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Earlier in the novel Jude famously expresses: "Sue! We have lived by the Letter, and the Letter killeth!". From the quotation, which is from Corinthians, and the context, one may surmise that the letter represents the letter of social law, which binds man's nature even though it may be unreasonable and the source of much innocent suffering from its antipathetic frivolity (as in Tess of the D'Urbervilles), created by a society that wish to deny the inner, spiritual side of every action. Here Sue, despite her declared rejection of what she sees as the dehumanising social laws, nonetheless returns under their iron bind either out of a hysterical sense of duty or unfortunate instinct. She returns to Phillotson as she recalls the social law that enforces a married couple to stay together and enter into relations only with each other, even if they may find each other repulsive. So, even though she has already left him for Jude, she feels some hysterical religious duty to return to him as a wife is enforced to do so, even though she has already declared herself an atheist and knows that she finds him repulsive. This is made significant by the fact that the declaration occurs after a visit to Church.

Also, her hysterical return to religious duty and to Phillitson is brought on by the murder of her children, which she sees as retribution for her relationship with Jude. It is the shock from their deaths (and her subsequent loss of the third child that she is pregnant with when the murdes occur) that makes her first wish to no longer sleep with Jude, and then decide that both of them should return to their first mates (even though both are divorced by law). After she returns to Phillotson, however, she still gets him to promise to let her sleep alone and not have relations with him. However, when Jude goes to see her and she realizes that she can't resist him, she punishes herself even further by forcing herself to consummate the marriage to Phillotson, even though he still repulses her.

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Q: In Jude the Obscure why does Sue Bridehead marry Phillotson when she finds him repulsive?
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