Today's topic - Top Ten Biggest (Male) Jerks in Literature - is right up my alley. I suppose we're not choosing the biggest and nastiest villains, those would be for a Top Ten Villains post, at some point - today we concentrate on just plain jerks. I almost feel compelled to say...well, what the heck, I will say it: So many jerks, so little time.
The first five jumped directly into my mind, all created by the same author. I sense a trend.
1) Mr. Wickham in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen. The cad of all cads. Imagine: playing with the affections of Darcy's innocent fourteen year old sister. What a bounder! The man should be horse-whipped! And then, as if that weren't enough, he descends on the Bennett family, a shark hunting fresh blood, makes a fool of Elizabeth and runs off with young Lydia the scatterbrain. (His just deserts, I'm thinking. I mean, she will drive him nuts to an early grave, no doubt.)
2) Mr. Collins in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen. Odious, officious, obsequious little man of power. This is the prime example of what happens when the law of entail is allowed to run amok. The very idea of this creepy little interloper even THINKING he is entitled to Elizabeth Bennet's hand is enough to make anyone feel faint. And imagine if Elizabeth Bennet hadn't caught Darcy's jaundiced eye and Jane Bennet hadn't caught Mr. Bingley's rather foolish one - upon Mr. Bennet's death, they would all have been cast out in a heap to live among the hedgerows! (As Mrs. Bennett rather inelegantly states.)
3) Mr. Bennett in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen. Yes, it seems as if P&P is loaded with jerks of one stripe or another. I can't help but think that Mr. Bennett is not as endearing as perhaps he may, at first glance, appear. Jane Austen and Miss Elizabeth Bennet (despite her obvious affection for him) most likely recognize him for the weak and ineffectual man he is. Even if he does get off some zingers and appears to be a learned man familiar with the vicissitudes of life, he does nothing but hide in his library while his family bobbles about him, untethered. For heaven's sake - he hasn't even made any financial provisions for five daughters, who, if they don't make advantageous marriages, will wind up tossed out on their rears once he goes to that great library in the sky. Bad form.
4) Sir Walter Elliot in PERSUASION by Jane Austen. One of the stupidest and most repulsive individuals it has been my displeasure to meet and he's not even a villain! A man unworthy to be the father of the gentle and slightly ineffectual Anne who - as we know - has been dissuaded from marrying the man of her dreams by an interfering family friend. (But that's a story for another day.) Sir Walter is a vain, brainless, poppycock (and that's on a good day) who favors one of his two daughters (his equal in repulsiveness, of course) and is simply incapable of seeing Anne's intrinsic worth. He is also the utterer of some of the more foolish lines an author ever put in the mouth of a character.
I know, this is turning into all Austen, all the time. But I can't help it, she wrote some of the best and most memorable jerks ever.
5) Willoughby in SENSE AND SENSIBILITY by Jane Austen. A guy given to riding about the damp and rainy moors, cloak blowing romantically behind him, but a guy who is basically a heroic pretender. He breaks poor Marianne Dashwood's impulsive and foolish heart (a girl who also has a propensity for dashing about the moors in the rain) when he implies (and in those days, implication carried great weight) his love for her, then runs off to London when money beckons. A sensible sort of lad, I suppose. But a jerk nonetheless.
6) Hamlet in the play of the same name by Shakespeare. Okay, it's been years since I saw the play. An aside: I was fortunate enough to see Richard Burton play Hamlet on Broadway in the famous production where most everyone wore black and Burton carried a red scarf or hanky which he used to draw attention to himself (as if his voice weren't enough). I admit though, I haven't read the the play lately, but...if memory serves me - didn't want to turn this meme into a research project, after all - Hamlet is the sort of guy who is easy to despise for being...well, pretty much, a jerk of the first water. I mean, all that dark dithering. All that should I or shouldn't I? All that whining! Not to mention the stomping about. And then of course, there's the blood-letting. AND if that weren't enough, driving poor Ophelia to an early, watery grave. Well, I mean, sure the guy has cause - his mom and uncle murdered his father after all. But jeez, do something about it instead of spending all that time hesitating, wringing hands and thinking out loud. I blame his father's ghost.
Now to the less lofty heights of literature. Other jerks of note:
7) Peter Allen Nelson in LULLABY TOWN by Robert Crais. Nelson is a living, breathing Hollywood caricature, a character very loosely based on a Steven Spielberg-type director. The worst sort of jerk, a boy-man who has never seen the need to grow up. He holds the reins of power as a famed Hollywood film-maker and feels no need to behave other than as a spoiled brat indulged by a posse who caters to his every whim. When we first meet him he is standing atop a table having a temper tantrum and things don't get much better after that. Nelson is not the best sort of man to now be hiring L.A. detective Elvis Cole to track down his ex-wife and young son so he can shower them with the largess of his fame and fortune - but he's suddenly gotten the notion he wants to be a dad. After murder rears its ugly head and getting mixed up with some really, REALLY bad dudes from the mob, Nelson finally does some growing up by the end of the book and we're all the better for it. This is, by the way, a highly recommended (by yours truly) entry in the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike series.
8) Lieutenant Rowcliff of Manhattan Homicide in most any Nero Wolfe book by Rex Stout. A very hard-headed, hard-nosed, pugnacious cop who is the nemesis of Archie Goodwin, Wolfe's biographer, body-guard, secretary, book-keeper and partner. Goodwin, no shrinking violet himself, is occasionally inclined to drive Rowcliff to stuttering fits when he has the time to toy with him. You almost have to feel sorry for Rowcliff who, over the years, has been routinely humiliated by Goodwin's bull-doggedness and Wolfe's genius. The enmity between Goodwin and Rowcliff is never really explained, it just exists, fully-formed from the first. Wolfe points out what is at the heart of Rowcliff's behavior best: "...Mr Goodwin, whom he fears and petulantly envies..." Of course, Rowcliff denies everything.
9) Roland Ffalkes in THE NIGHTINGALE LEGACY by Catherine Coulter. Another odious little man with delusions of grandeur. Ffalkes is the skinflint guardian of young Catherine Derwent-Jones, the plucky heroine of one of Coulter's best books. The story is set in the Regency era when women had few rights and men carried all the cards. Catherine is at the mercy of her old and repulsive guardian who insists on marrying her for the huge fortune which she is on the eve on inheriting - even if he has to rape her to force her hand. Scurrilous little oaf. Luckily for all concerned, he is not only a knave, but a knave who is given to underestimating his quarry. Even when Catherine is well out of his clutches (early on she escapes taking his grown and wimpy son hostage), Ffalkes must be locked up in a turret room on an estate, to keep him from continuing his malicious and totally inept attempts to woo and/or kidnap Catherine. I love this book and had a great time laughing at Ffalkes' hilarious single-mindedness. He is a boob, sure, but a boob to be reckoned with. Ha!
10) Rumpelstiltskin in the fairy tale RUMPELSTILTSKIN by the Brothers Grimm. Okay, what isn't horrible about a nasty little troll who first gives and then takes away? What if he fooled the miller's rather dense daughter into thinking he would help her out - spinning straw into gold - for the mere reward, when and if the time ever came, in the far-off future, of her teensy-weensy first born. Hey, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Too bad he's given to dancing in the moonlight blabbing out his name.