This week’s video uses Charles Dickens’s dramatic novels Bleak House and Little Dorrit to highlight the effectiveness of different types of antagonists.
Video Transcription: Writers are often tempted to think they need to make their antagonists as evil as possible. Serial killers, megalomaniacs, and sadists are all common—and effective—characters. Without question, they evoke fear and disgust from readers. However, sometimes the most hatable characters are those that are slightly less evil and infinitely more hypocritical.
Charles Dickens, who offers us a panoply of antagonistic variation, demonstrates this aptly in two of his dramatic novels: Bleak House and Little Dorrit. Both books feature unquestionably evil characters, particularly the blackmailing lawyer Josiah Tulkinghorn in Bleak House and the French murderer Rigaud in Little Dorrit. Both are excellent characters and chilling antagonists in their own right. And yet, both books feature lesser antagonists who garnered a much larger share of my hatred: Harold Skimpole, in Bleak House, is a selfish, lazy fop who manipulates his friends into paying his debts, all the while declaring himself as innocent as a child. William Dorrit, father of the title character in Little Dorrit, insists that he and his family forget about their past in a debtor’s prison, even to the extent of neglecting those who secured their release.
Arguably, neither Skimpole nor Mr. Dorrit cause as much damage as Tulkinghorn and Rigaud, but because their misdeeds and injustices are perpetrated against those closest to them and under the guise of respectability, they are both quite reprehensible. Perhaps because their crimes are ones most of us can understand better than those of the larger antagonists, they are also powerful in their familiarity. These are very human characters, all the more interesting because their brand of evil is not black and white, and perhaps all the more hatable because we can all relate to them.
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Story by K.M. Weiland