Characters Who Lose Their Reputations, Giuliani-Style

RudyOne of the many jaw-dropping spectacles offered by the dumpster fire of the corrupt and incompetent Trump administration is seeing how low Rudy Giuliani (pictured above) can go.

Trump’s personal lawyer — like the president himself — is greedy, erratic, a liar, and a crook. What a comedown for someone lauded as “America’s Mayor” when he headed New York City at the time of 9/11.

Of course, Giuliani was overrated back then — and a stone-cold racist to boot. But, still, his reputation has fallen so precipitously since 2001 that calling him a clown in 2019 would be an insult to clowns.

Anyway, all that’s an introduction to the theme of this week’s blog post: fictional characters whose reputations sharply or somewhat decrease in a novel — whether deservedly so, a la the real-life Rudy G.; or wrongly so, like the protagonist in a book I read last week.

That was John Grisham’s page-turner The Racketeer, whose Malcolm Bannister attorney character is serving 10 years in prison for helping a client he didn’t know was taking part in criminal activity. Malcolm loses his freedom, his law license, his professional reputation, his wife and son, the regard of his retired state trooper father, and more. But Malcolm (who is African American) has some information that can get him out of jail, and we watch how that scenario plays out — a scenario that includes a really clever plot twist.

Hester Prynne of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter also loses her reputation in her 17th-century Puritan community — despite being a good, admirable person. Her “crime”? Having a child out of wedlock. Of course, that was a bigger thing back then than it is now, but the unkindness and hypocrisy of her not-without-sin neighbors is still pretty breathtaking. Plus the male in the sexual equation doesn’t face any public infamy, though he is wracked with guilt.

Now for a few fictional characters, like the real-life Giuliani, who deservedly lost their good names — with some deserving of a little sympathy and others not.

In Liane Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret, the titular character has a sterling reputation in his household and the world before the (awful) titular secret is discovered.

Willie Stark is an idealistic lawyer early in Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men — but he becomes thoroughly corrupt after being elected governor. So Stark’s ethical reputation takes a big hit, though his part-real/part-fake populism keeps him relatively popular among some constituents.

Janine of Richard Russo’s Empire Falls divorces decent guy Miles to take up with local jerk Walt — and also becomes very conceited after losing a lot of weight. She doesn’t really become a bad person, but many in town (including the teen daughter of Janine and Miles) certainly lose some regard for her.

Gervaise of Emile Zola’s The Drinking Den is initially a hardworking woman who manages to open her own Paris laundry and also marries fellow teetotaler Coupeau. He’s a decent man, but goes downhill after being injured in an accident — becoming a lazy alcoholic and dragging Gervaise into that same lifestyle. Both lose their good names.

In the realm of less-realistic fiction, Quirinus Quirrell of J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book has enough wizard-world standing to become a professor at Hogwarts. But he rashly put himself in a position to be controlled by Lord Voldemort for nefarious purposes, so QQ’s status — not to mention his chances of staying alive — hit rock bottom.

Can you name some characters who fit this post’s theme?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for The latest weekly piece — which takes a funny and admiring look at rec sports for kids in my town — is here.

26 thoughts on “Characters Who Lose Their Reputations, Giuliani-Style

  1. I haven’t read as many novels as most people who follow your website, but the best known example of a character who loses his/her reputation I can think of is Anna Karenina.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Tony. Anna Karenina certainly does lose some of her reputation in Tolstoy’s novel, but of course there’s the sexist double standard of a man (in real life or various novels) doing something similar without taking that kind of reputational hit.


  2. “Down the River Unto the Sea”, a recent novel by Walter Mosely, features Joe Oliver (the name, incidentally, or coincidentally of Louis Armstrong’s mentor), a disgraced, framed and bitter ex-cop, a detective who ran afoul of the all the wrong people on both sides of the law and now allowed to live, if unprosperously, without pension or good reputation as he dreams of his day of revenge as a private detective.

    Mosely is entertaining enough that he’s always worth reading, but that’s faint praise at best, given the excellence of “Devil With a Blue Dress.”. His recent offerings,(and I include the Leonid McGill series’ latest, “When the Thrill is Gone”) seem to insist narratively on a great many unlikelihoods and fantastic places, but they are less convincing, to my jaded eye, than I would prefer them to be.

    In Nashville, 50 years ago, there was a local jeweler who advertised on teevee. His pitch: ‘If you don’t know diamonds, know your jeweler. And if Harold says it’s so, it’s so.’
    Well, I know diamonds when I read them, and I think Mosely is trying to make believe he’s producing gems just by saying so. Wish I could agree.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, jhNY! “Down the River Unto the Sea” definitely fits this theme!

      I’ve read only two Walter Mosley novels — the first two in the Easy Rawlins series — and liked them a lot. But they were published many years ago (“Devil in the Blue Dress,” 1990; and “Red Death,” 1991), so I have no personal experience to know if I agree with you about Mosley perhaps losing some of his touch. Some authors obviously can’t sustain excellence over the years. I do think some of Lee Child’s later Jack Reacher books are just as good as some of his earlier ones.

      Nice diamonds reference!


  3. Hi Dave,

    I’ve just finished reading Jude the Obscure and I think Thomas Hardy almost fits your topic this week. Bit of a side note, I’ve also just started reading Bridget Jones’s Diary (because it’s on a list, not because I really want to), and one of her female friends is called Jude, so there goes my understanding that all Judes are men!

    I’ve read both Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Far from the Madding Crowd but I think I liked Jude a lot more. In Hardy’s last novel, the unmarried characters weren’t quite as ostracised as in the other two that I’ve read, and where there was badness, the men suffered just as much as the women; unlike both Tess and Bathsheba who carried so much stigma and animosity, even though they had done nothing wrong. Kind of fascinating to think that divorce could be so looked down upon, and that characters would still feel that they belonged to their first partner, even though everybody had moved on into new relationships.

    Great to hear that you enjoyed The Rackateer. I haven’t read that one yet, but have greatly enjoyed the five or six Grisham novels that I have read.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Susan! Some of Thomas Hardy’s work indeed fits this week’s theme! (I should add that “Jude the Obscure” is a bit of blur to me; I haven’t read it since college, but it’s still on one of my living room bookshelves. Good to know Jude is a unisex name. 🙂 )

      Yes, divorce used to have much more of a stigma (even well into the second half of the 20th century) and used to be more rare (even in awful marriages). When my parents divorced, I think I was one of only two or three kids in my entire elementary school in that situation.

      I’ve also gotten to five John Grisham novels (“The Client,” “The Firm,” “Calico Joe,” “Camino Island,” and “The Racketeer”). He IS an excellent, very readable author.


  4. I just finished reading the book “Indianapolis” by Lynn Vincent. Although it is a historical book and not a novel, it fits into this theme quite nice ( on the side of someone getting an unfair punch to their reputation). The Indianapolis was one of the worst disasters in the Navy’s history – and it gained an extra shade of notorious when it was mentioned in “Jaws,” along side the monstrous man-eating shark! Captain McVay, who was captain of Indianapolis at the time of the sinking and had a stellar record in the Navy up until that point, was devoured by the military and a large chunk of the public after the ship went down. He was court martialed and more or less booted out of the military. The guilt of the disaster crushed him. Only years later did the full details of the sinking emerge, along with the fact that crucial information on active submarines in the area was not relayed to McVay prior to the attack. It was a pretty sad story all around, a man turned villain just because there was no one else to blame!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I really *must* read something by Liane Moriarty some day! Since I recently listened to an audiobook version of “Northanger Abbey,” this puts me in mind of Jane Austen’s recurring joke about how her heroine is forced to suffer the indignity of such terrible slights to her reputation such as the belief that she is not engaged for the next dance at a public ball. Of course, at the end it’s General Tilney who loses HIS reputation, at least with her, by turning her out of the house over nothing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Elena! You won’t regret trying Liane Moriarty. 🙂 “Big Little Lies” remains my favorite, but I’ve liked everything of hers I’ve read. Plus the bonus of glimpses of life in Australia.

      Excellent/droll mention of “Northanger Abbey”! An interesting situation when a lost reputation ends up being someone else’s.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s