I wish Donald Trump were fictional, but, alas, he’s real. Yet the Republican presidential candidate does remind me of literature’s sexist louts who emotionally and/or physically abuse women. Some of the men are rich and some not so rich, but all possess a high quotient of creepiness.
And those fictional characters are painful to read about, until they get their satisfying comeuppance. Perhaps it’s revenge at the hands of people they hurt, or perhaps they die young. But sometimes the jerks of literature continue to thrive, which is frustrating but also realistic. As realistic as Donald Trump, who — though destined to probably lose next month’s election — has mostly lived a charmed life despite being awful and amoral.
So many examples of repulsively sexist guys in fiction, but I’ll discuss just a few.
For instance, the father in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov is a disgusting human being who treats women (and many a man) like garbage. His first name is Fyodor, but thankfully he’s not an autobiographical version of Dostoyevsky.
Also in 19th-century literature, we have Heathcliff (who, in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, deeply loves Catherine Earnshaw but is cruel to various other women in his life); Edward Casaubon (who’s condescending and contemptuous toward his young wife Dorothea Brooke in George Eliot’s Middlemarch); Gilbert Osmond (the loathsome, unloving husband of the appealing Isabel Archer in Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady); Roger Chillingworth (the vengeful, lost-then-reappears husband of Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter); and Sir Percival Glyde (the nasty schemer in Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White who, under the direction of the more powerful Count Fosco, takes part in an ugly scheme whose victims include Glyde’s wife Laura Fairlie).
In post-1900 literature, we have these repellent men — among many others — guilty of domestic violence against their wives: police officer Norman Daniels of Stephen King’s Rose Madder; company heir Seth Duncan of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novel Worth Dying For, and Frank Bennett of Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.
Two of Janie Crawford’s husbands (Joe Starks and Tea Cake) in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God are guilty of physically hurting Janie, though Tea Cake has a decent side, too. Still, there’s never a legitimate reason for a man to attack a woman.
More lowlifes: Slave owner Rufus Weylin, who is unspeakably cruel to slave Alice Greenwood in Octavia Butler’s Kindred; the vile Alphonso, who beats and rapes his daughter Celie in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple; racist town drunk Bob Ewell, who abuses his daughter in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird; Esteban Trueba, who rapes a number of peasant women living on the land he owns in Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits; and all the rotten males who treat women as nothing but breeding machines in the patriarchal dystopia depicted in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Monstrous actions all.
Do you have other examples of odious, sexist men of fiction? With a slight variation on “trump cards,” we could call them “Trump cads.”
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I’ve finished and am now rewriting/polishing a book called Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Writers, but am still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers, and other notables such as Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.