The 1st draft of this post has been lingering in my drafts for a year or two. I’m under 20 drafts, and I’m determined to clear them out as much as I can.
I’ve noticed a round of defense of the popularly disliked characters which seem to includes some straw arguments for why those of us who dislike characters, dislike them. Susan, Cynthia (here is the post on Cynthia which spurred my post), Amy (I’ve done a post on Amy) dislike them? I like being contrary (ya think?!), so I’m going to develop why I’m bothered by Cynthia; I greatly dislike Amy, I have moral issues with Cynthia.
I think that sometimes people don’t realize that its the characters (or people) that are portrayed as main or sympathetic that get the most ire, because their faults and sins are glossed over. I think most everyone thinks characters like Mr. Preston are villains, he isn’t given a bit of sympathy, he’s very simply bad. Not much need for discussion. Similarly with the newest Mrs. Gibson. Also, both of them get their come-uppance, often in quite satisfyingly hilarious ways, and they aren’t super popular either in the book or with readers. I doesn’t seem to me to be very important or nearly as interesting to discuss characters I see as obviously bad.
There are many characters I find obnoxious in Wives and Daughters, I want to strangle Squire Hamley most of the time. I want to throttle Dr. Gibson for falling for that sneak. I want to clobber Roger for falling for shallowness (I love when Osbourne calls him out on this!). To me, however, Cynthia is the worst because:
- The nature of her sins and faults
- Her sins faults get defended not merely by herself but many other characters and readers
- She never either gets a come-uppance or has real repentance
The nature of her sins and faults
She is extremely selfish, and gets away with it in ways that no one else does. Everything she does, even her “unselfish” acts towards Molly are done because its what she wants to do, nothing to do with conscience.
When characters (or people) are pointed out as being selfish, people often rush in with the fallacious, “but everyone is.”
- I’m not talking about everyone, I’m pointing out one character, clearly I see this character as being more selfish
- Everyone is not equally selfish, there is a wide spectrum of selfishness
- Other people’s sins don’t justify one’s own sins
She’s dishonest and in an especially deceptive way. She’s selectively honest (aka, falsely honest), in the way the that shows up so people think she’s fundamentally honest, which is not in fact honesty at all. And its not a repentant honesty, it’s the (oh, my favorite), “This is just the way I am” sort. She uses “honesty” as deception and manipulation.
She minimizes her faults into non-existence by turning the tables and focusing on other’s faults, blaming Molly and Mr. Gibson, when she was totally or majorly in the wrong. In the case of Mr. Preston whose age, lack of character, and position puts him in the major part of the wrong, she uses that to pretend she was totally without fault and also to excuse acting wrongly towards other people.
She uses people. She charms people and plays on their emotions for her own ends. She claims to care for Molly yet what she really means is she likes Molly better than others. She still uses Molly like a tool.
She’s manipulative. Everything turns to her own end, her selfishness, her charm, her playing on other’s emotions, her manipulating circumstances, her vanity of her “character,” her blame-shifting, her victim playing.
These are not simply garden variety faults, but rather sins of a narcissistic and sociopathic tinge.
Her sins faults get defended not merely by herself but many other characters and readers
I’ve always fell firmly in the anti-Cynthia camp, I know people who tried to defend her, and quite frankly, that makes me like her less. To me I see this as turning a blind eye to a not good person, to enabling that person, to enabling this sort of thing in the real world. It’s like another layer of deception on an artistically laid intricate system of respectable sins.
She never either gets a come-uppance or has real repentance
She is fairly popular and leads a rather charmed life. When she is confronted (in private usually), she manages to turn it against the person and paint herself as a victim. She leads on one very silly boy and one good man (Mr. Preston cancels himself out, so I’m not including him). She nearly destroys Molly’s life by using her as a tool and then waltzes in and takes her man by wooing Roger (don’t think I’m letting Roger off the hook for being such a Dodo) simply because she wants to get married and be “independent.” She manages to get what she wants in life (an obedient husband who would never say anything negative to her and wealth) by the end without any qualms of conscience.
There are many characters who on the surface look the same, they are elegant, have high standards, popular, live a charmed life in many ways, but they get such different reactions from me. For example, Anne Shirley, who I like and would like to be more like, and Amy March who I resent.
The Amy characters seem to have everything handed to them (and are very spoiled) without, in my opinion being very interesting while I think Anne type characters earn their way far more often of the time.
Also, I feel like Amy was a “told” character rather than a “shown” character. And well, I don’t think she ever learned to laugh at herself. Anne did learn to laugh at herself. Anne had dignity and could be offended by presumption, but I always sided with Anne while I always thought Amy a spoiled snot.
However, I should note, that I feel that Anne turns into more of an Amy type in the later books when the focus is on her children, she’s not Anne Shirley any more who is hard working and earns her way, I feel like the writing portrays her more as a haughty lady of leisure, who sits above it all and offers judgement. Also, I don’t like Rilla very much at first, Rilla is very much an Amy March type character.