Baz Lurhmann’s The Great Gatsby lindy-hopped away with over 50 million dollars this past weekend and inspired New York's Kathryn Schulz to put together a thought-provoking takedown of the source material: “Aesthetically overrated, psychologically vacant, and morally complacent,” she declared last week.
Schultz points out, rightly, that no one in the book is worth a bottle of bathtub gin: What does our narrator Nick do when swaggering douchebag Tom breaks his mistress Myrtle’s nose, for example? Nothing. But the really detestable member of the bunch is Daisy, who has no character. She spends the book being languidly beautiful and wealthy, ignoring her child, flirting with her cousin, and leading on her old flame, before running away with her racist brute of a husband.
Daisy may not be the technical villain of Gatsby (Tom, a proto-bro, gets that honor) but she still sucks, and if it weren’t for her a couple key players in the book would be alive at the end of it. In her honor, here are the top 10 detestable characters of literature—a brief rundown of bad guys who aren’t the bad guys.
10. The Wizard of Oz (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz). Oz's nemesis, the Wicked Witch of the West, gets a bad rap. This self-described humbug doesn’t have much to recommend him. An escapee from his own world, he bluffs his way into absolute power over another and then uses his position mostly to manipulate others and advance his own ends. He promises a fellow brains and gives him nothing but a diploma—a shitty bargain if I’ve ever heard one, though a good cynical metaphor for a college education. At least he doesn’t also make the scarecrow take out $200,000 in student loans for the privilege.
9. Anna Karenina (Anna Karenina). An indifferent mother and a fickle wife, she throws her whole life away for a most unworthy nobleman and then commits the worst sin a character can: she becomes boring. If it weren’t for Kitty and Levin, who among us would read the novel to its predictably Russian conclusion?
8. Samson (The Bible). The temptress Delilah is traditionally blamed for Samson’s downfall, but Samson—a genuine meathead—had problems long before she started lurking in the shadows with scissors. In the lesser-known beginning of his story, he makes the same mistake with a different woman: he confides a secret to her that she shares with 30 other guys, and then Samson has to kill them, along with countless others. Yet he falls for the same exact trick when Delilah waltzes in. “Fool me once,” you know?
7. Dr. Frankenstein (Frankenstein). Dude, what are you doing sewing corpse pieces together and then bringing them to life? Haven’t you ever seen a zombie movie? No wonder you end up racked with guilt and vainly chasing your monster through the Arctic Circle. You’ll get no sympathy from me.
6. Reverend Dimmesdale (The Scarlet Letter). We can admire Hester for taking her lumps in silence and refusing to name her lover, but she wouldn’t have had to be such a martyr if that coward of the cloth Dimmesdale could have admitted to their community, and to Hester’s obsessively vengeful husband, that he played a co-equal role in the Terrible—and Terribly Hot—Sex that Destroyed Everything (and produced the awesome Pearl).
5. Raskolnikov (Crime and Punishment). Not because he’s a killer—we sure can love us some literary killers, can’t we?—but because this over-thinking hypochondriac won’t stop agonizing about whether he is extraordinary. If you have to ask, the answer is no.
4. Claudio (Much Ado About Nothing). The bastard Don John lives to make trouble, so we expect no less from him, but it’s Claudio who makes us grind our teeth by humiliating his innocent bride at the altar (!) in front of everyone including her father (!!) because he is under the mistaken impressions that 1) virginity is tops and 2) Hero has given hers away. Even when he is told that his public accusation killed her, he shows little remorse—until later, when he finds out she never did give up her V-card. Whoops! Just because Hero forgives him doesn’t mean we should.
3. Amy (Little Women). You try any of that burning-my-stories shit with me, and I would not just let you drown in that frozen pond, I would push you in myself. Lime-eater.
2. Ashley Wilkes (Gone With the Wind). Melanie—nearly dead from childbirth and half-dressed—still finds the strength to try to help Scarlet kill the evil Yankee who sneaks into Tara. Ashley, her wishy-washy wimp of a husband, can only marry his cousin, lust for his cousin’s best friend, mope, sigh, and screw up one of the hottest couples in American literature.
1. Every character in Wuthering Heights.