Top Ten Fictional Guys To Avoid Like The Ebola Virus

From time to time, I have had a mild swoon over Men Of Fiction.  I have documented this in previous Top Tens.  But then there are other times when I read a book and wonder what on earth the fictional female ever saw in the fictional male.  To be honest – this has been one of those Top Tens where there are quite simply far too many applicants.  I could do a Top Twenty or even a Top Fifty.  I have narrowed it down from boys who are too obviously written as unpleasant; for example, Ruby Oliver’s awful ex-boyfriend Jackson.  He dumped her, got together with her best friend and then shoved her under the metaphorical bus when the two of them were caught kissing again.  Still, E. Lockhart was using him for a teachable moment because Ruby eventually comes to see that for herself and when he does ask her to get back together in the third book, Ruby awkwardly tells him that, “I’m sorry, I mean you’re a nice guy except that really, you’re not a nice guy.”  Naturally, Jackson calls her a b**** and storms off – charming chap.  There are lots of unsatisfactory boyfriends in young adult fiction – they’re there as helpful examples of what to look out for but they don’t carry a lot of individual weight as characters.

I’ve tried to think of romantic heroes who were obviously written to be positive but who seem hideously inappropriate to me, however I have also tried to stick to books which I have actually read – this was good news for Angel Clare as I actually haven’t read Tess of the D’Urbevilles, just watched it on television.  Don’t get me wrong, Alec D’Urbeville is practically a pantomime villain but Angel Clare is a hypocritical twit.  He dumps Tess when he finds out that she had been raped and impregnated before she even knew him and then takes off to the other side of the world in a fit of rage.  Mr Clare, we all have pasts.  It doesn’t matter if Tess had voluntarily dated an entire rugby team before she met you – if it was in the past, you had no right to judge her for it and since she was in a murderous mood, she should have taken you out along with Alec.  But that’s just my personal opinion.  I have also lumped a few separate characters who share personality traits in the same box.  We get the gist – these are men who one would never live Happily Ever After with – these are Boys To Avoid.

Heathcliff, Wuthering Heights

At this point, I kind of start to hear Kate Bush’s voice in my head.  I first read Wuthering Heights when I was a thirteen year-old girl and bluntly I had zero interest in any form of romance so Heathcliff suited me down to the ground.  He is not exactly lovey-dovey.  Recently, I read Samantha Ellis’ How To Be A Heroine with a sense of concern as she nominated Heathcliff as her romantic idol.  There is no sense that if Cathy and Heathcliff had settled down in Wuthering Heights with a dog and tried to work the land that they would have been happy.  As Ellis herself states, Wuthering Heights is a novel written by a woman who never herself experienced love.  Heathcliff is a sociopath.  His primary motivation is revenge – he doesn’t even like Cathy and he is hideously violent towards his wife Isabella.  Indeed, his utter contempt for his wife for having had the temerity to try and love him is what sticks in my mind most about him – he is a creature built entirely of hate.  He may have been forged by circumstance at the cruelty of the Earnshaws but after a certain point he should have just moved on – nobody forced him to come back after he had made his money.  Heathcliff is a guy who is unable to forgive or forget and people like that are No Fun To Be Around.

Christian Grey/Edward Cullen, Fifty Shades of Grey, Twilight


I am putting these two characters together since they are essentially the Same Guy.  Stephenie Meyer wrote Edward, then E.L. James re-fashioned him, stuck in some sex and changed the name.  Same Guy.  Equally unsavoury.  Someone made a wonderful Youtube video sending up Edward Cullen as a romantic hero by having him try the same rubbish on Buffy the Vampire Slayer with predictable results – as Miss Summers wisely points out, “Being stalked isn’t a big turn-on for girls.”  This is advice that Mr Cullen and Mr Grey have clearly never received; Edward watches Bella while she sleeps and Christian Grey investigates Ana to the point of being aware of her measurements and also tracks her cell phone.  It’s perverse.

With both of them, a big part of their appeal seems to be the Grand Gestures.  The Cullens are extremely rich, Edward swoops about the place Doing Things for Bella – Christian Grey has his own helicopter.  I really don’t like the consumerism that seems to be at the root of both Ana and Bella’s ‘love’ for their husbands (spoilers).  The guys are breath-takingly good-looking and have so much Stuff so then the girls just ignore how emotionally manipulative they are because really when they’re getting so much Stuff, why should they make a fuss?  It’s also unsettling how in both cases, the alternative romantic interest (Jacob and Jose) have substantially less Stuff – in choosing who they choose, Bella and Ana are making the financially sensible decision but the emotionally irresponsible one.  As if we search for Stuff over stability. Please, girls, don’t.

I also really don’t like the implication that Edward and Christian Control Because They Care.  No, they control because they are controlling.  The logical conclusion to the Fifty Shades trilogy was the one that came at the end of the first book; Ana fled the scene, was sad for a little while and then wised up.  In the case of Twilight, Bella was just a hopeless case.  I think that Edward worries me more than Christian though because Twilight is marketed at a younger audience.  It implies that being afraid of a lover is part of the passion, that Edward’s thirst to drink Bella’s blood is somehow a sign of his great love rather than something that is Unacceptable Behaviour.  When you are afraid even for a second, you need to get away and fast.  Avoid these two like the plague ladies and if you really must truck with the undead, find yourself in a nice werewolf instead.


Charles is probably the most contemptible of all these – and he is based on a real-life man, Barbara Comyns’ first husband.  Oh dear.  He and the narrator get married young against their parents’ wishes and attempt to eke out a living despite the fact that Charles refuses to work since he is an artist and wants to focus on that.  He is furious with his young wife for having had the audacity to become pregnant ten weeks into the marriage, takes no responsibility for his own part in the proceedings and generally contributes nothing to his family.  It is implied at various points that Charles is simply not a very good artist but even if he was a second Leonardo Da Vinci his behaviour is still appalling.  He may believe himself the Great Artist, but we see him for what he really is – a weasel.  Girls, beware the weasel, it may charm you but it remains a weasel.

Perhaps a surprising choice.  I will agree that he is an affable man.  But he is also spineless.  This is the man who dumped Jane like a hot brick because his sisters and his best friend told him to.  Really think about that.  Darcy basically has to lift him up, carry him over and drop him back down next to Jane and then tell him to propose before things go right again – there is no sign that Bingley would ever have sorted the situation himself.  I am aware that Darcy behaved badly too but I felt that there was far more of a mea culpa thing that went on there, Bingley seemed not to have changed a jot.  I really feel for Jane Bennet, she’s a good-hearted, kind woman with many talents (she can manage large numbers of children, she has sewing skills, etc., etc.).  I just want to say to her, “Sure, twenty-three (presumably twenty-four by the finale), that’s no age – don’t settle for this loser.”  But I sympathise – her family prospects were not brilliant and her only other alternative was impoverished spinsterhood.  I just imagine that it would be a long old road to hoe shackled to a man who can’t make the most basic decisions for himself.
Ashley Wilkes, Gone With The Wind

Ashley Wilkes is another idiot which is strange because he is supposedly the intellectual out of the quartet at the centre of Gone With The Wind.  His pontifications about the ‘slow beauty’ of plantation life sit at odds with the fact that his life of luxury depended on his slaves breaking their backs out on the cotton fields.  Still, on a personal level – he’s dreadful.  He is married to Mellie, the woman Margaret Mitchell herself proclaimed to be the true heroine of Gone With The Wind.  I adore Mellie and Ashley just does not appreciate what he has.  Even worse, he poisons Scarlett and Rhett’s marriage with his hankering after Scarlett.  He had the chance to marry Scarlett.  He did not take it.  From then on, he should have left her the heck alone. Scarlett is to blame too though, she realises herself that Ashley is nothing but an empty set of clothes that she fashioned into a lover – her love for him was not real, just a very bad habit that she will spend the rest of her life paying for.  Ashley brought nobody any happiness, instead like a vampire he fed on the spirits of the two women who loved him until at the end of the novel, they both collapsed – one to the grave and the other to the horrified realisation that he is a weak man who for the rest of her life, she will be doomed to provide for since he cannot take care of himself.  Not a wicked man, but like spreading ivy, Ashley is pestilential and almost impossible to get rid of.

Maxim De Winter, Rebecca

Never understood how Rebecca made its way into the romance genre.  The heroine is written to be insipid, so much so that Daphne Du Maurier does not give her a first name.  The hero is Maxim Dewinter.  Maxim Dewinter.  Hero.  Does not compute.  Anyway – spoiler warning – (seriously, real spoilers, I hardly ever do spoilers any more so really, look away) Maxim seems fairly uninterested in his new wife and then had murdered his first.  Yes, we can argue the technicalities but the fact that the best case scenario is that Rebecca committed suicide-via-crazed-husband does not speak wonders for Maxim’s suitability for membership of the general populace let alone as a husband.  Plus in the most recent adaptation, he was played by Charles Dance who everyone knows is terrifying.  I feel that if you were married to Maxim Dewinter, you would definitely want to Sleep With At Least One Eye Open.  Another one to steer well clear of.

Wickham/Willoughby/John Thorpe – Austen’s naughty men

I’m putting all of these in one category because I didn’t want to be overly repetitive but Austen did write a fair clutch of wrong ‘uns.  Wickham is the most unsettling, something Jo Baker underlines in Longbourn when she has him attempt to seduce the youngest servant girl.  Wickham is roughly thirty – what on earth is he doing running after all these fifteen year-olds?  Austen stipulates the age of Lydia and Georgiana, it implies a very unsettling predilection.  Similarly, Willoughby has a strange habit of physically seducing and then abandoning young ladies of previously respectable character implying some very serious issues with emotional intimacy.  John Thorpe is the worst boor of the three though; he wildly re-writes Catherine Morland’s personality and family history to suit himself and then just as cheerfully performs a character assassination when her family displeases him.  Then there is that very strange incident when he tries to carry her off in his barouche.  It is Austenspeak for some very sexually aggressive behaviour – Val McDermid transposes him into the twenty-first century as a vile City Boy and he is all too recognisable.  These men may wear elegant costumes in the costumed adaptations but we would be foolish if we believed that their personality types have been vanquished.

Edward Rochester – The Wild Sargasso Sea

To be totally honest, I am not too crazy about Rochester in Jane Eyre.  I think he’s very manipulative of Jane, that the game-playing before he proposes to her is ridiculous and that lying to someone you supposedly love about keeping your mad wife up in the attic is just a bit … off.  Am I alone on that one?  Still, my mother adores Jane Eyre so I try not to dwell on those points.  Although in the most recent film when Jamie Bell played StJohn Rivers, I thought that Jane should have just stuck with him.  But that’s just me and I was only fifteen when Billy Elliot came out so I appreciate that I am slightly biased.  The Wild Sargasso Sea places Rochester firmly as the villain.  Poor Antoinette tries to please him, to be a good wife but Rochester will not have it.  He pushes her and neglects her and denies her her true identity and then is unfaithful to her and suspicious – he drives her insane and then imprisons her for it. He is a mean Victorian man.

Mr B_, Pamela

I had to read this for part of my university degree.  Basic premise: Pamela is a sixteen year-old servant girl whose primary duties have been singing, dancing and wearing necklaces and pretty clothes but then her mistress dies and her Master takes over.  And take over he does.  After his more straight-forward approaches are rebuffed by Pamela’s shrieks that she must remain honest, Mr B_ kidnaps her and keeps her captive, all the while trying to get into her petticoats.  Given that his assaults were imagined by an elderly gentleman of good character, they do lack a certain conviction.  At one point Mr B_ dresses up as a woman and tries to hide in Pamela’s bed.  Still, he is nonetheless pretty violent at other times yet when he finally decides that he wants Pamela so much that only marriage will do … Pamela decides that actually, he is the very best of men and that she will be delighted to be his wife.  Now, either Pamela has secretly been a manipulative little madam from day one (Henry Fielding wrote Shamela based on this theory) or else that is the most offensive plot resolution violent and I can ever remember.  There is no third option.  Marriage is a wonderful thing (although in the words of Billy Connolly, so is a bicycle repair kit) but it should not be implied that by offering to make a woman ‘respectable’, any other behaviour can be excused.  It reminds me of an episode of The Sopranos where Christopher is scolded by his girlfriend’s uncle for beating her and warned that if he wanted to do that, “You give her your last name, then it’s up to you.”  No.  Violence is never acceptable, it doesn’t matter what the girl’s name is.

Joffrey Baratheon, Game Of Thrones


Many of us have ghastly first boyfriends to reflect upon.  Still, whenever you look back and cringe, wondering how on earth you ever let that happen, always remember – it could be worse.  You could be Sansa Stark.  A winsome combination of violent psychopath and physical coward, Joffrey is not someone you want to be alone with for five minutes, let alone for a lifetime.  No wonder the Queen of Thorns decided that really, this just wouldn’t do.  It was nice to see women sticking up for women just for once (seldom occurs in A Song of Ice and Fire).  Joffrey is like the inverse of Prince Charming – a morality tale in judging sparkle over substance.  I really hope that Sansa finds someone nice before the series is over.  And by nice, I mean not Petyr Baelish.

Petyr Baelish, Game Of Thrones

I almost forgot about this guy – and indeed it seems as though everyone did since his villainy goes almost unchallenged within the series.  It is not until late on in the books that you realise the true fate of John Arryn and that the entire War of the Five Kings has been all Petyr’s fault.  He is truly the psycho-ex-boyfriend from Hades.  And not someone to have around if you live somewhere that happens to have windows that have several thousand feet sheer drops right below them.  He is not a man to trust (although to be fair he did warn Ned Stark of this fact before he betrayed him), he is not a man to get close to because he may have your husband killed twenty plus years later (Catelyn) or murder you directly (Lysa) or else he may somewhat unofficially take you prisoner in an incestuous and creepy fashion (Sansa).  Sansa sweetheart, you really need to get away from him – I know it’s hard and you don’t have anyone to run to as such, but you still need to run.

Hamlet, Hamlet
Perhaps not the best picture to accompany this one because after all, who doesn’t love David Tennant?  Hamlet though is another matter.  He’s another Tortured Soul like Heathcliff and just like Heathcliff, he drives his girlfriend round the twist.  Poor Ophelia – she thought she was getting a prince, instead she got this barking lunatic.  My main issue though with Hamlet is that he just doesn’t make decisions.  Either kill your uncle or don’t kill your uncle but make your mind up one way or the other and stop making life so unpleasant for those around you while you decide.  As a play, Hamlet is fantastic (not read it but I saw it at The Globe) but the character himself is just an insecure and so spineless you wonder how he manages to walk upright.
I’ve not included Arthur Huntingdon here because he was written to be Helen Huntingdon’s Bad Husband although he actually turned out to be terribly obliging since he dropped dead of alcoholism precisely on schedule.  Still, Anne Bronte was the one with the drunk brother not me so presumably she knew what she was writing about.  Gilbert Markham is just … not very nice.  He starts off as an arrogant young man who thinks himself better than the land that he farms, he flirts shamelessly with the Mean Girl down the way and sneers at the mysterious young widow who seems ridiculously up-tight.  When he changes his opinion of the Tenant of Wildfell Hall, he becomes angered when she deflects his attentions.  In fact, he attacks her landlord out of jealousy.  Again – violence – not acceptable.  Not the sign of a man with whom you want to spend your life.  Markham seems semi-unhinged, barking at his family and convinced that people are plotting against him winning Helen’s heart.  If I was Helen and I had been providentially set free from one bad marriage, I would have been far more circumspect about entering into a second with as unreliable a character as Gilbert.  I love The Tenant for its positive messages for women but the finale has always made me wonder.
Boys Who Needed A Stern Talking To:
Ron Weasley
ron weasley

I have an embarrassing tendency to Mother my friends who are boys and have once or twice expressed my dismay when one or other (actually, one in particular) happened to behave in an unseemly fashion towards the young ladies in their lives.  Having effectively known Ron Weasley since I was ten, I felt similarly horrified when I read how he treated Hermione in The Half Blood Prince.  It was bad enough in The Goblet Of Fire because Hermione was quite right, if Ron had a problem with Hermione going to the Yule Ball with Viktor Krum, then he ought to have asked her out properly beforehand.  But perhaps his feelings surprised him.  Not so by Half Blood Prince.  He had had plenty of time.  He knew he liked Hermione.  But then he got annoyed because she had kissed someone else two years previously.  Again, I refer back to my opening paragraphs – it was none of his business, it was in the past.  If Hermione had kissed every male from Durmstrang, it would still have had nothing to do with Ron.  And I hate the idea that he felt it was somehow Hermione’s fault that he rejected her, for why else would he have behaved so awfully to her afterwards?  I think that J K Rowling captures a common adolescent male instinct – to turn on the girl who has disappointed them, to take the pain of apparent rejection and turn it back on her in the cruellest possible way.  Even in their early years at Hogwarts, Hermione had loved Ron as her dear friend and he owed her better than that.  Don’t get me wrong, his behaviour picks up and presumably his Near Death Experience taught him a lot – Ron does prove himself as the series progresses.  But I hope that at some point – off-stage, away from Harry – that Ron did apologise to Hermione properly.  Because it was not her fault.

So those are my thoughts on the worst men and boys of fiction – do feel free to let me know your thoughts!

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6 thoughts on “Top Ten Fictional Guys To Avoid Like The Ebola Virus

  1. Ooo…what a good list! I quite agree with all of them, but Bingley and Ron in particular. Run always drove me slightly insane with his typical adolescent male behavior. I know I've said this before, but Harry and Hermione should have ended up together…

    And thank you for your defense of why Bingley is unsuitable. I've never been able to explain why he just rubs me the wrong way. Gah.

    And Wickham! I have been relistening to P&P while I run (I can run and listen to books, now!!!) and it's been fascinating being reintroduced to all these characters. For instance, I had absolutely no memory of the fact that Lydia was 15 (!) Really?? I wonder if that fact was as creepish then as it is now.

    Anyway, a great post as always! I always love reading Top Ten Tuesday posts. 🙂

  2. No not Hamlet! He is the most moral person in the play, and the whole point of the play is that he acts in a moral way. Yes, you can argue he drove Ophelia in to madness and then suicide, but he did warn her of what was to happen and how to escape it.
    In the seen where he tells her 'Get thee to a nunnery…' the text can be interpreted that she has reached such a low level in her own behaviour (comparing her to a prostitute) that this is the only way to redeem herself. But an alternative reading of the text (and one I drew upon when I studied the play for my Open University degree) was that he knew that everything was going to end tragically and she should go to a place of safety. And of course by the end of the play though he is dead, he is right – almost everyone else is shown to be corrupt without morals.
    As for a nomination – another Shakespeare play. Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing rejects he beloved Hero based upon malicious gossip he has been told about her, they are reconciled in the end but I feel Hero should have rejected him! I didn't know the play or plot until I saw Kenneth Brannagh's film version in the cinema, after the rejection scene I shouted out in annoyance (something I would rarely do!)
    [A minor gripe – I hope the use of 'Ebola' in the category is not yours, it is an awful thing without such trivialising.]

  3. No, in Jane Austen's time 15 was not creepy. For a woman not to be married by 20 was seen as a failure and you were 'on the shelf' (an attitude Jane was all too aware of!)

  4. I think that Ophelia was treated poorly by Hamlet – advising her to take holy orders was not exactly loving. I agree though that there are lots of other badly behaved Shakespearean men. I never liked Romeo – he seemed such a whiner, he never came up with any solutions himself and just complained all the time. You're right, Claudio in Much Ado is a bit of a fool in much the same way as Bingley is – what kind of a man flounces off without speaking to his partner first? I do like the Kenneth Branagh version though, he and Emma Thompson are a fantastic couple onscreen. Another awful man from Shakespeare was Angelo from Measure for Measure – total hypocrite, he tried to seduce Isabella but she tricked him into sleeping with his wife Mariana instead and whatever kind of deviant sexual practices he used, he failed to notice that it was Mariana. Disturbing. And yes, I did come up with the title myself – I am not using the Broke and Bookish for the forseeable future. It was not intended to in any way 'trivialise', undermine or otherwise belittle what I agree is a very serious disease (I have drafted an information poster this week at work on measures to avoid spreading it) and was meant as nothing more than a topical version of the phrase 'like the plague' which is not generally deemed offensive towards victims of the Black Death. Apologies if my title was taken out of context.
    Anyway, thanks for commenting, hope your week goes/is going well.

  5. Hey CGrace – I'd replied and then it seemed to have wiped – bizarre!

    Thank you for commenting 🙂 I really enjoyed this week's topic. I didn't feel right about calling Ron a 'boy to avoid' – I think we just caught him at a difficult time in his life; adolescence. He wouldn't be the first. But that is no excuse and I hope he put things right. I think he probably did though – there was a sense of that in how he handled himself in Deathly Hallows. And when he finally understood what Hermione had been banging on about all those years and came to the House Elves' defence, that was when he Got The Girl. I always really liked Hermione and Harry's brother/sister bond – for the orphaned Harry, this was so important. It's a bit like how it never really bothered me that Jo and Laurie didn't get together in Little Women. Sometimes it just isn't there.

    I know – Bingley is just … nnnneurgh. A chinless wonder with very little going on – I hope he made Jane happy. I just imagine that he would have been exhausting to live with.

    The way that Austen explicitly states that Georgiana and Lydia were both fifteen makes it seem like she's describing Wickham's modus operandi. He preys on the vulnerable … doesn't matter what century it is, girls of that age are impressionable and Wickham was waiting to exploit that. It doesn't really bother me as much that Emma Woodhouse went off with Mr Knightley who was sixteen years older because that was a one-off – Wickham is far sleazier.

    Thank you for the lovely comment, I really like writing Top Ten Tuesdays, it's great when some good discussion comes out of it.

  6. I see what you mean about using 'Ebola', we use plague without a thought because it was in the past! Because ebola is current it seems worse – so apologies are not needed! Good for you to be doing something practical rather than like some who are tut tutting because it is in Africa and so not our problem.
    I agree about Shakespeare, some of his male characters are terrible! And Branagh and Thompson, the two of them in Fortunes of War were briliant!

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