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A Dozen of Literature's Greatest Jerks

August 9, 2010  |  7:00am
A Dozen of Literature's Greatest Jerks
Work: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
Character: Tom Buchanan
Jerk Attributes: Condescending, elitist, racist, womanizing—no, it’s not the newest Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce executive. It’s Tom Buchanan! Combining the worst of old-money snobbery with a brutish temper and jealous tendencies (even though he has a mistress), Tom may just be the biggest jerk in East Egg.
Quintessential Jerk Quote: “Oh, I’ll stay in the East, don’t you worry… I’d be a God damned fool to live anywhere else.”

Work: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (1859)
Character: Mr. Stryver
Jerk Attributes: Mr. Stryver is the Dickensian Ron Burgundy, a man so completely vain and delusional about his ability with the ladies that he resorts to annoying, drunken dude-bro tactics. Oh, and he rips off his law partner’s hard work and takes all the credit. Jerk.
Quintessential Jerk Quote: “I know something of human nature, and I tell you that you’ll never find a fellow like this fellow, trusting himself to the mercies of such precious proteges. No, gentlemen; he’ll always show ‘em a clean pair of heels very early in the scuffle, and sneak away.”

Work: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (1980)
Character: Ignatius J. Reilly
Jerk Attributes: Slovenly, surly and obsessed with hearing himself talk, boorish intellectual Ignatius Reilly reminds us of our worst college roommate/philosophy class experiences. On the other hand, his wild imagination and quixotic nature make him probably the most endearing a-hole on this list.
Quintessential Jerk Quote: “I refuse to ‘look up.’ Optimism nauseates me. It is perverse. Since man’s fall, his proper position in the universe has been one of misery.”

Work: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)
Character: George Wickham
Jerk Attributes: Wickham is the worst kind of scumbag in that you don’t know he’s a scumbag until well into the novel. His charming exterior hides his gold-digging motives, he’s not above slandering his friends and to top it all off, he’s into (significantly) younger girls. What a creeper.
Quintessential Jerk Quote: In this case, it’s about our jerk in question rather than by him: “Mr. Wickham is blessed with such happy manners as may ensure his making friends—whether he may be equally capable of retaining them, is less certain.”

Work: Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (1986)
Character: The Comedian
Jerk Attributes: Despite the jovial nature his nom de guerre would imply, costumed vigilante The Comedian is brutal, sadistic, savagely violent and misogynistic to boot.
Quintessential Jerk Quote: “Yeah. Yeah, that’s right. Pregnant woman. Gunned her down. Bang. And y’know what? You watched me. You coulda changed the gun into steam or the bullets into mercury or the bottle into god damn snowflakes! You coulda teleported either of us to goddamn Australia…but you didn’t lift a finger! You don’t really give a damn about human beings.”

Work: Less Than Zero (1985) and Imperial Bedrooms (2010) by Bret Easton Ellis
Character: All of them
Jerk Attributes: The teens at the center of Ellis’ debut novel are arguably the most callous and least caring people in literature (although some people would likely argue with using that word to describe Ellis’ works). They throw around money, numb themselves with drugs, have sex without strings, and use their so-called friends to get them more money, drugs and sex before complaining about their inability to form connections with others. A couple of them seem to have some redeeming qualities, but they’ve been mostly knocked out by the time the characters hit their forties in Ellis’ latest, Imperial Bedrooms.
Quintessential Jerk Quote: “I don’t want to care. If I care about things, it’ll just be worse, it’ll just be another thing to worry about.” – Clay

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