Classic Gothic Tales & Their True Villain

It’s finally that time of year again; where shadows dance, edged in flickering candlelight, and the unknown is all the more alluring as darkness descends.

*ahem* Sorry, forgot to turn off my Literary Voice. 

Spooky season. It’s spooky season.

As tomorrow is Halloween, I thought it’d be fun to take a look at some classic, favorited-by-many gothic novels and decide who (or what) is the real villain in the book.

Villains are deliciously exciting. As both a reader and a writer, I revel in well-crafted antagonists—characters you love to hate (or vice versa) who not only act as a hindrance to the main character, but demonstrate the evil of human nature in creatively varied ways. Whether the adversary is human, supernatural, or ambiguous, their value as a barricade to “Happily Ever After” makes conflict all the more exciting.

Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë)

Summary: Wuthering Heights is a wild, passionate story of the intense and almost demonic love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, a foundling adopted by Catherine’s father. After Mr. Earnshaw’s death, Heathcliff is bullied and humiliated by Catherine’s brother Hindley and, wrongly believing that his love for Catherine is not reciprocated, leaves Wuthering Heights, only to return years later as a wealthy and polished man. He proceeds to exact a terrible revenge for his former miseries (summary sourced from Amazon).

Perceived villain: Heathcliff

My take: Everyone sucks.

Even the blurb on Amazon paints Heathcliff as the villain! However, if you’ve read this classic, you know it’s pretty hard to find a character to root for. Catherine is selfish and dishonest, Heathcliff is the definition of Chaotic Evil, Isabella is a BORE every time we see her, and Edgar is…fine, I guess, but I never liked him? Even one of the narrators, Mr. Lockwood, ends the book with an uppity attitude regarding the complex, intense history that’s been shared with him. I think the beauty of Wuthering Heights lies in the moral gray that encapsulates each character. Arguably, no one is all good or all bad; they all have their reasons for hurting others and themselves.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde)

Summary: Enthralled by his own exquisite portrait, Dorian Gray exchanges his soul for eternal youth and beauty. Influenced by his friend Lord Henry Wotton, he is drawn into a corrupt double life; indulging his desires in secret while remaining a gentleman in the eyes of polite society (summary sourced from Penguin). 

Perceived villain: Lord Henry Wotton

My take: Dorian is the real villain.

Look, we’ve all had crappy friends who influence us to do things we normally wouldn’t do. But if Person A influences Person B to commit a heinous act, who takes the fall for it? Person B. Because at the end of the day, Person B was the one to do the bad thing. And in Dorian’s case, he not only likes being bad, he loves it. Any hesitation he has about his actions doesn’t stem from guilt, but fear of someone discovering his secret. Lord Wotton SUCKS for egging on his “friend,” but it was Dorian who willingly decided to develop into a devil.

Frankenstein (Mary Shelley)

Summary: Victor Frankenstein is a scientist obsessed with generating life from lifeless matter. He subsequently manages to create a horrifying, sentient creature assembled from pieces of stolen body parts. Shunned by society and faced with eternal isolation, the creature becomes murderous with revenge against the one who brought him into existence, Frankenstein (summary sourced from Blurb).

Perceived villain: The Monster or Victor Frankenstein

My take: This is a tricky one based on who the perceived villain is. While The Monster fills the normal archetype of their namesake, Victor plays at becoming a god and forsakes his creation to a world they didn’t choose to be brought into. From what I’ve seen and read online, many readers see Victor as a reprehensible villain—letting his scientific ambition morph into cruel avoidance of responsibility for the sentient life he created—and I have to agree. 

Dracula (Bram Stoker)

Summary: Jonathan Harker is traveling to Castle Dracula to see the Transylvanian noble, Count Dracula. He is begged by locals not to go there, because on the eve of St. George’s Day, when the clock strikes midnight, all the evil things in the world will come full sway. But business must be done, so Jonathan makes his way to the Castle – and then his nightmare begins. His beloved wife Meena and other lost souls have fallen under the Count’s horrifying spell. Dracula must be destroyed… (summary sourced from Penguin).

Perceived villain: Count Dracula

My take: Count Dracula, duh.

Count Dracula is literally a vampire out to kill people. The rest of the characters (even Renfield in a moment of clarity) simply try to keep themselves and other innocent humans safe. There isn’t too much room for argument on this one in my opinion.

Who’s The Worst of the Bunch?

What do you think—have I missed a villain or two? What other gothic novels (and their villains) would you add to this list?

Stay spooky!

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