My favorite morally bankrupt characters

I don’t like overly sunny novels. I can’t stand to read about ridiculously virtuous characters. As a child, I hated Nancy Drew (“Nancy tossed her blond hair over her shoulder and called, ‘Ned! Wait for me,’ as she jumped into his shiny red convertible…”) and flatly rejected those utterly dreadful books for Christian girls, like Elsie Dinsmore and The Basket of Flowers. Barf. Even when I was little, I formed the strong opinion that saints and angels make for really tedious and boring literature.

I like reading books with complex characters, with fictional people who have both virtue AND vice, people whose stories don’t always get that shiny, happy ending. I like to read about real life. This is why I shun most of Dickens, most of the Victorians, and most fantasy literature. I don’t think it’s wrong or terrible; it’s just not my thing.

That being said, I tend to enjoy a lot of books with unhappy endings and messy characters. Here are some of my favorite morally bankrupt characters.

SCARLETT O’HARA
Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

Scarlett is the pretty poster child for morally bankrupt characters. I had seen the movie many years before I got around to reading Mitchell’s novel, and when I did, the full force of Scarlett’s personality hit me even stronger than it did on film. Mitchell managed to make someone wicked and admirable at the same time. Scarlett is selfish, manipulative, and conniving — and yet we are pulling for her the whole time. Regardless of the unpleasant racial controversies of this book, I think it is hard to deny the genius of a writer who can create a character as complex and multifaceted as this one.

BAZAROV
Fathers and Sons, Ivan Turgenev

Bazarov is a snob. He’s like those kids who go off to grad school and become unbearably pretentious about… everything. Turgenev uses Bazarov as a standard for the young Nihilists of his Russia, the men of reason and science, rejecting all tradition and forms of authority. Bazarov fits his archetype neatly — he’s absurdly arrogant and vain — and yet, we feel for him. He gets his heart broken, even though he won’t admit it. He has a magnetic effect on people, even though no one wants to admit to actually liking him. Bazarov reminds me that people that I am quick to write off with a certain label are never that simple — and always deserving of more time and mercy.

PATTY BERGLUND
Freedom, Jonathan Franzen

Patty Berglund isn’t exactly “morally bankrupt;” rather, she doesn’t seem to know where her morals stand exactly. This might be the hallmark of Franzen’s characters (from what I can glean from the cast of people in The Corrections and Freedom, both of which I unashamedly love). Patty represents, to me, the best of what Franzen can do. She is made so real in the pages of this novel that you finish it feeling that she is your best friend, that well-loved person  In my opinion, she makes the entire novel. She is downcast and confused, but she is painfully honest and reflective about her life and its variegated failures. If we could all be as truthful with ourselves as Patty Berglund, we could learn a tremendous amount about life.

MR. HENRY WILCOX
Howards End, E.M. Forster

Mr. Wilcox is a crueler version of Jack Donaghy: He’s rich, controlling silver fox who lives by conservative business morals and generally gets whatever he wants. Including the novel’s heroine, Margaret Schlegel. Margaret is not so easily bought, however, and her goodness eventually softens Mr. Wilcox — but not before he has been brutal, demanding, and insensitive toward practically every character. Still. You like him. He doesn’t back down. And even this crusty old miser has a soft spot.

RASKOLNIKOV
Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky

He murdered his old landlady with an axe for no good reason! Pinnacle of morally bankrupt. But the novel is about his SOUL. And it’s a great one. So, this book is always worth reading. (My father, by the way, still has not fulfilled his end of our challenge. He sent me a text that said: “I used to love naps. Now I hate them. Because I have to read Crime and Punishment.”)

MRS. RAMSAY
To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf

OK, so “morally bankrupt” is also far too strong a description for Mrs. Ramsay, but she’s no angel. The central character of my all-time favorite novel, Mrs. Ramsay is usually an overbearing, controlling matriarch. She sets up people who don’t necessarily want to be set up. She insists on domestic tranquility, even when emotions may need to be forcibly expressed. But I will always love Mrs. Ramsay, mainly because she is one of the deepest and most intricately drawn characters I have ever met. She chooses to live by the way of grace–and she lives well, in spite of herself.

How about you? Any quasi-villains or just ignoble characters you love reading about?

Monday Snax

Valentine's lilies from G. They make me so, so happy.

Happy random holiday! President’s Day, right? Easily the most pointless “holiday” on our national calendar, but I got today off, so I will take it. Merci, Washington.

The weather in Charlottesville has FINALLY started to carry a hint of spring. It’s been very blustery, but I will take the wind, since it brings with it 60-70 degree days. But this joy, of course, cannot last long. We’re supposed to get SNOW tomorrow. Curses.

Snax and some toast spackled with apple butter:

Best of Breed, the Westminster Dog Show Photos. Um, OF COURSE I looked at all of these and of course I am going re-post this here. I’ve always gotten mercilessly mocked by Dave and my father for loving dog shows (lots of quotes from “Best in Show” thrown at me), but I am unapologetic in my love for them. These are great portraits, too.

The Dogs and Humans of the Westminster Kennel Club Show. And if you haven’t had enough, enjoy NY Mag’s snarky take on the whole affair. (NY Magazine)

Books That Rocked Your World at 16 But Fall Flat Now. I’m posting this as a follow-up to my brief Ayn Rand bits. Please note the first novel that’s mentioned in this list. Um, yes. Just trying to make the case again that no one thinks it’s a worthwhile piece of literature. (Flavorwire)

Twenty-Six Birds and a Fence. Grace took this photograph in New Zealand and I’m amazed; I just love it. The silhouette is just perfect. You should all be following her budding photography portfolio online! (Grace Farson: Photography Portfolio)

Beauty Products. I realized the other day that I really love makeup. I don’t really wear a lot of it, but I could spend an obscene amount of money on it. In this post, Kate provides a helpful guide of her favorite makeup and it made my fingers itch to try some of it. (For Me, For You)

Old Photo Love. Everyone’s been posting about this project, but I’m going to do it again, because it’s so fun. Photographer Irina Werning has people reenact photographs of themselves as children and the results are delightful. (Bleubird Vintage)

On the Street, East 26th St., New York. I don’t normally post stuff from The Sartorialist, because everybody already reads it, but I am LOVING the way this girl looks. She owns it. (The Sartorialist)

Uniform-Clad Nationalists at Yasukuni Shrine. I spent an afternoon here at Yasukuni Jinja while in Tokyo (my photos here). Yasukuni is the highly controversial national war memorial. These photos were very chilling to me–the severity of the men’s faces among the falling snow and so forth. (Tokyo Times)

Competitive Reading. Guion keeps telling me how hilarious “Portlandia” is; this clip alone will resonate with most of us borderline hipsters. (The Book Bench)

Nancy-tines. I love Kate Beaton’s general fixation with Nancy Drew. I never liked her books growing up, and so I feel rather pleased to see her taken on with such gleeful sarcasm. (Hark, a Vagrant!)

Hold Your Water. The things people try to sell on Etsy never fails to amaze me. (Regretsy)

Washed Away. Pottery Barn really does sell some dumb stuff. (Catalog Living)

Better to Be a Ho. Daughter might get a job as a cab driver; her mother is none too pleased. (Postcards from Yo Momma)

Monday Snax

From our recent hike to Crabtree Falls

Autumn is still dragging its heels in coming to Charlottesville, but the mornings and early afternoons have been quite pleasant. That feeling you get when you’re sitting in direct sun, but it’s just warm, instead of sticky and oppressive? I’ve missed that. It’s coming back. Slowly. We had a nice weekend adventuring with friends–taking a hike to Crabtree Falls (photo from the summit)–and just lazing around the house together, which was really great. I’ve missed doing that. Last night, we watched “A Very Long Engagement” for the second time, and I was reminded again how much I love Jeunet’s method of storytelling in film. He’s writing a novel with moving pictures! I love it.

This week’s Monday Snax are sponsored by Reuben, who is, as of this morning, still alive and pretty! Now, commence time wasting!

In Character, Starring… This is one of my favorite features from Vanity Fair: collecting actors and asking them for a face or depiction of a certain elaborate scene. Jeff Daniels’ take on this is really the best. I’m so impressed. So entertaining and funny. (Vanity Fair)

Stupidity and Politicians. A quotation from Bertrand Russell that I find to be regrettably relevant to the current political atmosphere. (1,001 Rules for My Unborn Son)

Renovating a French Farmhouse. Um, I can has?? (New York Times)

President Obama Holds Lemonade Summit in Virginia Backyard. Haha. (Daily Intel)

Oh, What An Angry Person You Are! Young actress Tatum O’Neal’s cheeky response to a fan letter from 1982. I’ve never seen her in anything, but I want to after reading this letter. (Letters of Note)

The Colors for the 2011 Spring Season. I’ve never understood this. What group of powerful designers gets together and decides, unilaterally, what the colors for the season will be? Is there a G8 summit of fashionistas? Do they have a Style UN? (Delphine Ephemera)

Luca Luca Spring 2011. I don’t normally find much interesting about fashion blogs, but I was really struck by this collection from Luca Luca. I want to wear all of those clothes all day. (Love Made Visible)

Baby massage. Joanna Goddard, of A Cup of Jo, and her baby, Toby, show how a baby massage is done. It’s so adorable, and I’m not even in to babies right now!

Law Schools Now Require Applicants to Honestly State Whether They Want to go to Law School. (The Onion)

Margot Was Already the World’s Worst Roommate. Hipster pug! For whatever reason, no other breed looks more disdainful or ridiculous in clothing. (Hipster Puppies)

Dancing With the Stairs. I had to cover my mouth when I saw this one, to prevent myself from a tiny laughter explosion. (Regretsy)

Gossip Girl Recap: We Make Our Own Fairy Tales. Important Disclaimer: I don’t even watch this show. I really don’t. We don’t have cable. But I love reading NY Mag’s recaps of every episode, because they are so hilarious and highlight the extreme absurdity of this show. Even if you don’t watch it, you will think this is funny. (CoCo, I’m sorry. I know you think of Serena and Chuck and Blair and Nate like your own family.) (NY Magazine)

Nancy Drew. Retelling those cheesy–and often very weird–Nancy Drew covers. (Hark, A Vagrant!)