Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Women who love Bad Men

Fiction isn't valuable just for its entertainment potential. One of the best ways to approach it is as a spotlight on the world. Stories can hone in on changes needing to be made, which are not always visible to the naked public eye. The treatment of helpless women at the hands of abusive men might be a prime case, and there's no shortage of examples in classic novels. The abundance of them might indicate the need there's always been to bring such incidents out into the open, for preventative measures to be taken in future. This list highlights several cases of girls falling for the wrong person; mentally, emotionally and even physically. They've surely helped the general public see a need for drastic action over the years, and maybe even added to solutions. Here they are. 

Warning: Spoilers Ahead. Most of these are old classics, but if you still haven't read them and intend to, then skip the title. There's also a spoiler for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
Isabella Linton and Heathcliff
The pampered, but headstrong girl falls for Heathcliff's rugged good looks, despite everyone warning her off. He takes full advantage of her affection. Heathcliff seduces and marries Isabella for no better reason than to get back at Catherine, his true love, and Edgar Linton, her husband. He pounds his point home by abusing Isabella in every way, and then doing the same thing to their son after her death. The best thing she ever did was escape from the 'fierce, pitiless, wolfish man'. (Review is here.)

Clara Copperfield and Edward Murdstone
This guy could well be my most loathed character in all of literature. He tenderly woos a girlish widow into falling for him, then treats her like dirt, and all her worldly goods as his personal possessions. He abuses her little son Davy, and absolves himself with all sorts of Puritanical, high sounding reasons for his cruelty. And when Clara's death makes him a widower, he begins the cycle all over again with some other innocent girl. (My review is here.)

Little Em'ly and James Steerforth 
Here's a classic example of an aristocratic young fellow choosing to play around with a beautiful girl from the lower class he has no intentions to marry like a true gentleman should. Steerforth knew he could have any woman he liked, but choose to ruin the life of a girl who had a wonderful fiance who treated her like a princess. And 'Em'ly' made the classic mistake of misreading his true character and believing his smooth talk. (Here's more about the the bad boys of David Copperfield)

15823480Dolly and Stepan Oblonsky
Anna Karenina's unfaithful brother cheats on his poor wife all the time, and he regards her discovery as a nuisance to be swept under the carpet. Dolly considers herself in no position to do anything about it, since he's in a public position and they have a houseful of young children. Even when she confronts him and wrests an apology, they both know very well he'll never stop his affairs with other women. Dolly deals with it by focusing on what's good in her life, and pushing him to the periphery of her thoughts where he deserves to be. (Review is here.)

Helen and Arthur Huntingdon
Young Helen finds herself head over heels in love with a handsome, witty rake who she plans to reform once they tie the knot. But the safety net of marriage simply brings out Arthur's true colours, and he becomes even more of a dissolute alcoholic. He delights in drunken revels and sordid affairs. But when he starts deliberately trying to charm their small son with his corrupt lifestyle, Helen knows it's time to pack up and leave. She's one of the few women with a money making skill to fall back on. It's a hard way to learn that we can't change anybody but ourselves.

Marianne Dashwood and John Willoughby
These two hit it off instantly, and are always together. But he breaks her heart by dumping her inexplicably just when she believes he's on the verge of proposing. When Marianne discovers Willoughby has got himself engaged to another girl, she grieves herself sick. It's gradually revealed that he is a complete scoundrel who seduced another young girl, made her pregnant, then refused to marry her. He ends up marrying for money rather than love, while Marianne struggles to recover from the loss. Some people think she had a narrow escape.
Estella Havisham and Bentley Drummle
It's easy to say it serves this ice-princess right. She turns her back on our hero Pip, even though she knows he's been devoted to her from the moment they met. But breaking a nice boy's heart has been her freaky guardian's plan for Estella all along. The man of her choice is one of Pip's worst enemies, who is killed while mistreating his horse. We find out later that marriage to Drummle has broken Estella's spirit and softened her haughty spirit. It's such a shame that's what it took. (Review is here.)

Patience and Joss Merlyn
Mary Yellan remembers her aunt Patience as a bright, beautiful young lady who fell head-over-heels for a handsome Cornish inn-keeper. But marriage to that same man has reduced her to a pale and edgy drudge who flinches at the sight of a shadow. The radical change in Patience alerts Mary that something's not right with Joss. Indeed, the unfolding story of Jamaica Inn reveals him as a crueler wretch than either woman had ever imagined. (Review is here.)

5297Sybil Vane and Dorian Gray
The pure and beautiful young actress falls madly in love with our cold-hearted but ravishingly gorgeous anti-hero. She'd give her life for him - which turns out to be exactly what happens. When she messes up a stage performance because she's distracted with love for Dorian, he cruelly rejects her in no uncertain terms. And she can't bear it, so commits suicide. Oh Sybil, he wasn't worth it! (Review is here.)
Nancy and Bill Sikes
This pair are members of Fagin's pickpocket gang in the London underworld, and Nancy adores Bill. Who remembers her singing, 'As long as he needs me' in the Oliver musical? But she also has a kind heart, and decides she'll do her bit to prevent young Oliver Twist being sucked into the toxic lifestyle. When Bill finds out that she's revealed the boy's peril to the good guys, he sees red and savagely murders her. It's probably one of the cruelest returns for devotion in literature.

Sonya Marmeledov and Rodian Raskolnikov
This is probably the best on the list, since he does end up loving her in return and plans to mend his ways. But it starts unfortunately for poor Sonya, who falls for a handsome and intense young man believing him to be nothing more than a kind acquaintance of her father's who helped them out of a financial jam. Little does she know he was the axe murderer who killed the pawn broker Alyona and her sister Elizaveta. (Review is here.)

Bellatrix Lestrange and Lord Voldemort
It definitely serves her right, no two ways about it. Bellatrix is passionate for Lord Voldemort knowing full well that he's the destructive, dark menace of the wizarding world. Have you ever wondered what she'd see in old snake-face. Perhaps she remembers him as the handsome Tom Riddle of yore, but most likely the corruption in her own heart simply responds to the evil in his. Voldemort is a cause she can believe in, as well as a man she can love. He uses her whenever he can, and she doesn't even care. It's good riddance to both of them at the end of the battle for Hogwarts, but alas, the publication of The Cursed Child reveals that they managed to become parents together. Any offspring of these two definitely needs to be looked out for. (Review is here.)

The Risky Way Home
This one's not a classic of course, but I even had a go at one myself, in a contemporary novel I wrote years ago. A young girl named Moira living in France falls for a man named Jean-Michel, whose mental delusions cause him to be truly dangerous to her and their children. Escape to Australia is still fraught with difficulty, and the terror of her years with him is revealed in flashbacks from a diary. (See here for more details)

Do any of these unfortunate couples stick out in your memory, or can you think of any others? I guess the obvious opposite is men who fall for bad women, which I may work on, although I'd expect it to be more of a challenge.  


  1. I loved your 'RiskyWayHome'. I've read most of the others as well. Some truly dark and sorry stories in this list.

    1. Hi Meredith, yeah, I often recommend a back-to-back read of books on my list, but not in this case. Too much of what you said 😢 The Risky Way Home was such a long time ago now!

  2. Way to drop a Cursed Child spoiler for those of us who were still hoping to see it....

    1. Hi Anonymous, I apologise for that, since my aim is always to enhance and not spoil someone's reading or viewing experience :( With the Cursed Child, I guess I assumed after two years in circulation, things weren't so hush hush anymore, but I was wrong.

      You've reminded me to be vigilant in putting plot spoiler disclaimers at the top of posts, since they sometimes sneak in despite a reviewer's care. Here is a post I wrote about that very subject a little while back http://vincereview.blogspot.com/2016/04/the-sneaky-plot-spoiler.html

      I guess the main points are 1) While care has been taken to keep this review spoiler free, there may be traces of story line due to the nature of processing. 2) All review forums are a bit of a land mine area, so enter at your own risk.

  3. Whoop - I had to skip down past a couple of these, still a few classics I haven't read yet ;) But YES to all the others! I wonder a lot about how these relationships were perceived at the time of publication, and whether our understanding of them as abusive (or, at the very least, unhealthy) has only come with time...

    1. Hi Sheree, yes, I like to think they helped society at large come to that realisation that they weren't healthy and needed change. It's good to think to fiction and stories have their big role in ushering in positive change.