Monday, May 4, 2020
Worst Characters Ever
This list is just what it claims to be. I found myself in the mood to identify the worst of the worst in many different categories, and finish off with a mighty drum-roll for baddest of all. I'd love to see your choices too, as they surely differ from mine.
This has to be Harold Skimpole from Charles Dickens' Bleak House. He's a shameless parasite who lives off the bounty of his friends, with an elaborate rationale behind it. Skimpole explains that he's a free spirit designed by God to delight in nature, books and leisure. In his logic, anyone who expects him to man up and pay his own way through life is a killjoy who'd crush a person's true essence. Debt collectors are hounds of the devil. And grocers, bakers and other tradesmen with goods and services handy are churlish not to donate them to a needy, appreciative person like himself. He never stops to reflect that others have their own bills to pay. He's a truly despicable leech.
I'll give this one to Peter Pettigrew from the Harry Potter series. Any man who would choose to permanently assume the form of a rat for over a decade in order to hide from his enemies has some pretty serious fear issues happening. Especially if he's not even a self-respecting alley rat, but a family pet owned by a string of young boys who sling him into their luggage and sleep with him beneath their pillows. His appeal to Ron to protect him for being such a good rat is a low moment in an already pathetic life. I love Sirius' response that anyone who can state that he was a better rat than human has nothing to boast of.
I'll go with Bradley Headstone from Our Mutual Friend; another Dickens choice. Bradley loved a girl named Lizzie and hated his rival for her affection with all his heart. He vowed to make taking Eugene Wrayburn out of the picture his Priority One. Every night under cover of darkness, he stalked his prey, even when Eugene clearly knew he was onto him and played it for all he was worth. But Bradley patiently awaited his opportune moment, growing steadily madder. Although Eugene didn't take his danger seriously, others recognised the fixed, manic desperation in Bradley's eyes.
Definitely Simon Legree from Uncle Tom's Cabin. He represented the nastiest, most brutal type of slave owner of his generation. Think of nasty little boys who torture helpless pets. Legree is simply a big one who wreaks similar havoc on men and women, knowing that nobody can stop him because he has the law on his side. He steals their belongings, vows to stamp out their spirit, and simply works them until the drop. Then he's back to the slave auctions for more. A poor excuse of a human being indeed.
Most Self-Centered Character
I'll take Rosamond Vincy from Middlemarch for this one. She's a town belle who presents herself as a lovely person to meet, and a great catch for a lucky guy. But her poor new husband doesn't have to dig far beneath the surface to discover that she values him only as far as he shines a spotlight on her. She's mastered the passive aggressive pout and has her 'poor me' attitude down pat. And like many such people, the truth never dawns on her even once. She simply thinks she's lived a life a trials. (Mrs Clare Gibson from Wives and Daughters is tarred with the same brush, but Rosamond wins because she makes me crossest of the pair of them.)
Most Manipulative Character
I'll go with Miss Havisham from Great Expectations. She's heartbroken when her no-good bounder of a fiance jilts her at the altar, but doesn't limit her response to merely sitting for decades in a draggly wedding dress staring at a mouldy cake. Instead, Miss H decides to start a hobby of making others as unhappy as herself, because misery loves company. Anyone who would adopt a little girl for the sole purpose of bringing up to break the heart of a random boy has way too much time on her hands and takes manipulation to a deranged level. (Close behind is Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, who also lived to twist the fates of others, but at least he had some personal gripes against his victims, so Miss Havisham wins this round.)
Most Deluded Character
It's the Reverend Nathan Price from The Poisonwood Bible. After a hefty dose of survivor's guilt, this guy thinks he's doing the utmost good with his life, but is really making an absolute hash of it, and dragging his poor wife and daughters along with him. Any pastor who would try to hammer his narrow cultural worldview upon a foreign population without ever bothering to fathom the layers of their identity before heading off is bad news. Reverend Price lives to regret it, but still never actually overcomes his delusion.
Plenty of nasty characters fit this category, but unlike my other choices on this list, I'm going for a person I'm actually fond of. It's Edmund Pevensie from the Narnia series. Long after he redeems himself and becomes a kind and brave monarch, everyone still remembers him as the boy who'd sell out his brother and sisters for a chance to pig-out on Turkish Delight! Some things just can't be lived down. His big mistake sounds really bad against him, but we need to keep in mind that the sticky sweet was enchanted, making it hugely difficult to resist. He was bitterly repentant, and if the great Aslan can make the ultimate sacrifice for Edmund, who are we to hold a grudge?
Most All-Round Easy to Loathe
I've left it open with this finale to choose any despicable character from controversial, mischievous and offensive authors everywhere, but my choice is a creation from the pen of Jane Austen. It's Mrs Norris, the meddlesome old aunt from Mansfield Park, who makes me see red whenever she enters a scene. She presents herself in the guise of a kindly philanthropist who wants to improve the life of an impoverished young niece, yet her real motive is to have a slave she can treat like dirt. Mrs Norris is forever slinging digs at Fanny Price about how inferior she is and how grateful she ought to be. She's every other attribute on this list rolled into one; tyrant, hypocrite, freeloader, egoist and manipulator. Perhaps worst of all, SHE TRULY BELIEVES SHE'S AS GOOD AS SHE CLAIMS TO BE! That makes her deluded too. I feel my temperature raise just writing about this horrible woman.
As usual, I'd love to pass on the baton and ask who would fit the bill for you. For me, it seems Dickens characters have a way of slipping in to these extremes, which probably explains why he's one of the most memorable British authors of all times. Since I had more males than females over all, it was cool to choose a female for the last category. I'm pleased (I guess) to see my choices are spread across historical, fantasy and more modern, proving that awful people are never bound by time and place.