London: Osgood, McIlvaine and Co., 1896. Octavo, measuring 8 x 5.5 inches: , viii, 516. Original green ribbed cloth stamped and lettered in gilt, “TH” gilt monogram to upper board, top edge gilt, other edges untrimmed. Etched frontispiece, map of Wessex after text. Bookseller label to front pastedown: “Neal’s Library / English Stationery / 248 Rue de Rivoli / Paris.” Hinges cracked, lacking scarce dust jacket. Tipped in: four-page ALS to Edward Clodd, on Hardy’s Max Gate letterhead, dated September 2, 1894. Housed in a custom clamshell box.
First edition of Thomas Hardy’s controversial final novel, the eighth volume in his uniform series of Wessex Novels, accompanied by a letter to his friend Edward Clodd reporting his progress on the work. The story of a stonemason whose higher aspirations are brutally crushed, Jude the Obscure was the subject of immediate backlash: “his dreams were as gigantic as his surroundings were small.” Hardy’s attack on class snobbery and compulsory marriage, and his sympathetic portrayal of a family created out of wedlock, so outraged readers that he abandoned the writing of novels altogether, turning to poetry in his final decades. Tipped into this copy is a four-page letter, dated September 2, 1894, sent by Hardy to his longtime friend, banker and man of letters Edward Clodd. Hardy regrets not seeing more of Clodd that summer, and confides that “the announcement in the D. Chronicle represents me as being considerably more advanced than I am with the tale [of Jude the Obscure.]” Hardy expresses his hope for a “tremendous holiday” in the future: “a night or two ago, when I was standing on the Quay at Weymouth just before the departure of the Channel boat, I felt inclined to walk aboard & go across under the starlight.” Hardy also alludes to upcoming renovations at Max Gate: “I have abandoned my first rather extensive plan & am only doing a few things absolutely necessary.” First issue, with Osgood’s name on verso of title and gilt-stamped spine. Mixed state: signature A with unpaginated chapter endings on pages 7 and 16, signatures B-H with paginated chapter endings. Purdy, 86-91, Sadleir 1108. A near-fine copy of a major novel, with original letter from Hardy concerning its progress.