Heinous/Villainous Women in Literature
I recently finished reading the first two books of the Mark of the Lion series by Francine Rivers. I was struck by Julia Valerian, who I originally thought was one of the vilest female characters I had ever encountered. However, the more I thought about it, more characters came to mind and I couldn’t help but compare them to each other.
My sister reminded me of Cathy Ames, the villain in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. I read this book more than twenty-five years ago. I remembered that she was evil but I’d forgotten many of the details of Cathy’s villainous acts so I researched the novel. As I read, it all came back to me and I remembered that Cathy Ames was clearly a psychopath. She learns early in her life that she has the ability to manipulate people. What makes her evil, is that even though she sometimes benefited from her heinous acts, they were all calculated and carried out purely for her enjoyment. In trying not to give too many spoilers, I will not be too specific. Re-visiting the life of Cathy Ames has made me want to add East of Eden to my re-read shelf.
I remembered Noelle Page from Sidney Sheldon’s The Other Side of Midnight. Although she can easily be considered a villain, her evil acts were all prompted by revenge. Noelle was not born an evil person. Life had been disappointing for her and she was emotionally scarred along the way. Losing the man that she thought loved her made her feel unjustly slighted again and she sought revenge.
Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper of Manderly in Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, suffers from some sort of attachment disorder. Her heinous acts are motivated by her unrealistic obsession with the deceased Rebecca. She resents the new Mrs. de Winter because she sees her as taking the place of her long time mistress. Mrs. Danvers is truly mentally ill.
One of my favorite books is Philippa Gregory’s Wideacre. Beatrice Lacey is the villain in this unforgettable novel. The social rules of Victorian society dictated that a male heir would inherit the family estate. The female off-spring was expected to marry and move away with her new husband. Beatrice is scandalous in every sense of the word and she refuses to accept the social norms. She commits all manner of atrocious and evil acts with her sole motivation being to own her family’s estate and lands.
It is my opinion that Julia Valerian is the most heinous of the female villain named here. As the daughter of wealthy parents, Julia never wanted for anything. She was pampered and spoiled her entire life and could have gone on being spoiled until her death. She was evil out of a sense of entitlement and her most shocking and monstrous acts were motivated by jealousy.
This is my list of the most villainous women in literature but I’m sure some of you could name some that I haven’t read. Please share your list of female villains in the comment or just share book recommendations.
An Echo in the Darkness by Francine Rivers
This is the second in the Mark of the Lion series by Francine Rivers. It takes place shortly after the fall of Jerusalem, a time when Rome was steeped in all manner of decadent perversions. The story continues the trials and tribulations of the Valerian family. This book touched me more than I could have anticipated. It was very emotional for me as it vividly depicted the wages of a sinful life. At the same time I couldn’t help but be emotionally attached to some of the characters, applauding their triumph and praying for them as if they were people that I actually knew. I could not put this book down and I eagerly look forward to beginning the third and final book in the series.