, sensitivity in his 'unnecessary life' and, like Hardy himself, he does 'not want to grow up'. [7] Added to this is the fact that the boy is advised, 'Jude, my child, don't you ever marry' [8] very early in the novel, when his aunt is speaking of the unfortunate results of matrimony in the Fawley family in direct connection with his future love, Sue:

The boy is crazy for books, that he is. It runs in our family rather.

His cousin Sue is just the same- so I've heard; but I have not seen

the child for years, though she was born in this place, within these

four walls, as it happened. My niece and her husband, after they

were married, didn' get a house of their own for some year or more;

and then they only had one till - Well, I won't go into that. [9] 

That their mutual love of learning should be seen as a possible source of discontent, is a clear foreshadowing of a source of both their 'communion', as Nightingale puts it, and disparity. Moreover, their familial relationship not only indicates a shared 'fate' but also a social difficulty; as cousins, they are too closely related to 'marry safely'. Later, the reader sees that though their 'difficulties' may spring from the same genetic fount of discontent their fundamental disparities are more to do with gender and character.

They do share intellectual ambition and are, indeed, both, in different ways, attracted to Phillotson, their 'intellectual mentor' and later Sue's husband, but he is also the source of deep disillusionment for them both: Jude feels betrayed by him, Sue oppressed. Yet, Sue also represents:

the woman of the feminist movement […] who does not recognize

the necessity for most of her sex to follow marriage as a profession,

and boast themselves as superior people because they are licensed

to be loved on the premises. [10] 

Though recorded as the view of a 'German critic', in a blasé fashion, Hardy nevertheless associates himself, however obliquely, with the concept of the 'New Woman'. Sue, as representative of this 'type', is much less generously displayed than Jude in her 'ambition'; he it might be said, is painfully deprived, she petulantly thwarted.

This judgement has much to do with gender and also with Hardy's view of marriage, doubtless influenced by his own initial passion for his first wife, Emma Gifford, having dissipated:

The marriage laws being used in great part as the tragic machinery

of the tale, and its general drift on the domestic side tending to show

that, in Diderot's words, the civil law should be only the enunciation

of the law of nature (a statement that requires some qualifications,

by the way), I have been charged since 1895 with a large responsibility

in this country for the present 'shop-soiled' condition of the marriage

theme (as a learned writer characterized it the other day). I do not know.

My opinion at that time, if I remember rightly, was what it is now,

that a marriage should be dissolvable as soon as it becomes a cruelty

to either of the parties-being then essentially and morally no marriage

-and it seemed a good foundation for the fable of a tragedy, told for

its own sake as a presentation of particulars containing a good deal

that was universal, and not without a hope that certain cathartic,

Aristotelian qualities might be found therein. [11] 

Certainly, the 'parties' united in this novel do, indeed, suffer 'cruelty' and are at some distance from Nightingale's 'communion', but in the apportioning of responsibility, let alone culpability, Hardy is far from even-handed; the author's 'opinion' being much influenced by his own gender related issues.

Moreover, he is clearly subverting Victorian values in both fiction and fact. Notwithstanding the fact that this radical reassessment was, perhaps, required:

How much a reader can take is, to some extent, a matter of temperament.

Jude really is painful. But the age, the novel-reading public and, more

precisely, their disingenuous and falsely pious spokesmen - those who

appealed to the dishonesty inherent in society - deserved to be shaken

up. [12] 

Both Jude's partners are presented as controlling and flawed. Initially, the innocent and intellectually disillusioned Jude, is seduced and tricked into a loveless marriage by the calculating Arabella Donn, whose companions, on their first meeting, immediately see the disparity between the two:

'Lord! he's nobody, though you med think so. He used to drive old

Drusilla Fawley's bread-cart out at Marygreen, till he 'prenticed

himself at Alfredston. Since then he's been very stuck up, and always

reading. He wants to be a scholar, they say.' 'Oh, I don't care what

he is, or anything about 'n. Don't you think it, my child!' 'Oh, don't

ye! You needn't try to deceive us! What did you stay talking to him

for, if you didn't want un? Whether you do or whether you don't,

he's as simple as a child. I could see it as you courted on the bridge,

when he looked at 'ee as if he had never seen a woman before in his

born days. Well, he's to be had by any woman who can get him to

care for her a bit, if she likes to set herself to catch him the right way.' [13] 

He is immediately categorised as 'nobody', 'stuck up' and easy 'to catch', thus vulnerable in the extreme to the type of woman represented in Arabella. She feigns nonchalance but the specifically sexual nature of the object hurled which catches Jude's attention leaves the reader in no doubt as to Hardy's intent (though Martin Seymour-Smith has pointed out that Arabella's sensuality is healthy when compared to Sue's neuroticism [14] ). Moreover, the portrayal of Arabella continues to be unpleasant, as she is shown as perpetually crude and duplicitous.

Initially, Jude feels himself to be in control of the situation and recognising the differences between them, sees Arabella as merely an interlude:

After to-day he would never probably see her again. Indeed, it would be

impossible, considering what his plans were. In short, as if materially,

a compelling arm of extraordinary muscular power seized hold of him

- something which had nothing in common with the spirits and influences

that had moved him hitherto. This seemed to care little for his reason and

his will, nothing for his so-called elevated intentions, and moved him

along, as a violent schoolmaster a schoolboy he has seized by the collar,

in a direction which tended towards the embrace of a woman for whom

he had no respect, and whose life had nothing in common with his own

except locality. [15] 

Yet, Hardy indicates how false is Jude's sense of security by showing him to be 'compelled' by a 'muscular power' quite different from 'the spirits and influences which have moved him hitherto'. Jude is clearly not in control of either himself or the situation; he has lost contact with 'reason and his will'. The 'grip' of this new experience is realised in very telling imagery, for Jude is likened to 'a schoolboy' who is 'seized' by 'a violent schoolmaster'. In this way, Hardy juxtaposes Jude's scholastic ambitions with his innocence and puts both in the hands of 'something' more powerful than he. His acknowledgement of Arabella as a woman for whom he has 'no respect' should, perhaps, incline the reader towards antipathy to Jude; though it is unlikely that Hardy intends this, it does become a possible reaction. There is no 'depth' to this relationship, no 'communion' other than sexual, since all they have 'in common' is 'locality'. Given this beginning to their relationship, the outcome is inevitable. However, Hardy seeks to remove direct responsibility from Jude by emphasising his youth and inexperience.

Indeed, the reader is invited to see him as a deluded victim throughout this relationship, even Arabella's hair is false and her dimples produced at will, much to Jude's horror. He has married her believing her to be pregnant but soon realises, of course, that this is false and his reaction neatly displays the views on the marriage laws that Hardy expressed in his preface:

There seemed to him, vaguely and dimly, something wrong in a

social ritual which made necessary a cancelling of well-formed

schemes involving years of thought and labour, of foregoing

a man's one opportunity of showing himself superior to the lower

animals, and of contributing his units of work to the general

progress of his generation, because of a momentary surprise by a

new and transitory instinct which had nothing in it of the nature of

vice, and could be only at the most called weakness. He was inclined

to inquire what he had done, or she lost, for that matter, that he deserved

to be caught in a gin which would cripple him, if not her also, for the

rest of a lifetime? There was perhaps something fortunate in the fact

that the immediate reason of his marriage had proved to be non-existent.

But the marriage remained. [16] 

Jude's repressed anger at the 'social ritual' which 'cancels' his life-plan clearly echoes Hardy's remark that couples should not be obliged, by convention, to live together when there is no longer 'morally' a marriage. This apparently idiosyncratic view of marriage was beginning, in fact, to be expressed by a number of authors, including Gissing, Meredith and, later, by Forster (all of whose unhappy personal relationships, in different ways, informed their writing). Hardy's use of the colloquial 'gin' to describe that which 'would cripple him', links the perpetuation of such 'rituals' as 'marriage of convenience' to the rural, though resistance to fundamental change in Christian mores was very much present in the cities to which Jude longs to escape. Inevitably, the relationship fails and Arabella abandons Jude, returning later in the novel to cause him more difficulties and, ultimately, to leave him in despair to die alone.

Jude's relationship with the sexually repressed, neurotic Sue Bridehead, is equally problematic and actually causes him more pain as he cares more for her. Her character is thought to have been inspired by Florence Henniker, with whom Hardy was involved. Sue is named both 'Florence' (after Henniker) and 'Mary' (after his sister, the college she attended was also like Sue's) as well as 'Susanna' (ironically, a Biblical reference to 'Susanna and the Elders' where Susanna is praised for resisting the sexual temptation Sue abhors [17] ). Notwithstanding critical disagreement about this, Claire Tomalin has noted:

To find that she [Florence], like Emma, was a conventional Christian

ready to invoke religion in defence of her marriage vows, instead of

the emancipated person he [Hardy] had supposed her, was especially

galling. This is how […] she became the model for Sue Bridehead, to

whom he gave the second name Florence, who liked to be loved and

pursued whilst refusing to give any return of sexual love, and who

gave up being a free spirit and turned to Christ in a hideous scene

of penitence. [18] 

This is precisely Jude's (and Phillotson's) difficulty with Sue; she is a neurotically mercurial character, seeming to desire 'communion' and 'drawing from the depths', yet seeking, also, to evade the sexual intimacy which would seem to be a natural progression:

'My life has been entirely shaped by what people call a peculiarity in

me. I have no fear of men, as such, nor of their books. I have mixed

with them- one or two of them particularly- almost as one of their own

sex. I mean I have not felt about them as most women are taught to feel-

to be on their guard against attacks on their virtue; for no average man-

no man short of a sensual savage- will molest a woman by day or night,

at home or abroad, unless she invites him. Until she says by a look "Come

on" he is always afraid to, and if you never say it, or look it, he never

comes. However, what I was going to say is that when I was eighteen I

formed a friendly intimacy with an undergraduate at Christminster,

and he taught me a great deal, and lent me books which I should never

have got hold of otherwise.'

"Is your friendship broken off?'

'Oh yes. He died, poor fellow, two or three years after he had taken his

degree and left Christminster.'

'You saw a good deal of him, I suppose?'

'Yes.We used to go about together - on walking tours, reading tours, and

things of that sort- like two men almost. He asked me to live with him,

and I agreed to by letter. But when I joined him in London I found he

meant a different thing from what I meant. He wanted me to be his mistress,

in fact, but I wasn't in love with him - and on my saying I should go away

if he didn't agree to MY plan, he did so. […] His death caused a terrible

remorse in me for my cruelty - though I hope he died of consumption and

not of me entirely. I went down to Sandbourne to his funeral, and was his

only mourner. He left me a little money - because I broke his heart, I

suppose. That's how men are- so much better than women!' [19] 

Sue's idea of 'intimacy' is very different from that of her male contemporaries, it would seem. 'Communion' for her has little to do with passion, which shows a conventional aspect to this otherwise bohemian woman (such as Hardy found in Henniker). It is more as a response to Sue's feelings that she behaves in this way, rather than obedience to convention. However, although this is no mere caprice (Sue is so desperate to avoid Phillotson's sexual advances that she jumps from a window to avoid them) nevertheless, any physical intimacy causes her very real pain and, naturally, distress to her lovers. Yet:

She represents an innovation in his [Hardy's] fiction, especially

in the peculiar fact of her sexuality. [20] 

After Arabella leaves him, Jude moves to Christminster and supports himself as a mason while studying alone, hoping to be able to enter the university later. There, he meets and falls in love with his free-spirited cousin, Sue Bridehead. Jude shortly introduces Sue to his former schoolteacher, Mr. Phillotson, whom she later marries. Sue is satisfied by the normality of her married life, but quickly finds the relationship an unhappy one; in addition to being in love with Jude, not her husband, she is physically disgusted by her spouse, and, apparently, by sex in general.

Sue eventually leaves Phillotson for Jude. Sue and Jude spend some time living together without any sexual relationship; they are both afraid to get married because their family has a history of tragic unions, and think that being legally bound to one another might destroy their love. Jude eventually convinces Sue to sleep with him and, over the years, they have two children together. They are also bestowed with a child "of an intelligent age" from Jude's first marriage to Arabella, whom Jude did not know about earlier. He is named Jude and nicknamed "Little Father Time" because of his intense seriousness and moroseness.

Jude and Sue are socially ostracized for living together unmarried, especially after the

Her surname, as Seymour-Smith points out, [21] is a composite of 'bride' and 'maidenhead', Sue's twin fears. Though she marries Phillotson (and ultimately returns to him in an act of masochistic penance after the death of her children with Jude and Jude's son with Arabella, 'Old Father Time') she shrinks from marriage with Jude and sexual union with both. She 'gives in' to Jude but they are never completely happy - together or apart, yet there is always a uniquely tender 'understanding' between them. Sue enjoys being treated 'like a man' and in many ways what she desires is the Hellenic ideal of spiritual union devoid of physical contact, warning Jude: 'You mustn't love me, you are to like me that's all' [22] but Jude, passionately devoted to her almost to the point of worship, finds this impossible and a little later she grants permission for him to love her, far beneath the depth of mutual feeling he truly desires:

By every law of nature and sex a kiss was the only rejoinder that fitted the

mood and the moment, under the suasion of which Sue's undemonstrative

regard of him might not inconceivably have changed its temperature. Some

men would have cast scruples to the winds, and ventured it, oblivious both

of Sue's declaration of her neutral feelings, and of the pair of autographs

in the vestry chest of Arabella's parish church. Jude did not. [23] 

Jude's natural empathy with animals and Hardy's repeated use of animal imagery in the novel emphasises the raw and painful absence from the relationships of sexual fulfilment, save in a base way, as with Arabella's crude representation throughout. Thus, it would be impossible for him to inflict pain on Sue, even by a caress. When Jude hears the screech of a rabbit caught in a 'gin' and kills it to release it from further pain, he almost becomes the animal himself, similarly 'trapped', his 'unnecessary life' still filled only with suffering and thwarted desires, both emotional and intellectual. Sue shares his natural affinity with nature and entrapment and in the release of the rabbit, they achieve a tender unity, otherwise denied them:

At some time near two o'clock, when he was beginning to sleep more

soundly, he was aroused by a shrill squeak that had been familiar

enough to him when he lived regularly at Marygreen. It was the cry of a

rabbit caught in a gin. As was the little creature's habit, it did not soon

repeat its cry; and probably would not do so more than once or twice;

but would remain bearing its torture till the morrow when the trapper

would come and knock it on the head. He who in his childhood had

saved the lives of the earthworms now began to picture the agonies

of the rabbit from its lacerated leg. […] Almost half an hour passed,

and the rabbit repeated its cry. Jude could rest no longer till he had put it

out of its pain, so dressing himself quickly he descended, and by the light

of the moon went across the green in the direction of the sound. He

reached the hedge bordering the widow's garden, when he stood still.

The faint click of the trap as dragged about by the writhing animal guided

him now, and reaching the spot he struck the rabbit on the back of the

neck with the side of his palm, and it stretched itself out dead. He was

turning away when he saw a woman looking out of the open casement

at a window on the ground floor of the adjacent cottage.

'Jude!' said a voice timidly - Sue's voice. 'It is you- is it not?'

'Yes, dear!'

'I haven't been able to sleep at all, and then I heard the rabbit, and

couldn't help thinking of what it suffered, till I felt I must come down

and kill it! But I am so glad you got there first.... They ought not to be

allowed to set these steel traps, ought they!' [24] 

Trapped so painfully themselves, they cannot help but feel a resonance with the little creature and this 'trap' is 'man-made' like their own. They respond in the same way to the awareness of pain, yet cannot despatch themselves so easily. Ironically, Jude's son by Arabella, 'Old Father Time', does exactly this in a grossly tragic transmutation of this 'mercy killing', when he kills his siblings and himself because they are 'too menny'. [25] Otherwise, their only 'link' is one of ill-fated blood, their coming together the result of another's pain and sacrifice, when Phillotson releases her to be with Jude:

He opened the letter she had brought, and read: 'I make only one

Condition - that you are tender and kind to her. I know you love her.

But even love may be cruel at times. You are made for each

other: it is obvious, palpable, to any unbiased older person. You were

all along "the shadowy third" in my short life with her. I repeat, take

care of Sue.' [26] 

When Sue returns to Phillotson, it is again through pain and sacrifice, there is no joy in the loves of these characters, 'real communion', and 'Descending into the depths of their being, and drawing out thence what they find and comparing it' is at enormous cost to all and never realised completely. This is only partly due to the restrictions of Victorian society. Hardy has created characters who are ill at ease within themselves, suffering pain from their nature and origin, from forces internal as well as external. Hardy does succeed in exposing the agony of being trapped in loveless union but it is hard to imagine characters so manifestly predisposed to 'suffer' being able to function or fully communicate in any circumstances. Nightingale's comment, therefore, ultimately succeeds only in so far as it states the problem in abstract. When Hardy extends this to include the vagaries and idiosyncrasies of human nature, the inevitable tangle which results offers no remedy. The reader is left with a sense of despair at the inexorability of the 'unnecessary suffering' of which life is made and the impossibility of its resolution. Hardy's deepest communion seems thus to be with fate, which depends little on the individual social and moral laws of any society, Victorian or otherwise.

Word Count 4304

Plagiarism Count 200