Adulteration and the Late-Victorian Culture of Risk in Jude the Obscure
Few novelists were more concerned with the chronic uncertainty of modern everyday life than Thomas Hardy. This chapter reads Jude the Obscure (1896) through late-nineteenth-century risk culture. The “risk society thesis” was not propounded until the 1980s (by Ulrich Beck, after Chernobyl), to describe a condition that was unique to late modernity. Nevertheless, risk is critical to Hardyean tragedy, which happens when instinct is beset by consciousness: when the Schopenhauerean “will to life” impels individuals to actions which they or others perceive as the consequence of their decisions, and for which they feel obliged to take responsibility. In the utter solitariness of their “two-in-oneness,” and without recourse to delegitimized institutions such as marriage, family, community, universities, government, or religion, Jude and Sue must constantly make decisions about the dangers they face, but without the resources for such decision-making. Arabella, by contrast, is at home in the new risk culture.