Ten Great Literary Misanthropes

Great writers have produced many great characters including some of these hard-to-love folks. So, let’s take a look at some of literature’s finest people-haters. 

  1. Barquentine (Gormenghast series) – It’s very hard to pick a character from Mervyn Peake’s gloriously demented trilogy, since many of them are people-haters of one sort or another, but Barquentine narrowly takes the prize. A foul-tempered humpback dwarf who dresses in rags and lives in filth in an abandoned wing of the crumbling castle, he is taunted by children with their cry of ‘Rotten leg, rotten spine, ya ya, Barquentine!’ No wonder he’s so damned grouchy. Of course, he gets his comeuppance of sorts when the anti-hero Steerpike murders him in the second book after becoming his apprentice. Now there’s gratitude for you. 
  2. Captain Nemo (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) Genius-turned-pirate, Nemo is a great creation of Jules Verne. Having turned his back on humanity, he instead creates his Nautilus submarine, a marvel of science, recruits a misfit crew and sets off on a voyage of adventure beneath the waves. His collection of books and scientific learning makes him an updated version of the medieval wise hermit, even if his methods are questionable. Nemo, in short, shuns mankind while playing a fugue upon his organ from way beneath the waves. 
  3. Ebeneezer Scrooge (A Christmas Carol) – Perhaps the most famous misanthrope in English literature, Scrooge is familiar to us as the cold-hearted miser who hates Christmas and everything that goes with it – until that is, he gets a visit from three spirits (well, four actually, but who’s counting?). Scrooge isn’t really a very good representative of the misanthrope’s club, because of course, he repents at the end. Despite this, his name is still trotted out as the archetypal example of the miserable killjoy. Poor old Scrooge.
  4. Eeyore (Winnie the Pooh) – Habitually gloomy donkey with a tail which keeps dropping off and a house which often falls down. Add to that his friends prove incapable of bringing him a birthday present (Pooh eats his honey while Piglet bursts the balloon en route to seeing him) and it’s no wonder he has such a poor opinion of the other residents of the Hundred Acre Wood. Still, gloomy though he is, everyone seems fond of him and he’s often included in their antics so that’s something, right?
  5. Gulliver (Gulliver’s Travels) – Some are born misanthropic others have misanthropy thrust upon them. Jonathan Swift’s titular everyman doesn’t become a misanthrope until the final section of the book after visiting the land of the Houhnhnms and finding the swinish Yahoos. The latter remind him too much of his fellow humans for comfort and he returns home a profoundly changed man, finding the presence of humanity including his own family, a burden. Many adaptations of his classic book neglect this section and focus solely on the earlier bits, perhaps because the message is rather harder for an audience to swallow. 
  6. Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights) – A misanthrope through and through, Emily Bronte’s brooding creation is a great example of dark romanticism gone awry. Heathcliff spends the novel brooding, treating people badly, being a bastard and er… more brooding. As the author herself noted, Heathcliff ends the book unredeemed, even in death.
  7. Marvin the ‘Paranoid Android’ (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series) – A pop cultural icon of sorts, gloomy Marvin excites some sympathy. After all, he is a hyper-intelligent robot with a ‘brain the size of a planet’ who is seldom asked to do anything other than carry stuff and open doors. Despite his biting sardonic wit he is essentially a tragic creation whose artificial life is an intolerable burden – both to himself and his luckless shipmates.
  8. Oskar (The Tin Drum) – Gunther Grass’s pint-sized antihero is born in pre-war Germany with the intellect of an adult inside the body of a child. He wanders about with his tin drum ever at his side and his thoughts a baleful monologue on the state of the world as he sees it. 
  9. Patrick Bateman (American Psycho) – Bateman is a symbol of everything wrong with 80s America. From his obsession with fine dining, designer suits and dubious taste in pop music, he seems pathologically empty, a shell of a man whose vicious tendencies are invisible to the vacuous morons with whom he socialises. Despite this, his ruthless reflections on the world around him coupled with bursts of chaotic violence leaves him the perpetual outsider, trapped in a prison from which there is no escape while ironically evading capture for his true crimes as the body count seemingly piles up. 
  10. Timon of Athens (S/T Shakespeare play) – There are plenty of Shakespeare characters who could fit the bill of misanthrope (King Lear’s Fool is one memorable example), but Timon is my personal favourite. Initially wealthy, he squanders money on his good for nothing friends until he is bankrupted and then of course, they speedily desert him. Timon’s degeneration happens alarmingly fast and may seem cartoonish, but it is nonetheless compelling to witness his terrible realisation of the superficiality of humanity. Even when he discovers a hoard of gold, he wastes it on thieves and mountebanks instead of regaining his former life – a deliberate act of perversity.. And when the senators come to ask his help? He offers them his tree upon which he says they can hang themselves. Now that’s misanthropic.

 

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