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Monday, September 5, 2016

Austen's Best WORST Characters: a Conversation

Last week, I asked you to tell me who you thought was Austen's absolute, best of the best WORST character. A character you loved to hate, or that you just knew you wouldn't be able to bear being in a room with.
I've combined those answers, along with some choice extracts from previous Janeite Conversations and our AIA discussions on Twitter, to come up with what we think is the best of the worst in all of Austen.

Misty: So. Austen's best worst character. She's really got some doozies, but who do we love to hate the most?
Beth: Oh man, there are SO many good ones to choose from! From busybodies and meddling relations to selfish prigs...
Jessica (bookrockgoddess): I love Henry Crawford and I hate Edmund Bertram.
Misty: Yaaaasssss.
Jessica: This might be controversial but I think Edmund is a wishy-washy a... I think Henry acted like most men that have been spurned by a women who continually turns him down. That just might be my 20th century views. I can relate to saying what the heck and going for it with someone who might care for you. I know many a friend who has found themselves in similar situations.
Misty: Agreed! And yeah, okay, I get it that his intentions in the beginning weren't so great — but hey, if I can forgive every guy in a romcom ever who has started out messing with a girl only to realize he's falling for her, then I can forgive Henry.
Monica: *scoffs* He’s a really bad boy. He plays fast and low with both Julia and Maria, so much so that Maria expects him to propose. He tries to seduce Fanny for his own amusement, and behaves improperly by giving her a gift. Then, when Fanny refuses to marry him, he hooks up with Maria and causes a huge scandal. To top it all, he doesn’t marry Maria even though her husband has divorced her and she is shunned by society for adultery. Could it get any worse?
Misty: ...touché. Those are all fair points. But I just can't help but like him a little. Edmund on the other hand. . . I just can't with him. But is he the worst? I don't think he's quite bad enough for that. You know, Mansfield Park really has more than its fair share of awful people. Like, all of them...especially you know who.
Sophia Rose: Mrs. Norris is a despicable creature and love that Austen wrote such a great 'love to hate' character.
Misty: YES.
Sophia Rose: This woman is settled, comfortable, and has a place in the community that should drive her toward compassion and understanding, but uh uh, oh no, she is the dark cloud who makes the people around her miserable. She is parsimonious, cruel, and snobbish. Her guidance is so wrong and affects so many for the worse. In the end, Mansfield Park is lighter and fresher for her loss.
Maria: Aunt Norris in Mansfield Park also drive me crazy. She is such a horrible manipulator!
Beth: Yes! She's such a harpy! It's a lovely way to say 'people of all classes can be cruel'. She's dependent on the Bertrams so she should be humble, and yet, she's intolerable.
Sophia Rose: Good summation of her, Beth!
Misty:  I feel the same in some ways about Mary Musgrove in Persuasion. I mean,  obviously she's not as bas as Mrs. Norris, or as harmful, but she has this added layer of pure annoyance...I couldn't even bring myself to defend Mary awhile back... even when I could defend Mrs. Norris! Similar to Mr. Collins, in some ways -- potentially harmful, mostly so unbearably obnoxious that they are intolerable. Collins is a whole different beast!
Laurie: Mr. Collins is so “altogether a mixture of pride and obsequiousness, self-importance and humility” that it’s sometimes downright painful to read his scenes.
Misty: Or WATCH his scenes. Reading him is bad enough, but nearly every depiction of him makes my skin crawl!
Laurie: The worst offense in Mr. Collins’ arsenal—and there are several—resides in his proposal to Elizabeth Bennet. I’m talking about the whole ladies-say-no-but-really-mean-yes theme. For as he so eloquently puts it, “ it is usual with young ladies to reject the addresses of the man whom they secretly mean to accept, when he first applies for their favour; and…sometimes the refusal is repeated a second or even a third time." Hmmm. That is either a let’s-have-a-laugh-at-clueless-Collins scene, or a clip from law and order special victims unit.
Misty: Let's not forget, he also gleefully advises casting off Lydia, is the #1 bootlicker in all of England, and is in charge of a congregation! Collins is responsible for advising and guiding innocent minds, and of being an example of righteousness and marital felicity. So not only is he pretty clueless and gross, but he also has unfortunate reach. That's gotta win him points. Though, given the breadth of awful in Austen, still not enough to win him the title, I don't think... I feel I need to put in a word for Lucy Steele here. She's never not horrible, after all...
Beth: ... in light of this year's AiA pick, I'm going to go with John and Fanny Dashwood. Selfish, self-centered, snobbish, and devoid of compassion, they are just the worst human beings. 
Misty: We had a lot to say on Mrs. Fanny Dashwood in our AIA chats this year...
Misty: But we didn't talk about John as much (though YES!)
Beth: They can't even care enough to manipulate (well, Fanny manipulates John, but so easily that it's clear John is looking for any excuse to break his deathbed vow to his father and shaft his sisters and the woman who raised him).
Sophia Rose: Absolutely! He's no gentleman and she's no lady though they consider themselves to be. More detestable creatures! :)
Beth: They have no consideration. To be able to say, here are people I shared my life and home with, for however many years (do we know when John's mother died and his father remarried?) and I don't care if they starve to death, to be able to just casually break the vow made to the man whose fortune you are spending, and to care more about what everyone around you is worth in terms of money than bother to get to know them....I just want to throttle them both.
Misty: PREACH.
Beth: Ugh, blind[ed] by their own arrogance. In a fair world, they'd be utterly bereft of friendship and love.
Misty: Way harsh, Tai. I mean, Beth. ;)

Misty: So who's our winner? Can we even pick a winner? I mean, hell, we didn't even touch on John Thorpe,whom I'm pretty sure would have raped Catherine, if given the chance... Or either of the naughty Ws. And surprisingly, no one mentioned Caroline Bingley OR Lady Catherine! You've gotta be pretty bad to outdo those two... All I know is there are two things for absolute certain: 1) Austen can write one hell of an awful person, and at some point, awful people would have had to dread being around her for fear they'd find themselves reflected back in a book...
Misty: And 2) someone needs to use something to hit Lucy Steele in the face.

Thanks to everyone who answered in the initial discussion post or participated in our Twitter chats, and all of the authors whose answers I pulled from previous Janeite Convos!

Return to the Austen in August Main Page by clicking here for more Janeite goodies!


  1. Thanks for the laughs, Misty! "The #1 bootlicker in all of England" indeed! I can just see people at assembly balls whispering that amongst themselves when Mr. Collins enters the room, just like they do re Darcy's "ten thousand a year."

    I also love "awful people would have had to dread being around her for fear they'd find themselves reflected back in a book..." even not-so-awful people might find the prospect scary; I know I do, as much as I have fantasized about meeting my favorite author! (and I'm not nearly that awful) Then again, awful people are probably the last ever to recognize themselves in a book. they're too busy being awful and thinking themselves perfect justified and good...hmmm, something I must ponder... ;-)

    I love this conversation and all the entries in it!!

    1. Yeah, the tweet about fearing to be in a room with her was actually from ME saying that about myself. Haha! It would definitely be risky, being around Jane. But I had the same thought -- the bad ones would be clueless that it was about them, anyway. More's the pity.

  2. Too fun! I got a good chuckle at how all our remarks shaped the conversation. I would be circumspect around dear Miss Austen, for sure. I think she probably sees people, flaws and all, pretty well. Good observation, Misty!

  3. Ahahaha! Those are awesome. The SVU clip comment almost made me snort tea. :D
    And yes, salmon tail to the face for Lucy. Oh, but watch the 1980s S&S mini-series....Fanny Dashwood shakes Lucy like a ragdoll and screeches into her face. It's awesomely over the top, and Lucy totally deserves it.
    Honestly, I'd be honored if Miss Austen flayed my soul in a book. I may deserve it, and I know she'd at least give my faults a purpose (and hopefully, some humor).

    1. (also, thank you for the Clueless gif/reference....you made my night) :D

  4. Can you imagine spending an evening with Lady' Catherine's monologues and the pompous bootlicking of Mr. Collins. Urh! I would not expect much spiritual fruit at the Hunsford Parsonage. The there's Lydia when she and Wickham return to Longbourne briefly on their way to Newcastle. She is totally clueless as to just how obnoxious they are to everyone except Mrs. Bennet and themselves or the sacrifices made for her (by Mr. Darcy) or just how selfish they are.

  5. Enjoyed this post both last year and this year.

  6. Can't believe Lady Catherine got overlooked! I can see trying to put Miss Binlgey out of mind, but Lady C has THE BEST lines. Love to hate her. This was such fun!

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