No. 7. Arabella Donn and Jude Fawley from Jude the Obscure
Wonderful writing, but such a sad tale. Jude was the first adult book I ever read. Thank you, Bromley Public Library. A strange choice for a child really, especially given the ending! Even so, I could tell there was something magical about it. “But his dreams were as gigantic as his surroundings were small.” Poor Jude. Life somehow got in the way of his dreams – as it does to many of us.
In his late teens Jude meets and is seduced by Arabella. Jude’s first encounter with Arabella is when she interrupts his scholarly dreaming by throwing a pig’s penis at him. To some readers she is Trouble-With-a-Capital-T, to others she is a sympathetic character – good humoured, practical, emotionally intelligent. Arabella informs Jude that she is pregnant and the gentle Jude gives up on his dreams of a scholar’s life at Christminster (Oxford?) to marry her. When she then reveals that she was ‘mistaken’ about her pregnancy, Jude feels tricked and trapped. It is not a great beginning to marital bliss. Before long Arabella leaves for Australia where she remarries bigamously.
Had Jude and Arabella never got married, or had Arabella never returned from the antipodes we wouldn’t have had much of a novel. It would have been ‘boy meets girl, they do a bit of studying, marry and become middle class’. If that had happened this relationship would not have been no.7 on this list. And Hardy would have written a dull and forgotten yarn instead of a classic about class, education, religion and marriage.
Enter the lovely, free spirited Sue Bridehead, a cousin of Jude’s. There is attraction on both sides. But Jude is still married to Arabella and Sue ends up marrying another man. Arabella returns, she gets a divorce from Jude and she legally marries her bigamous husband. Sue also gets divorced. Confused? It gets more complicated.
Jude and Sue love each other and end up living openly as an apparently married couple. Arabella exits the scene for a while but returns to tell Jude that she had a son years ago – and it’s his. Arabella leaves her son with Jude. As the years go by Sue and Jude have two children of their own but they are still not married. The situation is now getting very complex. This is Victorian England and social and religious tolerance for “living in sin” and illegitimacy is in short supply.
To cut a long story short – Sue remarries her ex-husband and, incredibly, Jude ends up remarrying Arabella. Jude gets ill, travels through horrible weather to see Sue one last time, they declare their love, and he dies soon after. There is more death and misery than that, but I will spare you. The most disastrous relationship so far on our list, but there is far worse to come (see other couples below).
Worst couples in literature – The complete list
No. 11. Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
No. 10. Rosamund Vincy and Dr Lydgate from Middlemarch (George Eliot)
No. 9. Lydia and George Wickham from Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
No. 8. Dorothea and Edward Casaubon from Middlemarch (George Eliot)
No. 7. Arabella Donn and Jude Fawley from Jude the Obscure (Thomas Hardy)
No. 6. Anna Karenina and Alexei Vronsky from Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy)
No. 5. Bertha and Edward Rochester from Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë)
No. 4. Madeline Bray and Arthur Gride from Nicholas Nickleby (Charles Dickens)
No.3. Laura Fairlie and Sir Percival Glyde from The Woman in White (Wilkie Collins)
No.2. Angel & Tess and Alec & Tess from Tess of the d’Urbervilles (Thomas Hardy)
No.1 Heathcliff and Catherine from Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)