So we’ve looked at the heroines and we’ve ranked the heroes, but what about Jane Austen’s villainous scoundrels? There’s one in every novel, providing the perfect distraction for the leading lady, usually by throwing a few spanners in the works. Readers and viewers of the screen adaptations love to hate them: they’re the bad boy foil to the dreamboat hero. That’s why I’ve introduced a slightly new feature to this list – instead of a ‘lesson learned’ point (because lets face it, do any of them learn a lesson?), there’s an ‘unfortunate hotness’ ranking. After all, sometimes it’s easy to be won over when that villain is attractively messing with your feelings. So, without further ado…
- Frank Churchill, Emma
Whilst my last two number 1 picks were fairly pedestrian, I know this choice for the most dastardly scoundrel will raise some eyebrows. ‘But he never slept with the heroine’s sister!’ some of you may cry, whilst others will point out that naive Emma never really had her heart broken by him. No, Emma didn’t have her heart broken but damn, Frank Churchill put poor Jane Fairfax through the wringer. After all, none of the other scoundrels flirted openly with someone else in front of a person they’d pledged to love forever. He’s practically a cheat, and neglects everyone terribly whilst sweet-talking them into submission. Oh, and he neglects his dad but everyone forgives this grown up man anyway for acting like a teenager. Grow up, Frank, you don’t deserve poor Jane. Or friends. Or anything.
Defining Feature: Gifted at sweet-talking away his faults.
Best Quote: “I say nothing of which I am ashamed,” replied he, with lively impudence. “I saw you first in February. Let every body on the Hill hear me if they can. Let my accents swell to Mickleham on one side, and Dorking on the other. I saw you first in February.” And then whispering — “Our companions are excessively stupid. What shall we do to rouse them? Any nonsense will serve. They shall talk. Ladies and gentlemen, I am ordered by Miss Woodhouse (who, wherever she is, presides,) to say, that she desires to know what you are all thinking of.”
Unfortunate level of hotness: 4/5 – easily the best looking in Emma’s Highbury.
2. Captain Wickham, Pride and Prejudice
Here’s a rather more classic choice for second place. George Wickham is a textbook scoundrel: flirting with Lizzie, lying about his past, spending money frivolously and then running off with Lydia for an easy lay. Sure, he’s attractive but no amount of fancy uniform can excuse everything he puts the Darcys and the Bennets through. Like many other book readers, I take a (very small) comfort in the fact that he ended up tied to shallow Lydia for the rest of his life, although let’s face it – they probably just had the Regency equivalent of an open relationship for the rest of their marriage.
Defining Feature: Charisma and charm that masks a tendency of tempting young ladies to disgrace.
Best Quote: “Mr. Wickham is blessed with such happy manners as may ensure his making friends – whether he may be equally capable of retaining them is less certain.”
Unfortunate level of hotness: 4.5/5 – “Mr Wickham was the happy man towards whom almost every female eye was turned”
3. Henry Crawford, Mansfield Park
Henry Crawford is forever a tricky one, since as like much of Mansfield Park, his character is layered with a whole lot of ambiguity. After flirting up a storm with Maria Bertram, he forgets her when she goes off to her version of prison (marriage) and in his boredom, decides to do a She’s All That to Fanny Price. For those less familiar with the mediocre 90s teen rom-com, it’s all about a high school jock who decides to ‘prettify’ the school nerd through dating her. Henry does the same to Fanny Price and to some more romantic types, his feelings evolve in the same way as that movie, where he genuinely falls for the quiet Fanny. Me, I’m not convinced at all, I think he just needed something to do and Fanny was sufficiently challenging enough that she keep up his ‘interest’. That opinion is cemented when he runs off and does a Wickham to Maria anyway. No loss there.
Defining Feature: A personality that is driven by boredom and laziness.
Best Quote: “Yes, Mary, my Fanny will feel a difference indeed, a daily, hourly difference, in the behaviour of every being who approaches her; and it will be the completion of my happiness to know that I am the doer of it.”
Unfortunate level of hotness: 2.5/5 – “Henry, though not handsome, had air and countenance” – nope, not worth it.
4. John Willoughby, Sense and Sensibility
Willoughby is the perfect dashing hero of Marianne’s romance novels brought to life. However, this prince charming comes with a pretty big skeleton in the cupboard and soon enough it catches up with him. In the end, threatened with the loss of his rich and comfortable life, he chooses the coward’s way out and marries a woman for money, breaking Marianne’s already bursting heart in the process. However, he’s the only scoundrel that may actually have learned something of a lesson, as he seems genuinely torn up about Marianne. Not enough to give up the fancy house and stable of horses though, mind you.
Defining Feature: A flamboyant love of living the high life.
Best Quote: “The world had made him extravagant and vain – extravagance and vanity had made him cold-hearted and selfish. Vanity, while seeking its own guilty triumph at the expense of another, had involved him in a real attachment, which extravagance, or at least its offspring necessity, had required to be sacrificed. Each faulty propensity in leading him to evil, had led him likewise to punishment.”
Unfortunate level of hotness: 5/5 – handsome enough to stun Marianne to silence. Makes it almost worth ignoring the bad behaviour.
5. John Thorpe, Northanger Abbey
He’s a bit horrible this one, and definitely the only scoundrel without even charm to recommend him. He’s mean, manipulative and dull. In fact, if John Thorpe had a modern equivalent, he’d be one of those guys trolling women on Twitter from his parents’ basement and spouting his opinions in the most nasty parts of Reddit. His rage when you gently decline his ill-thought advances on Tinder would be unchecked, bitter and self-righteous. Catherine did right to escape him and see right through his self-centred world view. Swipe left on this idiot.
Defining Feature: Horribleness (yes, it’s a word)
Best Quote: “John Thorpe […] was a stout young man of middling height, who, with a plain face and ungraceful form, seemed fearful of being too handsome unless he wore the dress of a groom, and too much like a gentleman unless he were easy where he ought to be civil, and impudent where he might be allowed to be easy.”
Unfortunate level of hotness: 0/5 – he’s rude and a bit thick too.
6. Mr William Elliot, Persuasion
The younger William Elliot finds himself at the bottom of the list for the fact that he’s just rather dull compared to the others. He’s also not outright villainous, rather just concerned with himself and committed to stepping up the social ladder as best he can. William Elliot is duplicitous too, not a unique trait amongst Austen’s scoundrels but he is constantly changing himself to get what he wants. Fortunately, Anne sees through that pretty quickly and is far too romantic to truly believe that he’s worth any time. Sticking with the lovely and passionate Captain Wentworth is not a difficult choice.
Defining Feature: He’s more two-faced than Regina George on a bad day.
Best Quote: “Mr Elliot was rational, discreet, polished—but he was not open. There was never any burst of feeling, any warmth of indignation or delight, at the evil or good of others. This, to Anne, was a decided imperfection.”
Unfortunate level of hotness: 3/5 – whatever.
Do you agree with the choices? Submit your own list in the comments below!