There Be Villains Afoot

One of the questions that I have heard is why do we have villains in our stories.  What purpose could villains have when we want happiness?

What would our stories be without a villain?  Would you like to have a syrupy sweet story that is all love and joy, without any angst at all?  It is not natural in life to have nothing rear its ugly head from time to time, making us strive to conquer our foes and make a better life, so how could we relate to such a story?  In reality, we battle against odds in an attempt to earn our happily ever after, so that is what we see in stories that are written.  We want to see people who also struggle,  yet come out on top.  The hero and/or heroine struggling against the odds and coming out stronger.

We all have our share of evils in our lives.  We have the truly horrid villains who have no redeeming qualities to them, then those who are bad but have some redeeming qualities still in them, and finally, the minor frustrating people who do things irritating.  It is a fact of life, and so we like to see the main characters battle the wrongs that come their way along the path to happiness by the end of the story, which is what we all want in our real lives.  Anyone who has read my stories can tell you that, no matter what I put our Darling Couple through, in the end, Darcy and Elizabeth have a Happily Ever After.

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Jane Austen gave us a multitude of baddies to dislike.  Some we just despise, some we can understand why they were pushed to be baddies, and then some who are just too foolish to realize they are bad.

Take for example the first type. Those who are just plain bad.  Personally, I rank Wickham and Willoughby in this category.  These men have had plenty given to them, and they plain do not care that they injure others.  They seduce women to fill their desires, not caring of what it does to the women.  Unwanted pregnancies bring shame on the women, and the Wickhams and Willoughbys of the world slither away to their next conquest.  Debts to shopkeepers and debts of honor left behind, robbing people of their income, simply due to the selfishness of the character.  There is no redeeming these men, they do not care what others think of them.  They feel that life owes them, and when they are not given what they want, then the world is being cruel to them.

To me, Lady Catherine could go either way.  Perhaps she is just out right cruel and heartless, demanding her nephew and daughter wed.  Or is there a reason for her desire?  Perhaps the reason for her demands was to protect Anne de Bourgh. Perhaps there is something in her husband’s will or some health issues that Lady Catherine is suffering from that pushes for her to ensure Anne is safe.  Or Lady Catherine could wish to control Pemberley as she does Rosings.

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Lady Russell also could go either way.  Did she ruin Anne Elliot’s chance at happiness due to cruelty and demanding things done her way, or did she attempt to assist her dear friend’s daughter?  Was she being controlling or was she making decisions that she thought were for the best?

Then we have the category of fools.  Jane Austen has given us a multitude of fools to dislike.  In Pride and Prejudice, we have the ever toadying Mr Collins.  He does not seem to have a brain in his head.  Though, in the original, Mr Collins is annoying, is he hurtful?  Does he act cruelly? Not really.  He is more or less the fly in the soup type of character who is more of an irritation than a pain. Once flicked out of the way, he is easy to forget.

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Same with characters such as Mrs Norris in Mansfield Park.  The woman is vexing, but her being an irritant is more out of her being an unintelligent woman who is trying to be better than she truly is.  In Emma, you have Mr Elton who is likewise too foolish to be likeable, yet he does not really cause harm.  And in Persuasion, we have a load of frustrating people, who are not really trying to be cruel, but their stupidity makes them so.  The entire Elliot family, aside from Anne, fall into this category.  They think of no one but themselves and have pity parties, expecting Anne to take care of them. Does her sister, Mary, mean to harm Anne, or is Mary aggravating us because she is unhappy in her life, so she dishes it to her sister, expecting Anne to cater to her wishes?

So, whether we like it or not, villains are necessary part of a story.  If our main characters lived the perfect lives, filled with everything perfect and no troubles, we would soon become bored of the story, as it is not realistic and does not grab hold of your heart.

Here’s to the villains in our lives, and may they all be thwarted from casting their evil, allowing goodness to win.  And may you, dear readers, all find your happily ever after in your life’s story.

12 Responses to There Be Villains Afoot

  1. I just found this unread e-mail. Interesting. There are both Jane’s view and then Elizabeth’s view of people…as in their discussion about Darcy just after Wickham’s tale. Mr. Bennet is one that I find many authors give varying accounts on. But I do think he was indolent in several aspects. But Elizabeth loved him…bottom line.

  2. I’ve just re-read Northanger Abbey and wonder what you think of both General and Captain Tilney and Isabella and John Thorpe? The General comes across as a baddie to start with until we learn about his deep sadness over his wife’s death. Then he throws Catherine out when he learns she has no fortune. The Captain flirts with Isabella after she’s engaged to James Morland and she responds to him, eventually dumping James over his lack of fortune. John Thorpe just comes across as one of those foolish, annoying types.

    Thanks for an interesting post.

    • Those are the types who could go in type 2 (redeemable) or flat ignorant or selfish that they don’t realize they are bad. Except the captain. He knows Isabella is engaged, if I remember correctly), but still goes after her. I put that in the 1st category, along with Wickham and Willoughby.

  3. Melanie, I will have to disagree with you on the subject of Mrs. Norris. She is truly a nasty character and it comes from more than mere ignorance. Of course, all the characters in that novel are flawed more so than the characters in any of her other novels, which does make it more interesting in a way and also more frustrating. There were many times I just wanted to slap Fanny and Bertram. The one time Collins truly did lower himself to almost true evilness was when he wrote the letter to Mr. Bennet after Lydia’s elopement. To say that her death would have been better was so totally unforgivable that he showed to one and all that he was truly a ball of oily sludge (I refuse to call villains, miscreants, etc. anymore by the names of innocent animals — they don’t deserve it as they have done me no harm).

    • Ok, Mrs Norris may be evil, but she did have some redeeming qualities. She was protect of some of the family, almost to the point of ridiculousness. I agree, there are lots of baddies in Mansfield Park. And I think there would be a long line of people wanting to smack some sense into these characters.

      As for Mr Collins, his statement about Lydia is stemmed from arrogance and stupidity. He doesn’t use caution with his words. But his words weren’t really aimed as evil, meant to cause pain. Most likely, he was parroting Lady Catherine, and we all know how arrogant she is. Someone like Collins would see quoting her as a sign of respect.

  4. Thank you for this interesting post. I wonder if Mr. Bennet, in some ways, could be considered a villain. After all, he doesn’t bother to keep his younger daughters and wife in line. He is indolent and has no real dowries for his daughters……and then there is Caroline Bingley, with her machinations to keep Jane from Charles and keep Darcy away from Elizabeth. Could Lydia be compared to the rest of Anne Elliott’s family? You got me thinking which can be dangerous.

    • I would put him as either the foolish & irritating category or in the bad but having redeeming qualities. He does allow Lizzy free reign in his book room, which is redeeming, as it allowed her to expand her knowledge.

      • I like Mr. Bennet, though I do wish he would pay more attention to his wife’s and their younger daughters’ behavior…especially Lydia. There’s a wonderful story I’m reading about Wickham trying to snare Caroline Bingley, and that would get rid of two “fish” at once.

Your thoughts are precious!