Compromise Formations: Current Directions in Psychoanalytic Criticism

By Vera J. Camden | Go to book overview

Infanticide and Object Loss in
Jude the Obscure

Jeffrey Berman

Little Father Time's suicide in Jude the Obscure (1895) is the turning point of a novel demonstrating the spirit of cruelty that pervades nature and society. As if the boy's suicide is not terrible enough, Hardy has him hang his younger half-brother and half-sister, the three children suspended pathetically from closet hooks. Located near Father Time's body is a note with the victim's last words: "Done because we are too menny" (405). The suicide letter reveals the boy's belief that his father, Jude Fawley, and stepmother, Sue Bridehead, would be better off without the children, who only add to the couple's woes in a Malthusian world. Jude sees his son's suicide as symbolic of an impending universal death wish, and he mournfully reassures Sue that she could not have averted the tragedy. "It was in his nature to do it. The doctor says there are such boys springing up amongst us—boys of a sort unknown in the last generation—the outcome of new views of life." These boys, adds Jude, see all the terrors of life before they are strong enough to resist them. "He says it is the beginning of the coming universal wish not to live. He's an advanced man, the doctor: but he can give no consolation to—" (406).

Curiously, although no subject is more important to society than the growth and nurture of its children, the double murder and suicide in Jude the Obscure have elicited virtually no literary commentary—a scholarly neglect confirming Father Time's judgment that the world would be better off without the children. The dearth of criticism is more surprising in light of the fact that the violent deaths of the three children represent, as Ian Gregor notes, the "most terrible scene in Hardy's fic

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