tisdag 15 mars 2011

Holding out for a villain

This is the time of year when I should feel my spirits reviving after a long, cold winter. Spring is in the air, or nearly. I no longer have to have my extra radiator on all the time. But still the winter melancholy lingers, the working weeks feel long and the weekends feel short. Not much to moan about, considering, and I know it. I can't help but wonder, though: where did the spring feeling go?

Maybe one problem is I haven't discovered a new fanciable villain in simply ages. And now there aren't any Dickens novels, or even Christmas books, left to explore (not that you'll find much villain talent in a Christmas book). Bit-part-playing Bitzer was the - appropriately white - last unicorn. Yes, of course I can wallow in old favourites as long as I want to, but it would be nice to discover something new. But where to find someone with the same magic touch villain-wise as Dickens?

Balzac, maybe? I read quite a lot of him when I studied French, and he had a good line in dastardly bankers and other "lynxes". It would mean brushing up on my French, though, or cheating by reading him in Swedish - or, an even worse insult for a French author, in English! Ibsen? That Judge Somebody-or-Other in "Hedda Gabler" sounds a dish judging by various reviews, maybe I should check him out?

You may be wondering why I'm overlooking the obvious. Here's an author, you might be saying, who creates great villains - in fact, great characters of all descriptions - and whom I've mentioned in my blog more than once. Wilkie Collins, remember?

I do remember. I am faithfully watching the old adaptation I've mentioned earlier of "The Woman in White" and am constantly reminded of what an admirable villain Count Fosco is. Charming, funny, psychologically astute, with great force of character, appreciative of Marian's intelligence, and completely ruthless when he has to be - the man ticks all kinds of boxes. Plus, Marian more or less admits at one point that she finds him attractive. A Victorian heroine who is attracted, even the littlest bit, to a brainy villain (as opposed to the feather-brained cads heroines otherwise seem to favour if they so much as think of straying): now, that has to be a first.

Count Fosco belongs to a certain sort of villain by whom you are allowed - even supposed - to be taken in. Long John Silver is another specimen. "It's all right", you can almost imagine the author saying, "go ahead and like this rogue. I've a soft spot for him myself, in fact". I call baddies like this high-prestige villains, and they are very enjoyable and useful: they act as ambassadors for villain-lovers everywhere, and are one of the chief reasons people don't look at you as if you should be locked up when you confess to a bias for baddies. But (and this but has been coming for quite some time) where's the fun in loving a villain you're supposed to love? Where's the sport? No, high-prestige villains are good in their way, but they're for amateurs. I'd like something more hardcore.

Maybe I should try "The Changeling" by Middleton? Or is that too hardcore?