Jude the Obscure, the last of Thomas Hardy's novels, began as a magazine serial and was first published in book form in 1895. The book was burned publicly by William Walsham How, Bishop of Wakefield, in that same year. Its hero, Jude Fawley, is a working-class young man who dreams of becoming a scholar. The other main character is his cousin, Sue Bridehead, who is also his central love interest. Themes include class, scholarship, religion, marriage, and the modernisation of thought and society. Hardy began making notes for the story in 1887.
The novel develops multiple intertwined themes. Most controversially, during England's Victorian era, Hardy criticized revered institutions like marriage and Christianity. He also criticizes the bourgeois values associated with marriage through the tragedy of his star-crossed lovers, Jude and Sue, whose attempts to defy social conventions for the sake of love leads to their misery.
Another major thematic focus of the novel is the issue of fixed class boundaries, particularly with regard to access to higher education for students from the working class. Although Jude wishes to attend the university, he can't afford to get his degree and is...