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APPROPRIATING THE WORD: JUDE THE OBSCURE AS SUBVERSIVE APOCRYPHA RICHARD NEMESVARI St. Francis Xavier University Perhaps die most famous reaction connected to die public reception of Jude the Obscure, a work which generated more than a few noteworthy responses, was recorded in die Yorkshire Post of June 9, 1896. The newspaper had, on June 8, written a scathing article castigating both the novel and its author, and this in turn elicited an approving letter from W.W. How, Bishop of Wakefield. Sir, Will you allow me publicly to thank you for your outspoken leader in your to-day's issue denouncing the intolerable grossness and hateful sneering at all that one most reveres in such writers as Thomas Hardy? On the authority of one of tiiose reviews which you justly condemn for their reticence, I bought a copy of one of Mr. Hardy's novels, but was so disgusted with its insolence and indecency that I threw it into die fire. It is a disgrace to our great public libraries to admit such garbage, clever though it may be, to dieir shelves. I am, Sir Yours, etc. William Walsham Wakefield Hardy chose not to respond to this attack with a letter of his own, although indie Postscript to die novel's Preface, written for die 1912 Wessex Edition, he does make die wry observation diat die bishop chose this incendiary form of literary criticism "in his despair at not being able to bum me" (xxxvi). An analysis of die way in which Hardy Victorian Review 19.2 (Winter 1993) RICHARD NEMESVARI49 uses scripture in Jude the Obscure, however, goes some way towards explaining the Bishop of Wakefield's dismay. Numerous critics have noted Hardy's manipulation of biblical allusion and quotation, especially in his later novels, and have suggested that this technique for calling into question the very basis of Christianity reaches its most sophisticated expression in his last piece of prose fiction. Yet analyzing the patterns of particular allusions and quotations does not go far enough in exploring Hardy's subversion of the Bible in Jude.1 Certainly the novel provides a series of complex and ironic references to scripture, but on a deeper level it presents an actual re-writing of parts of the divine text. Further, that re-writing self-consciously involves the non-canonical books of the Apocrypha as a way of asserting the contingent nature not only of scriptural authority, but of textual authority in general. More specifically Hardy, through the parallel narratives of Jude Fawley and Sue Bridehead, re-inscribes the New Testament Epistle of Jude and the apocryphal account of Susanna in such a way that he undercuts the biblical logos by appropriating and dien radically altering its import. As part of die novel's exploration of modern social fragmentation, it takes religious narratives that have acted as unifying cultural constructs and reverses their significances, thus insisting on both their and society's vulnerability to constant reinterpretation. Hardy's appropriative act of re-inscription thus emphasizes the lack of communal continuity in the world of die novel. Robert Weimann makes the following observations about literary appropriation in pre-modern societies. As long as the appropriator related to the means and modes of his or her production for the most part communally, as some unquestionably given, shared property, there is very little that he or she can make his or her own. . . . The discontinuity between the act and object of appropriation and its effects and functions is not all that considerable; the act of intellectual assimilation constitutes itself on the basis of the givenness of what is to be assimilated. (Weimann, 434-435, emphasis in original) In Jude the Obscure nothing, including scripture, is accepted as "unquestionably given, shared property." The novel provides an aggressive critique of late-Victorian attempts to (reestablish stable discourses by denying that such stability can be attained, and by insisting on the subjectivity of all manifestations and readings of "the word." It is this type of appropriation which helps make Jude the 50Victorian Review Obscure such a potentially inflammatory text, and W.W. How's recognition of that potential may have had something to do with his own more...


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