I’ve been a big classics reader since high school, and over the years I’ve noticed an unsettling trend: men in classic lit often treat women like trash. Just to be clear, I love these books. I’d just like to avoid modeling any relationships on them. And so, for your reading pleasure, I’ve compiled a list of the very worst boyfriends in classic literature. Be aware that my ordering is completely subjective and based solely on how angry the respective characters make me.
Warning: major spoilers ahead, if you can really consider them spoilers when the books have been around for 80 years or more.
10) Willoughby, SENSE AND SENSIBILITY
Willoughby is handsome and affectionate, and at first he seems like the perfect fit for Marianne. I mean, the guy loves poetry. Everything’s going great until his aunt disinherits him over a scandal (the secret love child – a favorite 19th century plot device). As soon as that happens, he’s out of Marianne’s life faster than you can say boo. I honestly believe Willoughby loved Marianne, but he loved cash a lot more. It’s all about the money, money, money.
9) Romeo, ROMEO AND JULIET
People view Romeo and Juliet as one of the greatest love stories of all time, but if you think about it, Romeo’s kind of a punk. He’s impulsive, he’s melodramatic, he’s violent (I don’t know about you, but killing your beloved’s cousin strikes me as a bad idea), and he’s more than a little flaky. At the beginning of the play, he’s busy sulking over breaking up with Rosaline. Twenty seconds later he’s ready to live and die for Juliet because she’s pretty. Ugh.
8) Ashley Wilkes, GONE WITH THE WIND
In my opinion, Ashley Wilkes = namby pamby foo foo garbage (to borrow a favorite phrase from one of my high school teachers). Melanie is goodness incarnate, and Ashley doesn’t deserve her. Scarlett is a terrible human being (but a fascinating one!) and Ashley doesn’t deserve her either.
7) George Wickham, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
Wickham is gorgeous. He’s charming. He has a spiffy army uniform. But he’s also a liar, a gambler, and a terrible flirt. Even more problematically, he has penchant for seducing naïve teenage girls. To quote now-disbanded girl group G.R.L.: “It’s such a pity, a boy so pretty with an ugly heart.”
6) Edward Rochester, JANE EYRE
I love Jane Eyre as much as the next girl, but now that I’m not a swooning fourteen year old, I realize that Rochester is objectively pretty awful. First, he locks up his mentally ill wife in the attic and pretends she doesn’t exist. Then, he manipulates Jane by acting like he wants to marry Blanche Ingram. Remember that part where he dresses up like a gypsy so that Jane will confess her love? Not okay. Finally, he attempts to illegally marry Jane without ever mentioning the whole I-have-a-secret-crazy-wife-who-I-keep-hidden-in-the-attic thing to her. At the moment of his proposal, lightning nearly strikes him. Even God thinks Rochester is a bad boyfriend.
Next week we'll delve even further into the depths of male-lameness in part 2 of this list! Until then, who do you think I missed? Call out classic lit's worst boyfriends in the comments!