Perhaps the most interesting character in Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure is Susanna Florence Mary Bridehead (Sue). Throughout the novel, she is described as everything from boyish and sexless, all the way to Voltairean and just simply unconventional. Some claim she had read prolifically many writers noted for their frankness and/or indecency (Hardy 118). Upon a surface reading, one can't help but wonder about the sexual identity and desires of Sue. At first, there seems to be none; however, upon a deeper reading of the novel, I can't help but suspect that Sue is actually a lesbian.
Sue's failures with men contribute to my feeling; she has endured unfulfilling relationships with at least three men. The critic Robert Heilman mentioned that "Sue cannot really either reject or accept men" (507) which is supported by her blatant disgust of them sexually, especially Phillotson. This man, her husband, was someone Sue found so repulsive that she would rather risk injury to herself than to allow him to touch her, as he tells his friend Gillingham, "she jumped out of window--so strong was her dread of me!" (Hardy 183). Another night, Sue avoided Phillotson by sleeping in a closet. Upon examination of this temporary "nest," Phillotson bitterly remarks to himself, "What must a woman's aversion be when it is stronger than her fear of spiders" (Hardy 176). Although I don't appreciate the stereotype, the statement does its part and makes it quite obvious that she finds her husband repulsive.
With this, his last novel, Hardy is moving away from the convention of the "inner life of the characters to be inferred from their public behavior" (Howe 513), so, although Sue...
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..."lack of respect for existing institutions and contempt for authority" (122). Kudos to Hardy for defending homosexuality, not as a "decision" made by those who wish to rebel against authority, but as a defining trait of perhaps his strongest and most interesting character.
Gosse, Edmund. "From Cosmopolis." Jude the Obscure. Ed. Norman Page. New York: Norton, 1978. 386-391.
Hardy, Thomas. Jude the Obscure. Ed. Norman Page. New York: Norton, 1978.
Heilman, Robert. "Reasons Against Emotion: The Significance of Sue." Jude the Obscure. Ed. Charles Child Walcutt. Toronto: Bantam, 1969. 504- 511.
Howe, Irving. 'Literary Modernism in Jude the Obscure." Jude the Obscure. Ed. Charles Child Walcutt. Toronto: Bantam, 1969. 512-518.
Ingham, Patricia. Introduction. Jude the Obscure. By Thomas Hardy. Ed. Ingham. New York: Oxford, 1985. xi-xxii.
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