Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Villains we love, and others

Waterstone's in the U.K. has compiled a list of favourite literary villains.

"Villains are the more convincing and interesting characters."

Of the villains listed (and of those I'm familiar with), I feel the criminal of Suskind's Perfume is the one with the fullest, best-drawn character, and the one to whom I reacted most viscerally. (I'm racking my brain for villains they overlooked.)

There is a separate children's list.

For Britain's World Book Day a couple weeks back, The Independent published a list of of 100 favourite fictional characters chosen by 100 literary luminaries. (China Miéville chose Jane Eyre — who'd've guessed it?)

(Humbert Humbert makes both lists, and other villains also appear as all-time favourites.)

Thinking on this the last while, I've come to realize that I tend to read novels for ideas, then for story. Characters come after these.

After much agonizing I've determined my favourite to be Sara Crewe of A Little Princess, even though she is of "children's litereature." Then comes Larry of The Razor's Edge.

Who are your faves?


Ben said...

Jane Eyre is undoubtedly a towering work of horror.

On reflection, I don't think I like books with clear-cut villains. I think I must be a fan of the anti-hero. Of these my favourite would probably be Gully Foyle from Bester's Tiger! Tiger!.

Anonymous said...

Intriguing. I read for character first, then ideas, then plot. In fact, as far as I'm concerned, a book can have no plot if it has good characters. Character IS plot, in some sense (and idea as well!)...

Favourite villain, though... that's rough. I'm not a big fan of the one-dimensional villain either. Somebody like Humbert Humbert is a great example of what I like: a character who is both sympathetic and vile, his own worst enemy.

For sheer comic, over-the-top, unredeemable deviltry, however, you can't beat Dickens. Uriah Heep (who I'd swear is undead), Madame Defarge, Miss Havisham... their awfulness is unparallelled.


Suzanne said...

I'm going to answer a different question than Rachel answered -- my favorite characters (not villains).

I can think of two off the top of my head: Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird and Codi Noline in Animal Dreams (by Barbara Kingsolver).

I have dreadful recall of characters' names; if I can think of anyone else I'll stop back again!

Isabella said...

Humbert Humbert IS wonderful, because he is so complicated.

The villain list cited is pretty broad in its interpretation and includes Holden Caulfield as "anti-hero" — but I wouldn't call him a "villain."

Talk of Dickens' villains puts me in mind of the weird and twisted characters of Titus Groan. (Yes, I'm getting round to reading some Dickens.)

One book I'm reading now is definitely a character study and I'm loving it. I expect I'll forget their names and other details while considering what makes these people men of "character" — in that sense, maybe I read for character after all: the characters are so fully fleshed out, they are lost in the idea in them.

patricia said...

Arturo, from Katherine Dunn's 'Geek Love'.

Deliciously nasty to the core.

Tattiana said...

this is a rubbish website and it should be shut down

(jokes its ok)