Sunday, February 13, 2011
The Sunday Question
Who is your favorite villain in literature?
I've been thinking about villains lately. I often end up identifying with the villains in books more than the protagonists. This is certainly true in my own writing, because to create a believable villain, I really have to struggle to find out why he or she is villainous, what makes them so? What in their past has turned them evil or treacherous or just plain mean? The fact is, we need villains in every book, even mild ones, as foils to the protagonists, and to create tension and conflict. They work hard. It's really the villains who do the heavy lifting in literature, I think. We should acknowledge and appreciate them every once in a while. I therefore dedicate this Sunday Question to our favorite villains.
My own favorite is the unctuous, sweet-talking, canary and mouse-loving Count Fosco in The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins. He is such an unlikely villain, with his gentle manners that belie the perfectly black heart beneath his lovely embroidered waistcoats.
I don't think nineteenth-century authors were as concerned with the psychological underpinnings of evil, so they let us enjoy the scheming Wickham in Pride and Prejudice:
and just plain nasty Wackford Squeers in Nicholas Nickleby:
without undue concern for the whys and wherefores of their behavior. It's one of the reasons it's just such a pleasure to sink into those works. Only the Bronte's seemed to be exercised by why villains acted as they did. Let's face it, Rochester had to have a dissolute youth and a mad wife, or the story would be a little thin.
Unfortunately I haven't been out of the house in a few days, so haven't had the opportunity to ask my fellow readers who they favor as villains. And I'm coming up short on female villains as well as twenty and twenty-first century ones, so please comment and enlighten me as to your favorites!