List o’ 10 Great Literary Villains

Share/Bookmark10 Great Villains of LiteratureAdmittedly this is not the first blog to post a list of literary villains, so this list will start by saying that there is no pretense at being “the definitive” or “the best” or even “the worst” for Classic Villains of Literature. There are just too many, and the whole topic is so subjective, that it is of course impossible to limit the list to simply 10 under any heading. Can you say of the 32 or so teeth in your mouth with 10 are your favorites? Here are, simply, 10 villains from classic literature who make the list because they are particularly good in their role.

And for the record, since this list topic has been done by many others I will not use the really easy predictable suspects, like Satan, Grendel, Cruella de Vil, Iago, Voldemort, Claudius, Hannibal Lecter or Dracula. They are all gimmees. Maybe have some fun by listing a few others…just for a change of pace. Really, there is no shortage of evil out there.

10. Steerpike ( Titus Groan and Gormenghast, by Mervyn Peake)

Steerpike portrait

The darkest shadow within the high gothic of Gormenghast, Steerpike advances from the castle’s nightmarish kitchens to the highest social echelons, via murder.

If ever he had harboured a conscience in his tough narrow breast he had by now dug out and flung away the awkward thing – flung it so far away that were he ever to need it again he could never find it.

9. Big Brother (1984, by George Orwell)

Big Brother is watching you - Orwell

When not tied up with his duties as leader of a totalitarian government bent on total manipulation and domination of the people, at any cost, Big Bro’ keeps busy by directing his citizens to spy and tell on each other, getting his minions to round people up for torture and disallowing any personal or private acts at all. He drives Winston to commit acts or horror beyond imagination, creating such a convincing and despicable villain that the term Big Brother has since stood for an evil enemy with no face but strong presence.

8. Cathy Ames (East of Eden, by John Steinbeck)

She is called the devil by many. Cathy is described as “a monster” without any conscience, and indeed completely lacks even the most basic human qualities of decency. Growing up she easily begins to test and perfect peforming criminal acts, such as framing two neighbour boys for rape, driving a young man to kill himself, and burning down her parents’ house with them locked inside. In one cold-blooded plan to make money, Cathy becomes the mistress of a pimp from whom she steals. In the storyline, she seduces Adam Trask, gives birth to twin sons, and then tells her husband Adam she is abandoning them. She shoots Adam when he attempts to stop her from leaving. She then works as a prostitute, eventually poisoning her brothel-owner and taking over the business. She gives her employees drugs, encourages sadomasochistic sexual practices and blackmails her customers. Late in life she commits suicide after encountering her son.

7. Signor Montoni (The Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliffe)

mysteries of udolpho front cover.jpg

Montoni – another Italian who shares Fosco’s aim, but not his charm – is the prototypical gothic villain: haughty, brooding, calculating and greedy. He is a tyrant whose domineering will and avarice threaten to destroy Mademoiselle Emily’s plans for happiness and he tries, in the end unsuccessfully, to deprive an heiress of her fortune by locking her in a castle and generally showing her a bad time. He also imprisons and mistreats his wife, tries to force his niece into marriage, and generally terrorizes the area, making him a bad guy and all-round villain.

6. Bill Sikes (Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens)

bill sikes portrait

Hard to find much to say in favour of Bill Sikes, resident of Bethnal Green. His accomplishments of character include robbery, child abuse, murder of a poor-but-good-hearted prostitute, dog beating and that is before lunch. A villain of a man and a stinker of a human being.

5. Darrius Sayle (Stormbreaker, by Anthony Horowitz)

Stormbreaker and Darrius Sayle

Darrius Sayle – the villain in this, the first book of the Alex Rider series – is slick, successful and ruthlessly murderous. In his character as as a true incarnation of evil, he plans to blow up a network of computers in all the schools in the UK, with the sole intention of killing British school children, all because he was bullied as a child. That is some serious baggage to carry around for a lifetime. This very bad man gives a whole new meaning to the idea of a computer virus attack and because his entire plot revolves around killing children, he goes on the list as a particularly evil bastard.

4. Alec d’Urberville (Tess of the d’Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy)

Alec dUrberville and Tess portrait

Alec dUrberville in Thomas Hardys masterpiece Tess of the DUrbervilles is designed to be a wicked devil as the symbolic meaning in his name suggests. He is generally considered as a typical playboy of the Victorian Age, a representative of the degenerated, hypocritical bourgeoisie and a devil who finally leads the leading heroine Tess to her downfall. However, he and Angel each play roles that lead to Tess tragedy, so he is at times called a fallen angel, as opposed to being truly and innately evil.

3. Edmund (King Lear, by William Shakespeare)

edmund portrait

Edmund – the ultimate bastard, literally. He is the bastard son of Gloucester and half-brother to Edgar, commits a number of villainous acts throughout the course of the play: he forces his brother, Edgar, into hiding, telling Gloucester that Edgar means to kill him; he betrays his father and leaves him to the barbarous treatment of Cornwall and Regan; he encourages both Goneril and Regan to believe he loves the one to the exclusion of the other, causing them to quarrel and, ultimately, die as a consequence; and he orders the execution of Lear and Cordelia. In his own words: “Now, gods, stand up for bastards!”

2. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (James Bond novels, by Ian Fleming)

Ernst Blofeld is the legendary nemesis of James Bond. Blofeld is the leader of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. (Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion), the agency that on a semi-routinely basis pus in motion dastardly plans that James must save the world from. They have seemingly untold wealth, building fortresses and laboratories in the most remote and exotic places, and have countless minions and soldiers to protect the home base at the ready. Like Bond, Blofeld has been played in the movies by many different actors, including the satirical Dr Evil in Austin Powers, but he never wavers in his evilness. Hellbent on world domination at any cost, and attempted killer of Agent 007, he certainly makes the list of Worst Bad Guys. Of course, he would also make a list of Villains We Love to Like.

1. Mr Hyde (The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson)

the evil mr hyde

And of course the infamous Mr Hyde must not only be included on this list, but he must op it. For is not the character of Mr Hyde meant to represent the bad in all of us, and as such, would this not be the worst creature that could be imagined the representation and personification of badness itself? A nondescript little man, though Utterson felt a “powerful impression of deformity”, he establishes his wickedness by stamping on a little girl; soon moves on to further atrocities. After Jekyll runs out of restorative salts, Hyde makes a final recourse to pharmacology, to the smell of kernels, but as in most stories of the human condition, the side of good triumphs over evil.

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5 Responses to "List o’ 10 Great Literary Villains":

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  4. Dave N March 10, 2010 at 20:18

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  5. Daniel Newman January 22, 2010 at 12:39

    I always liked The Call of Cthulhu, and Dr. Jekell and Mr. Hyde. What would happen if the two were mixed together I wonder. Might look something like The Agreeable Mr. Filagree.