Let’s face it: there’s little more satisfying than seeing a dirtbag get their due.
It doesn’t happen often enough, but every so often, the universe gets bored with letting truly Machiavellian personalities rise unchecked, and it knocks a villain on their butts. Nixon flies home in disgrace. Madoff loses everything. Watching such people brought low by their own arrogance: it’s satisfying.
And with literature as in life. We can enjoy a book in which the villain doesn’t get their comeuppance, sure–realism is valuable, great fiction should speak to truths, blah blah blah—but there’s also something viscerally delightful about seeing an arrogant antagonist lose everything they value, and hard.
In honor of the inglorious end to the vulgarity-ridden ten-day tenure of a certain communications director—which is pleasing, really, it’s hard not to feel smug (dude Icarused hard!)—here are a few books that end with the totally delightful destructions of their totally deplorable villains—one for each day of his time in Washington.
(There are most definitely spoilers below. If you aren’t looking for spoilers, here’s a picture of kittens instead.)
- Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen. John Willoughby. Willoughby thinks he’s such hot stuff, doesn’t he, walking around, all handsome and charming? But Colonel Brandon knows the truth: behind the scene, he’s destroying lives. Willoughby leads Marianne on something ferocious and ultimately elects to reject her, love not being as persuasive for him as a grand inheritance. He gets to keep his monetary status, but loses everything that matters most: the girl. The respect. One likes to imagine that his hairline receded considerably post-marriage, and that, oh, I don’t know, his wife kicked him out shortly before the birth of their child. We don’t know for sure what unhappiness met him on the other side of Marianne’s satisfaction; we know that, for all of his misdeeds, he does end up eternally unhappy.
- Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarty. Perry Wright. Perry is the husband of Celeste, a brilliant ex-lawyer who’s also willowy and sophisticated, but who gave up her career for her scumbaggy husband. He definitely doesn’t deserve her. Or anyone. He’s violent, manipulative, and has an unchecked criminal past that causes unintended waves in the couple’s small town. When he’s found out, a survivor of misdeeds like those that Perry committed does the only thing she can, and….well. Perry can talk his way out of a tough situation, but fella can’t fly, and he ends up a little flat beneath a balcony. We surmise: no one cries at the funeral.
- Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins. President Snow. It’s hard to find much nice to say about someone who keeps the population living in terror in districts that he then pits against each other, year by year, in order to maintain power and control. Snow is the pinnacle of a classist, racist, heartless tyrant. For most of the trilogy, you want to march into the Capital and put an arrow through his heart just as badly as Katniss does.
- Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins. Coin. Ah, well. For this one–calculating, heroine-undermining, probably-child-killing—you’re willing to let Katniss’s arrow wait. Sometimes it’s not enough to rid yourself of one bad leader; sometimes, every seed he planted needs to be treated with suspicion.
- Tess of the D’Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy. Alec D’Urberville. Alec is privilege personified, and he has no problem manipulating the innocence of trusting young girls—even those dependent on him for a livelihood—to prove it. With Tess, he engages in entrapment, intense sexual harassment, and, ultimately, rape (we think). Tess is at least internally destroyed by what he does to her, a situation that improves not at all when Angel proves to be less than angelically understanding. Alec is ultimately introduced to involuntary exsanguination. No one is sad.
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, by J. K. Rowling. Dolores Umbrage. Listen, listen: Voldemort’s no peach either, I know, but there’s an element of the broken about him that, while it doesn’t make him sympathetic, does make his end more complex. Not a good dude!—but not as coldly calculating as straight-backed Dolores Umbrage, either. At least everyone recognizes the villainy of V.; Dolores remains in a position of trust and respect for far too long, engaging in outright racism and bigotry, punishing those whom she thinks of as lesser, and generally being the worst and most unforgivable kind of menace. When it comes time for her to answer for her misdeeds, well—let’s just say that no one is going to launch a character defense on her behalf. Enjoy Azkaban, sister.
- Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien. Sauron. Not many people can take credit for destroying the entire planet, though there are somehow always tyrants willing to try. Most, luckily, aren’t able to (get elves to) forge rings of incredible power—incredible enough to rule the world viciously for eons and eons. Sauron does. The terror that results is considerable, psychologically-damaging, and long-lasting; even vanquishing him can’t erase the scars. When he’s vanquished, I promise, no one is wasting more breath talking about the time before he was evil. No one cares. We’re just relieved that he’s gone.
- American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis. Patrick Bateman. Check out this Wall Street hotshot who thinks he can do no wrong. He believes that he is special—desirable, brilliant, sexy. That he can get away with anything. And—in his mind, at least—he does; he lives a bloody, vicious second existence internally that would make most ordinary psychopaths blush. When things go sideways for him and he starts to question his own reality: somehow, empathy eludes. No one is visiting this guy in the hospital, I assure you.
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl. Veruca Salt. Winning just isn’t enough for some people, is it? You can fix the entire competition by, say, having someone else shell your chocolate for you (it’s not a metaphor, I swear), and still not be satisfied with your ill-gotten golden ticket. You can end up in a wondrous chocolate factory that few are fortunate enough to see the inside of and still not be satisfied. You can be promised a lifetime of treats that you did not earn, and you’ll still cross your fingers behind your back before you sign on the dotted line. We’re not even sure that you can read, anyway, so is it truly lying? If you end up being judged a bad egg, though—because you grabbed and grabbed and kept grabbing, you greedy little thing—and you go down the trash chute, no one is going to waste much time regretting your departure.
- Lysistrata, by Aristophanes. The men. They won’t stop waging war. They won’t stop grabbing for power. They are callous and vicious and unyielding. In response, the women do what they must: they cut off access. Want our attentions?—then REFORM. Frankly, it’s a tactic that we’d all do well to use.