There are the characters we love. There are the characters we hate. And then there are the book characters we love to hate.
I'm not necessarily talking about villains and villainesses. Sometimes (usually) these are the characters you're supposed to hate. They do horrible things, have nasty laughs, and walk around with greasy hair. But sometimes they're just innocent protagonists who have pushed us beyond the breaking point. Sometimes they're romantic leads who we just want to punch in the ugly handsome face. We glory in our hatred of them.
It's like that thrill of disgust you get when you're stalking your ex's new girlfriend on social media. Your stomach kind of hurts. You're not having a good time. You know you shouldn't be indulging your feelings of blind loathing, especially when you don't really know this person at all. And yet your hate is so invigorating, so pure. You feed off of it. You bathe in it. You love it.
Well, it's kind of like that. You get the picture: you hate these characters, but you enjoy the act of hating them so much that you almost kind of love them (except that you don't love them, because you hate them so much):
1. Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter
The Harry Potter books have given us so many characters to hate. Malfoy. Snape. Voldemort. But Malfoy and Snape have their apologists, and Voldemort is just too unearthly evil. Umbridge is that perfect blend of utterly awful and kind of realistically evil. She's a heartless, bigoted, kitten-loving bureaucrat, and she reminds us of every terrible teacher we've ever had. So it's just so SATISFYING to hate her. And to see her thrown to the centaurs.
2. Joffrey Baratheon from A Song of Ice and Fire
THIS LITTLE SNOT. The people who watch the Game of Thrones TV show may hate him, but book Joffrey is just so unbelievably awful. We all want to strangle him. We all want to behead him. But hating him is just so much fun, because he has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. It's rare to have a character who's a child, a king, and also completely, unambiguously the WORST.
3. Dorian Gray from A Picture of Dorian Gray
The Picture of Dorian Gray has a fairly clear moral: don't be a beautiful asshole like Dorian Gray. He sells his soul for eternal youth, and he's a huge prick to everyone in his life. He's a terrible person. And yet... you kind of want to slap him and then have an angry make out session. He's so nasty, but also so beautiful and mean in kind of a hot way... it's emotionally confusing.
4. Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye
I go back and forth on Holden Caulfield. When I was fourteen, he was a genius who totally got me. But now... well, a lot of people seem to draw strength from their extreme dislike of Holden, and I can't really blame them. Sure, he has a legit reason to be depressed, but his disaffected teenage cynicism starts to grate after a little bit. It's going to be OK, Holden. Also, ducks are migratory birds, you should probably know that by your age.
5. Caroline Bingley from Pride and Prejudice
A lot of Pride and Prejudice fans focus their irrational hate on Kitty and Lydia. Which... I can understand. But Caroline Bingley is the real mean girl of the novel. I mean, she spends the whole time bitching about the Bennett family and trying to prevent other people from finding true love? You're already rich, Caroline, calm down. She's just so cultured and nasty, though, that you've got to kind of love her as a character (and hate her as a person).
6. Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind
This woman. At the start of Gone with the Wind, she's a vain, self-centered teen. And then she grows up into a vain, conniving adult. She's definitely not a good person. She's all about getting back to the Southern way of life before the Civil War, she steals her sister's fiance, and she's not too bothered by the deaths of her husbands. You've got to hate her for being such a stone cold, manipulative narcissist. But you've got to love her for being such a stone cold, manipulative narcissist, too.
7. Iago from Othello
Who doesn't hate Iago? He goes around poisoning people's minds and ruining their marriages, just because. His hatred for Othello has its reasons (jealousy, racism, possible sexual attraction), but it's mostly irrational. Which makes him such a horrible, love-to-hate-him villain. I mean, his lies cause a bunch of deaths and he's totally cool with it. He's so slimy and evil... but he's so good at being slimy and evil.
8. Tom Buchanan from The Great Gatsby
A lot of people hate Daisy Buchanan from The Great Gatsby. But why hate Daisy when you can hate Tom? He's rich, he's racist, he's cruel. He's the full package of hate-able. It's fun to hate him, because he's the most clear-cut character in the book in a lot of ways. He's just so sure of himself and his wealth, and he's not even a little bit concerned with Daisy's happiness. How could you not passionately wish that this guy ended up dead in a pool instead?
9. Heathcliff and Cathy from Wuthering Heights
Yeah, both of them. Their romance is passionate, sure, but they're really terrible people. They "love" each other, but instead of being kind and affectionate towards each other they're actively mean and try to ruin each other's lives? What? You've got to hate them, but you've also got to admit that you're completely swept up in their intense, hateful romance.
10. Edward Cullen from Twilight
Ugh, this pretty boy. Don't hurt me, Twilight fans, but it's pretty easy to despise this sparkly clown. He's a toxic, controlling boyfriend trying to brand himself as a tortured soul, and boy does that make him hate-able. But it's a lot of fun to imagine punching him in his sparkly face for being such a pretentious ass (and if you kind of want to angry-make-out with him, too... well, that's your choice and I'm not taking part).
11. Amy Dunne from Gone Girl
Amy Dunne from Gone Girl makes Scarlett O'Hara look like a weak-ass pansy. Sure, she's a murdering nut job, but she's so deliciously cold and calculating. She leans into all the cliches of being a femme fatale, and uses sexism as a weapon to try and get her husband the death penalty. She's a twisted monster, but it sure is fun to watch her machinations in motion.
12. Miss Trunchbull from Matilda
Shout out to Roald Dahl for creating some truly hateful characters (Veruca Salt, those witches, the Twits). But the most foul one of all is probably Miss Trunchbull from Matilda. She looks "more like an eccentric and rather bloodthirsty follower of the stag-hounds than the headmistress of a nice school for children," and she tortures kids in ingenious ways. Should she be arrested for child abuse? Absolutely. But in the meantime, it's such good fun to utterly hate her.
Images: HBO, Giphy (12)