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.
First up, that's fantastic you got to see Burton on stage play Hamlet. And he's certainly a jerk. He may have a reason for some of his jerkitude, but it doesn't really excuse what he did to poor Ophelia.ReplyDelete
Wow. Pretty unforgiving of Hamlet. Some people just can't act immediately, you know. I don't think we ever ought to meet in person. I have way too many of Hamlet's traits. This is why I am not a doctor, fireman, paramedic or any other career that requires split second life changing decisions.ReplyDelete
I have to admit that Willoughby takes the cake for cad of all time, IMAO.
Here's a few of mine:
Morris Townsend in Washington Square by Henry James.
Robert E. Lee Ewell in To Kill a Mockingbird
Alec D'Uberville in Tess of the D'Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy
And Philo Vance. He may be erudite and an amateur sleuth of the highest order but he is an insufferable jerk as well. He makes me want to throw all those Van Dine books at the wall these days. As Ogden Nash once wrote: "Philo Vance needs a kick in the pance."
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 himselfReplyDelete
SOOOOOOOOOOOOO jealous! (in the best way possible, that is).
And, yes, Hamlet is a jerk. I was debating between Hamlet and Victor Frankenstein, but I went with Frankenstein because my students read it last term and I realized how often something TERRIBLE would happen to someone else, and Victor would be all "oh, poor ME!" *snort* Just like Hamlet.
Red: Ha! Jerkitude. I like it. I think it's all the whining. Plus, as you say, what he did to the fluttery Ophelia.ReplyDelete
Yeah, Burton as Hamlet was wonderful. A great memory.
Jacqueline: I'm not overly familar with the story in BLEAK HOUSE. But if you say so, I'm with you. :)ReplyDelete
John: Didn't mean to intimidate. :) I'm actually a very forgiving sort, more or less.ReplyDelete
But come on...Hamlet? By all his dithering he causes the deaths of several people, not to mention Ophelia and ultimately himself - if I'm remembering correctly.
And we're not even sure if the ghost is supposed to be real!
John: Meant to add: I like your choices. Morris Townsend especially. I only know the character from the harrowing film with Monty Clift.ReplyDelete
I was never fond of Philo Vance much (though I do like his name). I agree with Ogden Nash. I did try once or twice to read some of the Vance stories, but just couldn't get into them. They really show their age.
Birdie: Ooooh, Victor Frankenstein. Great choice.ReplyDelete
I've never read the book, but in the film, he was jerk enough. Nothing worse than a man with a 'poor me' attitude. :)
As I said, I was fortunate to be able to go see Burton onstage way back when. It was terrific. :)
Okay, I love that you included Rumpelstiltskin! I wouldn't have thought of it; but that guy really was a jerk!! Great list!ReplyDelete
Check out mine:
And, by the way, I love your blog template :)
I dont know about a total jerk, but I did find TREEBEARD, in Lord of the Rings, a bit irrating. Bad enough to get the idea of a tree walking and talking. But when it does both as slowly as Treebeard, you wonder why it was never chopped down in the first place. :-=)
Priya: Thanks so much! It was a fun list...well, this meme is usually a lot of fun. :)ReplyDelete
Dave: You mean one of the deep voiced trees? I just remember them from the film. Yeah, they were pretty irritating. But they did come through in the end - sort of.ReplyDelete
I still like your idea of Scrooge as a big jerk.:)
Yvette, I am reading a book for a review called "A Jane Austen Education" by William Deresiewicz, and I think you'd love it! I have to admit I was never an Austen fan when I she was required reading. After reading this book I'm now intrigued and I am planning to read all her novels this summer.ReplyDelete
Great list! Yipes... I cannot BELIEVE I forgot George Wickham and the rest of Austen's anti-heroes.ReplyDelete
I love that you included Rumpelstiltskin--I've always hated that guy.
Pat: Can't wait to read your review! Sounds mighty interesting. I haven't read all of Austen's novels. But the ones I've read, I've loved. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is my favorite book of all time.ReplyDelete
You might like to take a look at a little bio of Austen which is just terrific - quick and terrific. JANE AUSTEN - A Life by Carol Shields.
Jenna: Hi! Thanks for your comments and for dropping by. Yeah, Rumpelstiltskin - not a great guy. Ha!ReplyDelete
You might want to give "Bleak House" a try, Yvette. Among other subplots (there's lots), there is a murder, and Dickens introduces Inspector Bucket, who is supposed to be one of the very first literary detectives.ReplyDelete
Does it seem like modern literature has lost patience with the delight in absurdity that writers past held, and used as storytelling convention? There just aren't any good jerks like the old jerks.
Jacqueline: I actually own a hardcover copy and have been meaning to give it a go one of these days.ReplyDelete
I think I agree with your comment about the loss of 'good' jerks. And I am such a fan of absurdity. Delight in absurdity usually gets my immediate attention.
Today, there aren't many writers who do this sort of thing. I'm thinking Jasper Fforde is one.
I could have picked several jerks for his pages. But just didn't think of it till this moment.
Chistopher Moore is another writer whose books have that old fashioned sort of glee.
Oh there are many more, I'm sure. They're just not popping into my head at the moment. No big surprise. :)
I've always liked Mr. Bennet, although you make a convincing argument for why I shouldn't.ReplyDelete
Read my list here.
I have not read Jane Austen's books nor many of the others listed here. However, I would say, harking back decades, that Professor Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes' nemesis counts.ReplyDelete
Also, Hannibal Lechter, and every serial killer in mystery fiction.
LBC: Well, he IS likable. I like him too. But if you think about it and check closer, he is an irresponsible sort. He is really a man who doesn't want to be bothered by his own family. It's obvious he's not happy with five daughters and apparently his wife drives him crazy - when and if he pays any attention to her. Mostly he just tunes everyone out. It's obvious Elizabeth loves him dearly, but I don't think she is blind to his faults.ReplyDelete
gautami tripathy: Well, maybe not total, TOTAL. But pretty much. :)ReplyDelete
Kathy: Yes, but I kept my list free of actual lunatic killers and blood thristy deviants. When I think 'jerk' I think someone a bit scaled down from those over-the-top mad killers. Some jerks can actually be very lovable, as in, Mr. Bennet.ReplyDelete