Top Ten Tuesday: Most Frustrating Characters in Fiction

I suspect most of us are thinking about the same person. Without further ado, then.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish! Do come join the fun...

1. Dolores Umbridge (The Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling). She dresses in pink; she collects plates with pictures of kittens on them; she never speaks but in a soft, girlish, over-polite voice; and she made Harry carve the words "I must not tell lies" into his own flesh—because he refused to deny the truth. While she didn't kill as many people as Voldemort, she was much more maddening. With Voldemort, at least you knew what you were getting. (AK'd.) Umbridge was a cold-blooded, legalistic, cheaply feminine sadist.

Right, so she's going to be hard to top. Here are a few others, though.

2. Tom Sawyer (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain.) I don't remember much of Tom from the book bearing his own name, but he made me want to throw things at the end of Huck Finn's. The Duke and the Dauphin also deserve mention here, but they were passive irritations who bored me to the point of angst. Tom and his calculating mischief were active sources of distress.

3. Lucinda (Ella Enchanted, Gail Carson Levine). Prone to giving magical gifts that sound nice but carry serious consequences, Lucinda spends most of the tale blissfully blind to the down side of her largesse. Her eventual shame almost made me leave her off the list, but it doesn't change what she did to those giants.

4. John and Fanny Dashwood, Lucy Steele, and Mrs. Ferrars (Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen). I couldn't pick. Fanny is mean-spirited and John is an idiot. Lucy is manipulative. Mrs. Ferrars is an unfortunate combination of arrogant, small-minded, and heartless. Lucy plays the most direct role, but they all compete to be the most unfeeling.

I would put Pride & Prejudice's Mr. Collins on here, too, if he weren't so comparatively powerless and stupid as to be more comical than anything.

5. Mrs. Norris (Mansfield Park, Jane Austen). Proof positive that favoritism is a bad idea.

6. Vronsky (Anna Karenina, Lev Tolstoy). For all that her husband wasn't appealing either, Anna's adultery might have been a touch more emotionally comprehensible if this guy had had even one redeeming quality. I hope he was handsome, because he struck me as neither good-natured nor good-hearted nor intelligent nor even really manly. Maybe riding steeplechasers made him look manly, but for him, even that was a form of indolence.

7. Matrim Cauthon and Fortuona Athaem Kore Paendrag, whenever they're apart (The Wheel of Time series, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson). Without Tuon, Mat's a selfish skirt-chaser. Without Mat, Tuon is a dispassionate ruler with no shame about her penchant for making collared pets out of Aes Sedai. Also worth mentioning are all the Whitecloaks, the Sea Folk at any bargaining table, and Berelain for her attempts to break up Perrin and Faile.

8. Denethor (The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien). The middle of a world war is a really lousy time to go crazy and nearly kill your own rather important son. Grima/Wormtongue also deserves the demerit here.

9. The Thénardiers and Javert (Les Misérables, Victor Hugo). In the musical, the Thénardiers are sometimes comic and Javert is sometimes sympathetic. Not quite so much in the book—at least, not to my memory. The former are so cruel in their selfishness, and the latter so relentless in his legalism, that I didn't like being around them at all.

10. Erlend Nikulaussøn (Kristin Lavransdatter, Sigrid Undset). I have never detested a protagonist's love interest like I detested Erlend. The man was selfish and thoughtless and had no self-control. I lost much of my sympathy for Kristin when she fell in love with him, which meant that I spent half the book frustrated with her, too.

Not the most cheerful topic, but perhaps a rather cathartic one. I'm sort of shocked at how many judgmental statements I just made, truthfulness notwithstanding. :)

Which characters do you find most frustrating?


  1. I guess my question would be, define 'frustrating?' Characters that are simply annoying, characters that are evil, characters that are able to do petty mischief albeit hurtful, or characters that can do much damage?

    And I would put Mr. Collins up there as the highest of villains albeit an ignorant one because as a pastor I can think of few things more harmful than someone like Mr. Collins as a vicar. I shudder to think what his sermons would be like & I'm sickened by what I think his pastoral care of people in need or sorrow might be.

    But I could always hold out hope that as he's confronted by the trials of his parishioners that he might become more thoughtful & more compassionate.

    And regarding judgmental statements, it's okay to judge fictional characters. ;)

    1. I had trouble with the definition, too. Annoying seems to suggest pettiness and would've meant a different list. Frustrating doesn't seem to necessarily suggest either petty or evil. In the end, I was looking for characters who had enough power to make me angry. And the anger needed to have more to do with their hampering of the protagonist or their calling up of my pet peeves than about their objective ability to do harm.

      Which is why no Mr. Collins, though as a vicar, he probably has more power to do extensive, objective harm than anyone else in that novel. You're absolutely right about him.

  2. Jenna said, "I was looking for characters who had enough power to make me angry. And the anger needed to have more to do with their hampering of the protagonist or their calling up of my pet peeves than about their objective ability to do harm."

    I like that definition. Umbridge definitely fits in there. And Mrs. Norris, urgh!

  3. I have to second (or third) Umbridge.

    Ditto on the Thenardiers and Javert--you are correct, Jenna, in noting that they are neither comical nor sympathetic in the novel. The Thenardiers are simply base and connivingly greedy, and Javert is self-righteously, relentlessly legalistic.

    I'd add to the list Nellie Oleson from some of the Little House on the Prairie books. That spoiled girl needed a big slap! My dislike for that character was definitely augmented by the character's depiction in the television series....

    1. Oh, good, I wasn't wrong. :)

      Definitely Nellie Oleson. And yeah, she was every bit as awful in the TV series as the book--and there was so much more of her!

    2. Ah, but who could fail to deeply enjoy the wonderfully awful Mrs. Oleson in the TV series. Whenever I'd see it I'd pray she had a juicy role.

      I would say Cornelius Fudge was more frustrating than Umbridge, for his willful, self-serving blindness, and his refusal to believe credible witnesses, all of which caused so much harm. And Sirius and Severus were frustrating in how they clung to old childhood animosity in the midst of a war, when so much was at stake.


    3. HAHA. I've totally forgotten Mrs. Oleson. It's been so many years.

      Yeah, Fudge was definitely annoying. I think he was such a helpless bumbler from time to time that I felt sorry for him on occasion, which mitigated the frustration to some extent for me. But the willful blindness was there, all right. And I agree with you about the Sirius/Severus hatred.

  4. Fyodor Karamazov, without a doubt, is at the top of my list. Lying, manipulative, hateful, and just enough humanity left in him to prevent you from writing him off completely. I've long thought him the best villain in all of literature (or at least tied with Iago).

    From the bottom of my heart, thank you for including Tom Sawyer and company, Denethor, and Erlend on this list, though I found Kristin to be equally frustrating. The whole time I was reading the trilogy, I wanted to bang their heads together and scream "Stop hurting each other!!!" My list would also include Nikolai Bolkonski (Princess Marya's father) and Count Rostov and his wife, but I'll leave it at that since War & Peace is on your agenda for the year. The Rostovs aren't bad people, but frustrating for sure. Ooo, and I will add Fred Vincy from Middlemarch, another character who is not evil but whose weakness to do the right thing is crazy-making.

    Great topic! I agree, it's hard to say what "frustrating" means exactly in regard to fictional characters.

    1. I KNEW there ought to have been a Karamazov on the list. I just couldn't remember which one! In my defense, I remember getting annoyed with both Dmitri and Ivan from time to time, and it has been a LONG time since I read it. :)

  5. *should have written "weakness and inability to do the right thing" -that would have been more clear. Rosamond Vincy would be another good candidate, for her selfishness and lack of respect for her husband.

  6. Dmitri, Ivan, and Katarina all qualify, absolutely!


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