Academic journal article The Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences

Sue Bridehead: A Representative of the Feminist Movement

Academic journal article The Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences

Sue Bridehead: A Representative of the Feminist Movement

Article excerpt


Sue Bridehead in Jude the Obscure is one of Hardy's most challenging female characters due to her psychological intricacies, whom some critics have aligned with modernist-feminist movement. Sue offers an interesting case study for psychoanalytic interpretation. She has been regarded as a neurotic and pathological woman who has the ability to be simultaneously prosaic and poetic at the most crucial junctures of her life. Being vocal about her unconventional and weird views on love, marriage and religion, she embodies a spirit of revolt and rejection. She has been assigned unparalleled place among Hardy's exceptional females for her feminist thoughts and actions. This paper aims to examine the root cause of the inherent psychological split which accounts for her unstable and wavering behaviour. She fails to relish the sense of independence and fulfilment due to her inability to bridge the fissure.

Keywords. Feminist; psychological intricacies; modernistic; psychoanalytic trait; selfhood; neurotic; fulfilment; Sue Bridehead; Jude; Phillotson


Though initially Hardy's fiction was scrutinized in the Victorian perspectives, the emergence of psychoanalysis which brought a radical change in the literary atmosphere of the twentieth century, substantively changed the ways of interpretation of his literary texts. Hardy's art shows fragmentation of self: a psychoanalytical trait expanding and deepening with the maturity of his art. Hence, we witness a striking progress in his depiction of women - from Cytherea in Desperate Remedies to Sue Bridehead in Jude the Obscure. This growth shows Hardy's intellectual maturity and progression towards liberalism. It leads us to recognize his literary feminism. The struggle to acquire independence and fulfilment leads to the division of self in the character of Sue. In the delineation of Sue's character, Hardy portrays a modern woman torn by the split between opposing forces. The gap between the two, if bridged, leads to productive life-full of contentment and satisfaction. Sue has been described by Jude as a sexless creature who is more inclined towards intellectual pursuits, but it turns out to be his misconception. D. H. Lawrence considers Sue 'as one of the supremest [sic] products of our civilization' and 'a product that well frighten us' (Lawrence 71). In Stave's opinion, Sue is such a complex character that it is actually difficult to call her a woman with balanced personality, and 'dealing with Sue as a character is very similar to dealing with a neurotic person outside of fictions and texts-it can quickly drive one to distraction' (133).

Sue's resistance against appropriation and classification

Sue keeps oscillating between her social and instinctual self throughout the course of the novel. The dilemma faced by Hardy's Sue is that she is full of contradictions and keeps her intellectual quest distinctly separate from physical fulfilment. Sue does not realize that fulfilment is possible only by a subtle amalgamation of physical as well as intellectual aspects while she persistently divorces physical from intellectual glorification due to which she fails to have that sense of autonomous selfhood. Sue acknowledges to Jude that 'there was not much queer or exceptional in them: that all were so. 'Everybody is getting to feel as we do. We are a little beforehand, that's all' (Jude 305). She oscillates between two extremes: her natural inclination and a socially acceptable path. Her dauntless spirit refuses to surrender to the male authority which society approves in the guise of husband. What to talk of a woman who is articulate about her weird opinions so far that she can even think of 'some harmless mode of vegetation' that 'might have peopled Paradise' (Dutta 165). Anything having a stamp of social sanction is intolerable to her unconstrained temperament.

From her protestations, heavily imbued with the phrases of officialdom ('licence', 'chamber-officer', 'contract', 'government stamp', 'on the premises'), her sense of resentment and oppression in the face of male authority communicates itself as a revulsion for all things male-dominated or bureaucratic (Morgan 125). …

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