Sue Bridehead: A Representative of the Feminist Movement.
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).
The right to choose rather than to be chosen dominates Sue's speech and actions. What other motive could induce her to defy authority and flee from the training school to be with Jude In Jude's opinion she marries Philltoson when she does not understand what marriage is! In a letter written to Jude she entreats him to give her away to Phillotson in marriage as a guardian because she has no other relative. In this way she ridicules the sanctity of the contract.
Jude will you give me away I have nobody else who could do it so conveniently as youI have been looking at the marriage service in the Prayer-book and it seems to me very humiliating that a giver-away should be required at all. According to the ceremony as there printed my bridegroom chooses me of his own will and pleasure; but I don't choose him. Somebody gives me to him like a she-ass or she-goat or any other domestic animal. Bless your exalted views of women O Churchman! But I forget: I am no longer privileged to tease you (Jude 190).
Sue detests the idea of being the passive participant of the contract in which both parties should have equal rights: 'Also implicit in Sue's speech is her rebellion against a society which conditions women into accepting the passive role of being the chosen" instead of granting her the (equal) autonomy of becoming the active chooser' (Dutta 119). Sue is the most fitting of Hardy's heroines to be accorded a political voice' (Morgan 128).
Similarly the idea of loving someone forever with social sanction does not make sense to Sue. It is not in her nature to be satisfied with something that will go on forever because it has a social license. Her conviction is that one may love and be loved in return forever when he is told to do the contrary. Sue has logical reasons for not entering into the contract.
One of her fundamental objections to marriage- that it is as culpable to bind yourself to love always as to believe a creed always and as silly as to vow to like a particular food or drink'-is an echo of Shelley which reverberated through the New Woman novels. Also her view of marriage as a purely civil understanding reflecting no divine or even human morality is a common feature of the anti-marriage heroine (Cunningham 110).
The sense of servitude or bondage is intolerable for Sue be it to social demands institutions religion or men. She does not have any problem while interacting with men as long as the essence of the relationship is voluntariness. Despite Jude's effort at winning her heart he fails to persuade her into marrying him due to Sue's inability to adjust her inner life with perfect ease with social obligation which makes it incumbent upon her to look up to someone as her legal husband. Sue tells Jude: 'You mustn't love me. You are to like me-that's all' we feel a vibration here which is not that of Sue delicately preserving her commitment to Phillotson but rather that of her inability to achieve a commitment of any kind. The freedom' she has been at pains to assert"(Gregor 215). Sue's aversion to marriage or irrevocable sexual commitment' of any sort is her desperate attempt to
retain control of her sexuality by a straight forward restriction of her sexual availability' (Boumelha 144). She is not accepted by the community as the bride of Jude when she lives with him and has borne him children as well. She does not understand the simple fact that she cannot be taken as Jude's wife unless she observes social norm of marrying him with proper ceremony which she ridicules. Had it been a society where Sue would not be stigmatized as adulteress she would continue to live with Jude while gratifying her intellectual quest from Phillotson.
A refusal of sexual dimension of relationships can seem the only rational response to a dilemma; in revolt against the double bind by which female- male relationships are invariably interpreted as sexual and by which simultaneously sexuality is controlled and channeled into a single legalized relationship (Boumelha 143).
Sue escapes appropriation or classification throughout the novel. She is so unpredictable that Jude and Phillotson have contradictory opinions about her. Her resistance to being reduced to a stereotypical image of woman surfaces in her strong revulsion to be called someone's wife. Her perpetual attempts to escape a commitment of marriage is not a defect of nature but a necessary stand against being reduced to the womanly'" (qtd in Boumelha 143). She is not what Jude and Phillotson think her to be; they find it difficult to classify or define her. The contradictoriness of her nature is reflected by the words chosen by Hardy to describe her: Jude finds her 'faithful' and 'elusive' (229) 'inconsistent' (231) 'the most ethereal' 'least sensual woman' (365) 'a woman-poet a woman-seer' (370) 'a sort of fay or sprite"not a woman' (373). To Phillotson she is 'elusive' yet 'honest' (388) who does not do anything 'against her conscience' (388).
When Sue is with Jude at his lodging she recounts an incident which confirms that she is not a creature of civilization' as Jude assumes her to be; rather she is a negation of it' in her own self-analysis (Jude 167). She tells Jude of her liaison with a young graduate at Christminster with whom she spent fifteen months after which he said I was breaking his heart by holding out against him so long at such close quarters; he could never have believed it of woman. I might play that game once too often he said. He came home merely to die. His death caused a terrible remorse in me for my cruelty"though I hope he died of consumption and not of me entirely.'(Jude 168). Jude is her second victim whom she kills with her callousness. Jude yells in frustration: 'You have never loved me as I love you"never"never! Yours is not a passionate heart- your heart does not burn in a flame' (Jude 373). She can associate with men live with them talk with them on any subject under the sun in an abstract impersonal way that is no less admirable than rare. It gives her strange power. It permits her to indulge in dangerous experiments in emotion like the undergraduate companionship and the marriage rehearsel; it enables her as Mrs. Richard Phillotson to be so sweet to Jude that he cries in agony Flirt! Her behaviour is to some extent based on ignorance of human frailty and fire but the strength and mastery are unquestionable and are the fruit of her curious unconsciousness of gender.' My strength is as the strength of ten Because my heart is pure (Duffin 223-224).
Freedom and voluntariness lie at the core of Sue's actions. To be responsive and attentive to someone's needs is foreign to her nature. She is a curious blend masculine in its complexity"of passion intellect and emotion' (Duffin 230). The reader recognizes her inability to force herself into any relationship when Phillotson's physical proximity nauseates her beyond her wildest imagination and she feels like jumping out of the window rather than sleeping with him. With this realization Sue asks Phillotson to set her free from the bondage. Being a man of dignity and prestige Phillotson lets her take the course she desires. She rejoins Jude and lives with him as his mistress but every attempt on Jude's part to bring about their union is met with strong resistance. She does not want Jude's passion to subside by marital relationship and keeps the thrill of having illicit relationship alive by bearing children as well.
Had she been frigid as has frequently been assumed by critics she would not have borne children to Jude. She must have succumbed to sexual temptations at her own sweet will. The obligation of responding at Jude's will is something unacceptable to her and she refuses to legalize her relationship in marriage. She finds herself totally misfit for rearing up children as they are eventually killed by Father Time (Jude and Arabella's son).
The deaths of the children are a decisive point for her driving her ever deeper into herself so that although her behaviour is now in striking contrast to her previous conduct-the return to the church the remarriage to Phillotson her fundamental disposition is unchanged. The aerial part' and the body' are still held together only by a fanatical act of will her enslavement to forms' of self-renunciation replacing her earlier enslavement to forms of self- assertion. Enclosed within herself she seals herself off almost literally from human communication; clenching her teeth she uttered no cry' when Phillotson takes her into his bedroom and when Jude leaves her for the last time she stopped her ears with her hands till all possible sound of him had passed away (Gregor 226).
The death of children marks the pivotal point in Sue's progress towards selfhood. Sue takes it as a divine retribution for the sin committed in her flesh. She brings destruction upon herself and all those around her including her children by being indifferent to their existence. Sue's responses to Father Time are enough to make the little boy understand that his siblings are the byproduct of the delight taken in flesh rather than the fruit of love or affections. She speaks without much deliberation and hardly thinks about the consequences of her words. The death of the children marks a crucial point in Sue's life after which she is no more what she was. She has discovered that self-renunciation is the ultimate reality I well deserved the scourging I have got! I wish something would take the evil out of me and all my monstrous errors and all my sinful ways!'(Jude 364).
How has Sue come from full circle from self-delight' to self-abnegation' From the outset Sue has rebelled against the established roles for women in education society marriage and religion but particularly against her own sexuality. It is this final rebellion which so conclusively condemns Sue to remorse (Jekel 180).
Despite Sue's intellectual superiority which is hinted at numerous points in the novel she chooses adultery as a road to self-fulfillment. As a consequence she suffers from psychological death. She responds to her instinct but eventually embraces the finality awaiting her since long by stoic resignation. Sue has an extraordinary intellect which shines like a diamond. When Jude praises her: 'You have been fearless both as a thinker and as a feeler' (Jude 365) Sue responds that she has always done what her heart desires. She has to pay the price of going against the established norms and degrading all the institutions held sacred by the society. A sense of guilt and remorse over her past conduct drives her almost insane and she feels she must do penance and renounce pleasure altogether' (Hyman 170). Hyman agrees with Gregor in interpreting Sue's remarriage with Phillotson as a kind of penance an exercise in self-discipline a means of mortifying the flesh' (171).
Sue's return to Phillotson is a loathsome thing a turn toward death-in-life' (qtd in Casangrande 59) while for Kucich Sue's return to Phillotson is mediated by her sense of social obligation' (231). She becomes an emotional wreck and an objective spectator who watches her own annihilation with silence: Sue moves into silence; in her last two appearances she stops her ears to avoid hearing Jude and clenches her teeth to avoid addressing Phillotson' (Boumelha 140). The only thing Sue has to utter is something unutterable: I can't explain' becomes a kind of motto" (Boumelha140).
Sue cannot be defined as sexless or ethereal: if she is beyond definition how can she be judged or evaluated by the upholders of patriarchy The callous verdict on her rarities condemns her to self-affliction and isolation hence leading to her metaphorical death. Sue is disgusted with her body and seeks release from everything that it needs. She reaches the ultimate reality of her being when she has lost everything.
And she humbled her body greatly and all the places of her joy she filled with her torn hair.' The aerial part' now seeks to annihilate the body' and the freedom it seeks is the last freedom of all-the freedom of self-destruction. But the body' can longer be thought of as the individual body' and in destroying herself Sue destroys the lives of those around her' (Gregor 223).
Subjection in any form is beyond tolerance for Sue. She regresses to penalize her own body for purgation by committing it to Phillotson's charge. Living with Phillotson may absolve her from the feeling of guilt: When Sue reverts at the last to the grossest form of subjection having physically steeled herself for the taskI've wrestled and struggled and fasted and prayed I've nearly brought my body into complete subjection' she takes on her infantilized role with a vengeance"(Morgan 131). The only way out of her misery is revenge and infliction of pain upon herself"physical or psychological. This desire to annihilate the flesh or body is a recurrent theme in Hardy's novels. It is the same cry through Hardy this curse upon the birth in the flesh and this unconscious adherence to the flesh' (Casagrande 38). Nothing less than affliction can satisfy Sue at this point of her life"when she can have no more than what she has already lost.
But it is the only means available to Sue in danger of total personality breakdown of gaining a hold on her identity of gaining a hold on a self which in its infantile sexlessness and hatred of its femaleness had won the hearts of those standing in judgement upon her (Morgan 131-132).
Sue has been criticized severely for being emotionally sterile; who is 'even cruel in a refined way her deliberate epicene" frigidity having killed one man before the novel even starts' (Alvarez 118). Jude loves her despite her cold insensitivity. She confesses to Jude that she is driven to him partly by her jealousy and partly by her insatiable desire of being loved.
At first I did not love you Jude; I own. When I first knew you I merely wanted you to love me. I did not exactly flirt with you; but that inborn craving which undermines some women's morals almost more than unbridled passion"the craving to attract and captivate regardless of the injury it may do the man"was in me;I couldn't bear to let you go possibly to Arabella again"and so I got to love you Jude. But however fondly it ended it began in the selfish and cruel wish to make your heart ache for me without letting mine ache for you' (Jude 373). Sue's progression from self-narcissicism to self-disgust signifies her growing sense of disappointment and ultimate despair over not being accepted for what she is and consequent denial of her integration into the community. Her intrinsic nature is the root cause of all her miseries due to which she cannot become a part of society. Any deliberate effort at social integration by conforming to socially approved course is totally frustrating for a woman like Sue whose very demand is to be given her autonomy.
The sexual inequality the complete reduction of woman to the status of a commodity to be handed over from one owner to another the absolute proprietorial rights of the husband over his wife"over both her wealth and her body"were a social reality in an age when a woman practically surrendered her legal existence on marriage. Also implicit in Sue's speech is her rebellion against a society which conditions women into accepting the passive role of being the chosen' instead of granting her the (equal) autonomy of becoming the active chooser (Dutta 119).
Neurotic or pathological behaviour is a symptom of too much suppression. On the publication of Jude the Obscure there were assaults of different reviewers majority of whom condemned Sue for being strange and neurotic. A reviewer in The Morning Post' calls her A highly- strung nervous hysterical woman' (Jekel 178) who has the ability of being poetic or prosaic at the most critical moment of her life which is quite unnatural and abnormal. Another reviewer in The Guardian' finds Sue revoltingly refined' and even pathological (Jekel 178). Sue's dilemma is that she could not combine Jude and Phillotson into a being she desires for fulfillment. Jude alone can suffice for her physical urges while Phillotson is her intellectual craving. Sue's relationship with Jude and Phillotson makes one complete marriage; she has to be with both to consummate her marriage or consummate her spirit.
The tragedy of Sue lies in the ambiguity of her desires impulses and passions. Her lover Jude registers her physical response while Phillotson is too insensitive to be aware of anything else but her intellectual craving. In order to win a woman like her one has to be well equipped in both capacities" physical and intellectual. Her physicality wants her to submit to her natural instincts while her intellectual bent of mind needs to be asserted. Sue's very name Sue Bridehead' is indicative of the inherent contradiction in her: Bride stands for sensuality and head is all rationality.
Sue is a lily and Bridehead sounds like maidenhead she is the untouched part of him all intellect nerves and sensitivity essentially bodiless. It is this combination of nonphysical purity with exaggeratedly sharp intellect and sensitivity which preserves her for Jude as an object of ideal yearning hopeless and debilitating. It is yearning for his own lost innocence before his Christminster ambitions were diverted by Arabella. Even when he finally round on her after all their years and tragedies together he can still only call her a sort of fey or sprite-not a woman' (Alvarez 116).
Inherent in the name 'Sue Bridehead' is the complexity of her existence. She detaches herself from one or the other element of her constitution by force. Sue is the victim of a cultural literary convention (Lily and Rose)' that cannot allow her to have both a mind and sexuality"(qtd in Boumelha 146). Arabella is commendable for her insight into Sue's psychic intricacies: Her insight into the unguarded passionate sensual Sue struggling to break from the curbing ennobled' mould which imprisons her presents the reader with a deeper understanding of the strong vital woman conceived by Hardy and tragically misconceived by Jude"(Morgan 153-154). If critics accuse Sue for falling short of Jude's dreams and Phillotson's expectations Sue is also disappointed with both of them. Her revulsion for social propriety is veiled in her revulsion for physical union with Phillotson. Her refusal to surrender to Jude's sexual urges after marriage with Phillotson reveals her
inherent antagonistic tendency towards institution of marriage as a binding force. 'This equation of a loveless marriage with prostitution must have been startling to a society which idealized the sanctity of home and hearth and insisted on keeping the 'good' and the bad' women socially together' (Dutta 160).
To conclude Sue is misrepresented and misjudged by both her counterparts"Jude and Phillotson. They misrecognize her and misrepresent her due to which she breaks down. Both of them paste their subjective desires onto her ignoring her subjective identity and objective reality of her existence as an individual with her own aspirations. Sue comes to see in Phillotson her husband in law as Tess comes to see in Alec her husband in nature; the logic is only apparently opposite for in both cases it is underpinned by that sense of the irrevocability of commitment which is inculcated by the ideology of marriage' (Boumelha 150). The fact that she strongly resists all attempts aimed at taming her in accordance with the ideals of society and institutions make her a valid representative of Hardy's rebellious females on the one hand while a reflective forerunner of modern feminism on the other.
[This paper is based on my PhD research thesis submitted to the Department of English and Applied Linguistics University of Peshawar] References
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