I have a collection of nine shorts on the way, titled Stories for Boys. In anticipation of the book’s release, I’m going to talk about some of them here, beginning with Jude the Unsure.
Yes, it is indeed modelled after Thomas Hardy’s novel, Jude the Obscure. Hardy did not write happy stories, but they are compelling. His characters are often dealing with societal restraints that hold them back from their dreams and desires. Hardy’s Jude longs to be a scholar, but he is limited by 19th century low expectations from the working class, and as he enters into his teens, other things *ahem* rise up to distract him. Suddenly he finds himself saddled with a wife he does not love, and a life he never wanted.
He does, however, want his cousin, Sue. They share an attraction that wasn’t considered scandalous for the period, but was rapidly falling out of favour. She marries another man to escape her own desires. In fact, she ends up running from desire altogether, troubled by her feelings about sexuality.
My Jude and his stepbrother, Alexander are struggling with similar obstacles. Their association as family is definitely a hindrance, and Jude is also troubled by his sexuality – he doesn’t seem to know who he is. The difference between Hardy’s Jude and mine is the difference in societal structure from then to now.
In his novels, Hardy pummels institutionalized systems such as marriage, religion, and higher education as the privilege of the upper class, by pummelling his characters, who struggle within these constraints. We’re still feeling a lot of restriction from these same things, but more and more, the structures are being recognized as outdated and oppressive, not just to the marginalized, but across the board.
But they’ve definitely left a mark. Old standards are hard to shake off, and some people will choose to remain confined within them because they see no other way. So how does someone manage to get out from under? That is what Jude and Alexander are confronting.
That is the inspiration, and the underpinnings of the plot. Lucky for me, I’m not held back by moral restrictions on explicit sex in literature, as Hardy was. Jude and Alexander are free to explore their desire for one another as they work their way through and around the obstacles. Hurrah for that!
This is one of my favourite stories I’ve written. I love paying tribute to the things that inspire me, and Thomas Hardy in particular is a novelist who has left a lasting impression with his poignant stories. His work was a great influence in my understanding society as both victimizer and victim of its own self-inflicted rules.
Jude the Unsure:
He hesitated for a moment, then his lips parted against mine, kissing me back. I was in heaven. His was the first male mouth I had ever tasted, and I eagerly took in the experience—the scratch of his stubble on my cheeks and chin, the firm softness of his lips, and the flavor of him, sweetly pungent and sensual and unmistakably masculine. He put his hand on the back of my neck and I was ready to fall onto the bed with him, explore his body with my hands and mouth before I gave myself to him, let him push up inside me and fuck the innocence right out of me. But instead he pulled me away, pulled his lips from mine and slid back, shifting his eyes to the floor.