The bad man in literature 1

Published on 4 July 2023 at 15:08

As we have seen before, the "wrong man" is portrayed as charming, attractive, manipulative, untrustworthy, and driven by sexual desires. This combination of traits makes the wrong man a grateful character to write about, one would think.

However, upon examining the literature, I struggled to find books that revolve around a wrong man as the main character. The number of books in which the wrong man is presented as an antagonist is significantly larger. The antagonist, as a counterpart to the protagonist, contributes to the tension of the story. They introduce obstacles that the main character must overcome. If the antagonist is a charming man who later proves to be wrong, it adds to the appeal of a reliable but somewhat dull protagonist. A good example of this is George Wickham, the antagonist of Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice.

I wonder what the reasons are for the limited number of novels featuring a wrong man as the main character. Perhaps authors find it difficult to depict a genuinely wrong man, as this would imply a continuous decline in character. If the wrong man shows improvement in his behavior or experiences a change of heart (like the miser Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol), it becomes challenging to still consider him a wrong man, at most an ex-wrong man.

What about the wrong man who is honest about his extramarital affairs, his addiction to alcohol, drugs, and gambling, and his dire financial situation? Is he less wrong because he is honest? Is the man or woman who falls in love with this "honest" wrong man solely responsible for all the problems they encounter with this person? Or does this form of honesty align with the manipulative character of this wrong man? Is he the epitome of the wrong man? I think of the movie "Instinct" by Halina Reijn, in which the therapist Nicoline enters into a relationship with Idris, a man confined in a psychiatric clinic for sexually violent offenses.

Close to the honest wrong man is the man who is unfaithful on principle. The question arises whether men can be held accountable for this if they are open about it and allow their partner(s) to do the same. Among writers and artists, many practice this principle in their lives. It is precisely these individuals who succeed in constantly seducing new women (or men), possibly due to their profession and/or success. They are considered attractive because of this and are often tempted or can easily seduce others. Unfortunately, they often choose partners who have different desires and are not equipped to handle the (much) older artist. Think, for example, of Picasso and writers like Ernest Hemingway and Henry Miller.

Individuals, mostly men, who are polygamous on principle, unlike adulterous men, do have long-term relationships with their wives (Henk Jurriaans, Anton Heijboer). For this reason, I would not classify these individuals as wrong men.

The same applies to adulterous men in long-term relationships (Julian Barnes, The Only Story; Paulo Coelho, Adultery; Benoîte Groult, Salt on My Skin; Boris Pasternak, Dr. Zhivago; Renate Rubinstein, My Better Self; Isaac Bashevis Singer, Enemies, a Love Story). Undoubtedly, there will be readers who do not share my opinion and consider adultery inherently wrong. However, the question is whether this automatically makes the adulterous man a wrong man.

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