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In addition to her dazzling heroines and dashing heroes, Austen is known for creating some pretty cunning villains. Gold diggers, social climbers, and Byron-esque lovers, these not-so-gentlemanly gentleman serve as the obstacle to our heroines’ happiness. Here are five of Austen’s most villainous villains, ranked.
5. John Thorpe, Northanger Abbey
All of the other villains on this list hide their sinister sides with gentlemanly finesse. Not so with John Thorpe. Thorpe is not the most colorful crayon in the box. He’s insufferably rude and a terrible (not to mention frequent) liar. He’s doesn’t have much brain power either. He tells General Tilney, Henry’s father, that Catherine has a fortune, which results in Catherine being invited to the Tilney home. Somehow I doubt that was the aim of Thorpe’s scheming. Thorpe’s villainy is so basic, he hardly even makes the cut.
Villain ranking: Failed.
4. Henry Crawford, Mansfield Park
Henry Crawford is one of those obnoxious cads who makes women fall in love with him in order to amuse himself. In the case of our straight-shooting heroine, Fanny Price, Crawford bites off more than he can chew. Instead of Fanny falling for him, he falls for Fanny, and is swiftly put in his place when she rejects him in favor of her more dutiful cousin, Mr. Bertram. While I don’t think Crawford’s heart is too bruised, it’ll take him a while to recover from the humiliation!
Villain ranking: Novice.
3. William Elliot, Persuasion
Mr. Elliot is as changeable as Captain Wentworth is constant. He keeps the Elliots at arms length until it suits him to form a closer connection. That connection comes in the form of Anne, whom he pursues with all the ardor of someone motivated by social status and flashing pound signs. Is it possible that Elliot’s affection is sincere underneath all that chicanery? I’d say it’s unlikely. Of course, my opinion is not helped by the fact that I recently re-watched the 2007 BBC adaptation of Persuasion, in which the same actor who plays Black Jack Randall in Outlander portrays Mr. Elliot. The power of association is strong with this one.
Villain ranking: Intermediate.
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2. John Willoughby, Sense and Sensibility
John Willoughby is a charming rogue, but a rogue he most certainly is. Like Mr. Wickham, he seems to have a particular dislike for the gentlemanly qualities of our hero, Colonel Brandon. For starters, He leaves Brandon’s ward pregnant and alone in a time when women’s reputations were staked on their sexual “purity.” As if that wasn’t enough, he then goes on to pursue Marianne, Brandon’s second love, only to break her heart and make for the hills. What makes him such a compelling villain is that his feelings for Marianne appear to be at least partly genuine. He’s not as sincere as he first appears, but there may be a poet’s heart hidden in him after all.
Villain ranking: Advanced.
1. George Wickham, Pride and Prejudice
Mr. Wickham has a beef with Mr. Darcy. It’s not hard to understand why. As I’ve mentioned before, Mr. Darcy isn’t exactly the easiest person to get along with. Nevertheless, Wickham’s way of dealing with his disappointment is underhanded to say the least. First, he tries to seduce Darcy’s kind and innocent sister, Georgiana. Then, after making a pass my #1 Austen girl, Lizzie, he absconds with her 15-year-old sister, Lydia. As Mr. Knightley would say, badly done, Wickham!
Villain ranking: Expert.
Who is your favorite Austen villain?