Jerks. They’re everywhere. Read any comments section on the Internet and you’ll see what I mean. Wherever there are people, there are jerks. (Except possibly in Canada.)
There are plenty of jerks in literature, and TMTF has chosen ten of the worst. The usual rules apply: I’ll include characters only from books I’ve read, and only one character per author. This list defines a jerk as a person who possesses unlikable qualities such as selfishness, cruelty, hypocrisy, rudeness or a tendency to kick small animals.
Be ye warned, here there be minor spoilers.
Brace yourselves, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…
The TMTF List of Top Ten Jerks in Literature!
10. Pap Finn (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain)
Huckleberry Finn’s father is abusive, greedy, drunken, heartless, filthy, violent, wheedling, dishonest, neglectful, ruthless, irresponsible and utterly devoid of conscience, charm or deodorant. I could go on, but I don’t think there’s any need. Pap Finn is a jerk.
9. Dolores Umbridge (Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling)
My introduction to Ms. Umbridge was a description of her as a character with a personality “like poisoned honey.” This description proved to be extraordinarily apt. Dolores Umbridge is sickeningly sentimental, cheerful and twee… and also bigoted, sadistic and evil. With smiles and giggles, she inflicts horrible punishments on students and taunts her colleagues. Really, Dolores Umbridge is a jerk.
8. Bill Sikes (Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens)
There are many great Dickensian jerks, but none worse than Bill Sikes. Even Fagin—himself a notorious jerk—is afraid of this guy. Sikes is barbaric and violent, beating his lover to death, hitting his dog and stopping at nothing to get what he wants. He also has no fashion sense. Bill Sikes is a particularly nasty jerk.
7. Charles Augustus Milverton (“The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)
I’ll let Sherlock Holmes handle this one: “Do you feel a creeping, shrinking sensation, Watson, when you stand before the serpents in the Zoo, and see the slithery, gliding, venomous creatures, with their deadly eyes and wicked, flattened faces? Well, that’s how Milverton impresses me . . . I have said that he is the worst man in London, and I would ask you how could one compare the ruffian, who in hot blood bludgeons his mate, with this man, who methodically and at his leisure tortures the soul and wrings the nerves in order to add to his already swollen money-bags?” Sherlock Holmes has spoken: Charles Augustus Milverton is a jerk.
6. Bob Ewell (To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee)
Bob Ewell is basically Pap Finn, except more viciously racist and (the novel implies) guilty of sexually abusing his daughter. Mr. Ewell also attempts to murder a couple of children. This is becoming something of a refrain for this list, but Mr. Ewell is drunken, disheveled and filthy. (Umbridge and Milverton may be evil, but at least they take baths.) Bob Ewell is, without question, a jerk.
5. Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë)
Heathcliff has the notable distinction of being the only fictional character whom I have ever wanted to punch in the face. He’s horrible: a man whose resentment and poisonous love for a childhood friend drive him to exact slow, cruel, methodical vengeance on everyone who slighted him. Heathcliff goes so far as to marry someone he despises as part of his plan to hurt as many people as he can. Seriously, Heathcliff is a jerk.
4. Assef (The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini)
Assef begins a bully, becomes a rapist and ends up a sociopathic jihadist, all with contemptuous arrogance and not a single shred of guilt. Many literary jerks have some tiny gleam of goodness to provoke sympathy, compassion or pity from the reader. Not this guy. Assef is simply a jerk.
3. Professor Edward Rolles Weston (Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis)
Professor E.R. Weston is doubly a jerk. In his first appearance in Out of the Silent Planet, Weston is a ruthless believer in survival of the fittest: he calls a half-witted local boy “incapable of serving humanity and only too likely to propagate idiocy” and admits his intention to commit genocide to serve his own ends. In Perelandra, a later novel, Weston has transformed from an amoral humanist to an amoral spiritualist; he is implied eventually to be possessed by a satanic spirit. Thus it is proved: Weston is a jerk.
2. Dodge (Locke & Key series by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez)
An absolutely evil person isn’t necessarily a jerk. Thieves and murderers can be respectful, charming and even polite. Dodge is an absolutely evil person and a jerk. He lies, steals, manipulates, betrays, rapes and murders with calculated precision, sadistic glee and not even the faintest hint of remorse. Whether taunting mentally handicapped teens or shoving kids in front of buses, Dodge is an irredeemable jerk.
1. Abiatha Swelter (Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake)
This hideously obese, “drunken, arrogant and pedantic” man is the chef of Gormenghast castle, a horribly… well… horrible man. Well, man may be too polite a word. In a book packed with awful people, Swelter is the worst: cruel, short-tempered, disgusting, resentful, demented and murderous. He may not be the most evil character on this list, but I think he’s the most odious. In conclusion, I have only one thing to add—and I’m sure you’ve guessed it. Swelter is a jerk.
O people of the Internet, what despicable literary jerks would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments!