Monday, June 3, 2019

Characters with Insane Jealousy

What do we do with jealousy? It's one of those emotions we never intentionally cultivate, but surges up from seemingly nowhere. Parents express shock when we detect it for the first time in our darling children, yet reflection might tell us we shouldn't be surprised, for we had it in spades too. 

There is actually a fine line of distinction between envy and jealousy. Envy occurs when we covet what belongs to others, while jealousy amounts to fear that what we possess will be taken away by them. I won't press the distinction too hard in this list. It's all about keeping  a close watch on what others have compared to us, no matter what form it takes. 

We ostensibly embrace this emotion, yet it's absolutely no fun. It's a torturous guide that robs our happiness, yet we struggle to figure out how to deal with it. We are never really taught coping skills, because few examples step forward to offer any. It's one of those tacitly unacceptable emotions we prefer never to acknowledge. The world could be full of secret jealousy eating the general public's peace of mind like corrosive acid, but it's the rare soul who'll admit it. So here I raise my hand to having experienced my fair share over the years. How about you?

This list may be a help. I wouldn't suggest it offers a cure, since I don't believe there is one, short of rooting it out like a weed. This is more of a balm to soothe the savage beast, and help it lie dormant. There's nothing like knowing we are in famous company to help quench the flame.

Keep in mind that owing to nature of these lists, there are a few plot spoilers.  

I'll start with some Biblical examples to set the tone.

1) Cain
Adam and Eve's first son hated it that his younger brother got God's thumbs up for offering an acceptable sacrifice, while the motivation behind his own was frowned upon. Cain was a man of instinct. Instead of deciding to try better next time, or even talking it out, he opts for knocking that goody-goody right out of the picture, so he'll never make him lose face again.

2) King Saul 
He was crowned Israel's very first king, but not even the highest of all honours is enough to shut out the green eyed monster.You know you're in a bad way when a guy you hire to calm you down with soothing music sends you into fits of envy and rage every time he steps in with his harp. Saul makes many attempts to end David's life long before he ever looks like becoming his successor. When crowds are heard chanting, 'Saul has slain his thousands and David his tens of thousands,' he can wave goodbye to any peace of mind he has left. Where's the glory in having killed thousands, as long as the one elusive brat who keeps showing you up remains alive?

Now we get to jealousy throughout the classics. I'll start with some of the milder cases, and finish up with prizes for the most insane and destructive. 

190893) Edward Casaubon
The middle-aged scholar had a beautiful young wife on good terms with a handsome, destitute relative of his, about her own age. Instead of giving their friendship the nod of approval, our man simmers with bitter jealousy that takes its toll on his dodgy heart. It comes to light during the reading of his will, in a very pointed codicil. Dorothea, his wife, will have her inheritance stripped from her if she ever marries Will Ladislaw. Come on man, was it necessary to mention him by name? And does it really matter what the pair of them get up to together, once you've passed on to a better world? I truly believe he might have actually put the idea in their heads. (My review of Middlemarch is here.)

4) Severus Snape
The grouchy exterior of Hogwarts' Potions master is largely formed by years of rampant jealousy. Lily Evans, the girl he always loved, married James Potter, the bully who picked on him. Severus could never let it go. His jealousy leads to reflexive actions that result in the unintended death of his beloved. Even then, he harbours a smouldering grudge against her innocent son, for no other reason than he resembles his dead father. Severus dude, you did keep your promise, but you could have done it with far more grace.

5) Antonio Salieri
Anyone who ever watched the movie 'Amadeus' will remember the playing out of what was represented as a true, historical grudge. Salieri is an accomplished Austrian composer who recognises unbridled genius in his young counterpart, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Salieri's choice of thoughts helps fan a flicker of jealousy into a raging inferno. He just can't move on from demanding, 'Why should God give this magnificent gift to a flippant, cheeky teenager instead of a devotee like me who adores music and works my butt off?' Don't ask impossible questions, Antonio. He ends up driving Mozart to death, and pushing himself to the brink of madness.

6) Uriah Heep
This slimy, smarmy young Dickens villain is driven by pure jealousy. His workhouse origins (or 'umble beginnings, he'd call them) keep him on the lookout for anybody he sees in more favourable circumstances. A steady flame of malice fuels his favourite hobby of slowly but surely ruining people, and taking them down. David Copperfield finds himself on Uriah's hit list. It's not a hobby to be proud of, yet Uriah devotes all his time to it. (My review is here.)

Okay, we've made our way to the big guns. The final pair are my favourite examples because of the sheer obsessive recklessness they employ in their attempts to destroy the objects of their envy.  
7) Isaac Boxtel 
He's mad about the gentle art of tulip growing, but his neighbour Cornelius grows better flowers and has a greater chance of winning a prestigious competition. It should be a clear sign that when you stop pursuing your enjoyable hobby to figure out how to knock out your rival, you've lost touch with what's really important. But Isaac is too far gone to reflect that tulip growing has progressed to attempted murder, continual surveillance, theft and simmering obsession. He really believes these are all just part and parcel of tulip growing. (My review of The Black Tulip is here.)

8) Bradley Headstone
31244This guy could be Charles Dickens' most intense villain, masked with the respectable title of school teacher. He's a cross between a stalker and a mountain troll, driven by jealous adrenaline. Bradley has set his hot-blooded desire on Lizzie Hexam, a young woman within his own humble sphere. But he suspects she yearns for the love of Eugene Wrayburn, a witty young lawyer from an illustrious family. Eugene can dismiss slow-witted Bradley with comedic insults, but underestimates the force of sheer animalistic loathing. Bradley has the grim patience to stalk him, waiting for an opportunity to strike. He's forever mopping passionate perspiration from his brow, and eventually even the thought of Eugene together with Lizzie causes spontaneous nosebleeds. I tell you, Bradley's obsession, and Eugene's careless obliviousness, keeps readers on the edge of our seats. (My review of Our Mutual Friend is here.)

It's such a destructive list. In almost every case, jealousy leads to either intended or actual murder. But each of these insanely jealous guys is destroying his own life most of all. I tend to think the main thing they teach us is to steer clear of following their paths, because from our vantage point, we can see they are heading up hopeless blind alleys. Accepting circumstances, even when they appear unbalanced or unfair, must surely be preferable to driving yourself nuts with paranoia and misery. If it's at all possible to shake off jealousy and wish our rivals well, or at least let them go their own way, let's do it for our own sake. Perhaps the only people we should be jealous of are those who genuinely never experience a jealous moment.   

I know this list is by no means complete, so can you think of any others. Or are any of your favourite examples shown here?       


  1. Great post and great list. It is so interesting that negative emotions and actions lead to such great storytelling. Stories where everyone is balanced and happy are no fun. I would add Othello and Iago to the list.

    1. Hi Brian, it's so true 😉 Perhaps negative emotions make the best stories of all. Definitely the most memorable. And I'd forgotten about Shakespeare's famous example here. Definitely a great inclusion.

  2. Every single onet of your characters got the nod from me--I'm not sure whether I'm overly influenced by East of Eden, but I always felt that Cain was a good guy who was pushed over the edge by rampant unfairness. I guess that's the lesson--life is not fair. Edward Causaubon was a complete idiot with regards to Dorothea--while I find her love for Will to be completely romantic, Edw really pushed her into his arms. I've always had a soft spot for Salieri, and can relate to him--it's sheer torture to love whatever art it is you love and know that you really don't have the genius to produce that art at the highest level. And with a name like Headstone, Dickens never really gave Bradley a chance, did he?

    Awesome list--I can only echo Brian's contribution of Iago :)

    1. Hi Jane, I agree, they are all so easy to understand, including the examples who thought they got a rough deal, which is perhaps all of them 😉 Casaubon was so foolish and heavy-handed about the whole thing, so good on them for deciding what he could do with his codicil 😂 And yep, as soon as Bradley Headstone stepped into the story, I knew he couldn't end well 😉

  3. Oooh, what a list! Cain & Abel is pretty much the only bible story with which I'm familiar, I've always been fascinated by it. And it's funny, I never thought of Uriah Heep as a "jealous" character, but now that you've pointed it out, he totally is! Thank you for helping me make that connection 😉 There's a fantastic TED talk on envy and literature, have you seen it? I linked to it in my TED talk round-up, or I'm sure it's googleable - I think it was called "An Ode To Envy", if I remember correctly.

    And, just for fun, I looked up "jealousy" in my copy of The Novel Cure - they recommend Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch's "Venus in Furs" as a literary remedy. 😉👍

    1. Hi Sheree, I'm off to look up that TED talk soon. Thanks for the heads up. I've never heard of Venus in Furs either, but like the title. Might research that one too 👍 As for Uriah, yeah, that boy had even more against him, but I always got the feeling he was chronically jealous of David, along with many others 😂 I've got a feeling we are just tapping into examples here, and it might just be the first of other such lists.