Because You Didn’t Ask

The Top Five* Fictional Characters I’d Like to Slap Around:

1. Lily Bart, The House of Mirth. First, last, and always. How can she not see the mistakes she’s making? I just want to shake her awake, tell her to snap out of it.

2. Laurence Selden, The House of Mirth. ‘I love her; I don’t love her. I wish I could save her, but what could I do?’ Confirmed bachelor, my Aunt Fannie. Come out of the closet already, Larry.

3. Carrie Bell, The Dive from Clausen’s Pier. The character that spawned this version of the list. Annoying both in her selfishness and in her inability to stand up for the things she wants, or even to believe that the things she wants might be important. Weak enough to be pushed around by everyone. And crappy taste in men, to boot.

4. Newland Archer, The Age of Innocence.** ‘I love her, but gosh, society frowns upon our love.’ Worse yet: ‘Society once frowned upon our love, but even though no one would mind our relationship now, it would just hurt too much to see her again.’ Please.

5. Isabel Archer, Portrait of a Lady. Okay, the courage of your convictions is one thing. Standing by your commitments, sure. But not getting yourself out of an abusive relationship just because you said I do and a lady keeps her word is just moronic.

*I am both dissatisfied with the five-ness of this list, when I began with the intent of creating a list of ten, and with the list itself. Contributions, please. How should I fill out the list, and who on the list needs replacing?

**NB: Archer should perhaps be higher in the rankings because of the multiplication of my desire to inflict violence upon him by Daniel Day Lewis’s portrayal of said character in the Scorsese film.

14 thoughts on “Because You Didn’t Ask

  1. Good choices — I can see that in your studies you suffered through your mandatory helpings of Wharton & James.

    Here are mine.

    Pip, from Great Expectations: “For reasons I have never been able to fathom, I act very, very badly toward the person I owe most to in the world.” Pip’s class-consciousness is so irritatingly complete there’s not much left of a personality. Also, the puppy-dog act with Estella doesn’t make him very much more likable.

    Robinson Crusoe: Can you imagine being marooned anywhere with this bore? World revolves around him and his desire to have a nice little supply of whatever material stuff happens to be on his mind. And God cares! Right. Oh, how I long to open up the book to a final chapter, penned by Friday: “Ate Crusoe today. Tasted like chicken.”

    Stephen Deadalus: I like you, buddy, but sometimes you really know how to crawl up a guy’s skirt. Such an obsessive. So you had a tough childhood. The Catholic guilt, the mother, pull out his eyes, yeah yeah yeah. Look, take a bath, knock off the poetry, and get to work on the experimental novel already. And if Buck Mulligan is an asshole, then tell him to piss off and have done with it.

    Gerald from Women in Love: You need to admit that you just love yourself and your own heroically gleaming body.

    The Great Gatsby: Everyone.

  2. 1. I second the Isabel Archer vote. We are told that everyone around her finds her wonderful. Why? Why? She’s cute; she never finishes reading anything. Get out of the world inside your head, babe.

    2. Fanny Price, in Mansfied Park: Straighten your spine. Speak up. Stop being such a wincing ninny. Tell Anne Elliott in Persuasion the same thing. And by the way, Henry Crawford is a much better catch than bleating, humorless Edmund.

    3. Anyone who ever showed up in a Hemingway novel.

  3. “Wincing ninny.” Ouch!

    I’ll second Mansfield Park but not Persuasion; Anne Eliot’s passivity comes off more like stoicism to me. She seems likeable. Agree that Edmund is a dud, however, particularly since his reversion to interest in Fanny seems fairlyinsulting, like “She was really cool and beautiful and fascinating, Fanny, but I know you’re a good girl, so we should get married.”

  4. Oh, I agree that Anne E. is likeable (that’s why Fanny got my vote), but it doesn’t mean she couldn’t use a wake-up smack. She’s too stoic for her own good. Unlike Fanny, Anne is not a penniless dependent–she could tell her useless sisters off once in a while.

    I’m impressed that you narrowed the many D. H. Lawrence candidates down to one.

  5. I’m impressed that you narrowed the many D. H. Lawrence candidates down to one.

    Having repressed 99% of the painful experience of reading five-and-a-half Lawrence novels (didn’t finish The Rainbow), it was no problem; I only remember those four irritants from Women in Love, and I think Gerald’s the one most in need of a slap (though why Gudrun wants to date the psycho is beyond me).

  6. Pip, of course. And how could I have forgotted Stephen Dedalus. And to add to BT’s Gatsby and mariah’s Hemingway, the full cast of all Fitzgerald. But especially Dick Diver — poor maligned man, destroyed by his crazy wife. Snif.

    The funny thing about having suffered through my mandatory James & Wharton, and my resultant loathing of so many of their characters, is that I actually like many of the novels themselves. That’s the puzzlement for me: how can I like The House of Mirth so much and still want to inflict violence on its heroine?

  7. How about this: We can like the books because some of these characters are _supposed_ to irritate. My list consists of characters the author seems to envision as more likeable and sympathetic than not. (Dick Diver is a perfect example of this.) Characters designed to be annoying don’t count–Emma Woodhouse’s father, e.g. In fact, I’d take Selden and Newland Archer off the list, because I think Wharton intends them to be unequal to the women in their lives. They’re supposed to bother us by falling short. I disliked the D.D-L portrayal of Newland as well–but partly because neither actor nor director seemed to understand how ultimately limited and not-so-sympathetic he was supposed to be.

  8. Of course this is precisely the type of conversation I have been waiting for to join the discussion at Kathleen’s website (okay that, and I was waiting for a new computer at home to allow me to even get to her website in the first place). I completely disagree with mariah’s addition of Fanny Price. She *does* stand up to Sir Bertram in that memorable scene in which she says no to his selection of a husband for her. Now that takes some doing given her societal standing, that she was practically an orphan Bertram took in, and that she was a woman.

    But, to my additions: without a doubt, Tom Sawyer needs to be on this list! He is such an ass, especially in comparison to Huck. What a despicable kid, though I wonder, re mariah’s comment about deliberate literary annoyers, if Twain meant for Tom to be as annoying as he is.

    Also, I would like to add Amy March of Little Women. The littlest woman is the most annoying, and I simply never forgave her for marrying Laurie –Jo was supposed to marry him (and no, I don’t care a jot that Laurie asked Jo to marry him and she refused; Alcott was wrong in this aspect of her plot –I believed it when I was a young girl and I believe it now).

  9. Long time listener, first time caller.

    Holden Caulfield, Catcher in the Rye. It’s been so long since I read the book I’m not sure why I hate him so much. I think it was because he was such a whinny rich kid that I wanted to squish him under my shoe. Like an Italian family fued, I can no longer recall his transgressions, though I’m sure they were hideous and worthy of inclusion to this list.

  10. Okay, so I was tired last night after three days of orienting (both self and others; on which more shortly), and assumed that the connection between Holden and Kerouac would be as visible to others as it was to me. This morning, it looks pretty odd. So here’s the thought-pattern.

    –Holden Caulfield is the protagonist of Catcher in the Rye.

    Catcher in the Rye is one of those books that must be read by the age of 16 to be at all powerful; after such age, the novel becomes annoying in its facile pretentions to rebellion.

    On the Road is another such book

    –I read On the Road for the first time at 25, and was profoundly annoyed.

    –Jack Kerouac is, for all intents and purposes, the protagonist of On the Road.

    –He is annoying as the day is long.

  11. I agree on the Amy March point from Little Women. I was so upset that she married Laurie! She was spoilt, conceited, shallow and just down right annoying. Jo should have married Laurie which also made me dislike the Professor. He might not have been that bad if he wasn’t intended to marry Jo.

  12. Came across this list searching for info for a Term Paper.

    My contribution to the list of characters to slap around.

    Marlow and Kurtz in Heart of Darkness. Just because they are the way they are.

    All of the characters in Crime and Punishment

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