NABOKV-L post 0017085, Sun, 21 Sep 2008 16:07:16 -0400

writers as subtle as Vladimir Nabokov ...

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50 greatest villains in literature
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 20/09/2008

Our critics' choice of the 50 foulest fiends in literature

Compiling a list of the 50 Greatest Villains in Literature, without too much recourse to comics and children's books, proved trickier than we'd imagined - but gosh it was fun.

It's perhaps the nature of grown-up literature that it doesn't all that often have villains, in the sense of coal-black embodiments of the principle of evil. And even when it does, it's not always so easy to tell who they are. Is God the baddie, or Satan? Ahab, or the white whale?

Moriarty from The Final Problem
Yet even writers as subtle as Vladimir Nabokov have spiced their work with a fiend or two. And here they are. We hope you'll furnish a few more we missed.

[ ... ]

34 Clare Quilty from Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
Enchanted hunter and sexual deviant Quilty stalks Humbert Humbert and his beloved like a malevolent ghost. He runs off with the beleaguered Lolita after posing as her uncle, but cruelly dumps her when she refuses to star in one of his home-made blue movies. SM

[ ... ]

3 Cruella de Vil from The Hundred and One Dalmatians, by Dodie Smith

Satan from Paradise Lost
Recognising the perfect business synergies between her likes (pepper, hot things, fur coats and having one side of her hair white, the other black) and dislikes (animals), Cruella sets about turning the one into the other. To some she is a perefectly self-actualised human, to others a monster; it depends on what you think of dogs. TC

2 Samuel Whiskers from The Tale of Samuel Whiskers, by Beatrix Potter
To the stark terror of generations of toddlers, this chimney-dwelling monster rat ambushes Tom Kitten and does everything in his ratty power to bake him into a roly-poly pudding and eat him. Shudder-making terror from the doyenne of anthropomorphic animal evil. SL

1 Satan from Paradie Lost, by John Milton
There's a school of thought that the villain of Paradise Lost is actually God. But Milton wouldn't, at least consciously, have subscribed. Satan is the rebel's rebel, the villain's villain - "Hell within him for within him Hell/ He brings..." Easily clinches the top spot in our evil-dude hit parade. SL

The panel: Toby Clements, Christopher Howse, Jake Kerridge, Sam Leith, Tim Martin, Sinclair McKay, Andrew McKie, Sophie Missing, Tom Payne, Ceri Radford and Sameer Rahim

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