Setting Jane Austen’s cads, bounders and douchebags on fire

Our own post on books we love to re-read has sent me diving into Austen. Again. Specifically David M. Shapard’s annotated editions, which are only US$9.99 on Kindle, and are full of fascinating facts and context and whatnot. I’m quite bummed that the annotated Mansfield Park (my favourite Austen novel, FIGHT ME) isn’t out until next year.

This re-read got me thinking about Austen’s troupe of terrible jerks. Each of her books presents its heroine with a Bad Romantic Option, but they’re all terrible in different ways, and to different degrees. But I think we can all agree that they deserve to be set on fire — the only question is, who do we burn first?

1. William Collins, Pride & Prejudice

“I am not now to learn,” replied Mr. Collins, with a formal wave of the hand, “that it is usual with young ladies to reject the addresses of the man whom they secretly mean to accept, when he first applies for their favour; and that sometimes the refusal is repeated a second or even a third time. I am therefore by no means discouraged by what you have just said, and shall hope to lead you to the altar ere long.”

Dude, no means no. I can’t believe women have had to explain this for MULTIPLE CENTURIES. Like Henry Thorpe below, his is a brand of awfulness that persists to this very day.


2. Henry Thorpe, Northanger Abbey

Sure, he’s not a seducer or a libertine — but it’s so much worse. He’s a Regency-era dudebro. He won’t even take his sister for a drive because she has “fat ancles”, making him the 1803-equivalent of a guy with a NO FAT CHICKS bumper sticker. He should be set on fire early on because we’ve all met him, and we’re not allowed to set real people on fire.

3. John Willoughby, Sense & Sensibility

What kind of asshole seduces a girl and gets her pregnant, and doesn’t even have the excuse of wanting to marry her for her money?  Come on, dude.

Illustration from Sense & Sensibility: Marianne sits at a piano, Willoughby leans over her to turn the page. Caption: "They sang together." By modern standards, his body language is quite overbearing.
Personal space, dude.

4. Henry Crawford, Mansfield Park

“I’m a bad dude, but you’re a sweet, decent girl, if you put all your energy into looking after me, I’m sure I can reform!

Mate. Austen is not here for your Saved Through the Love of a Good Woman nonsense.  And I think we all know that even if Fanny had caved and married him, he’d still have cheated on her with Maria Bertram.

5. George Wickham, Pride & Prejudice

Basically a con artist, but, like, a really handsome one?

6. William Elliott, Persuasion

He’s not a nice person, but he’s so petty and pathetic in his not-niceness — much like the entire Elliott family except for Anne — that he’s easy to brush aside. Like, he might vote Liberal, but he’s not a Young Liberal.

7. Philip Elton, Emma

The worst thing you can say about him is that he’s a social climber with boundary issues. I mean, he’s not fun to hang out with, but he’s so easy to ignore.

8. Frank Churchill, Emma

Frank pretends to be unattached and flirts with Emma to hide his secret engagement to Jane Fairfax. This is not a cool thing to do, but it’s at least somewhat sympathetic — he’s less of a cad, more a mild bounder.

Christian from Clueless: an early '90s hunk with his hair in a quiff and a jacket thrown over his muscled shoulder. Not pictured: his extremely high-cut pants.
Clueless reimagines Frank as Christian, who is shockingly hot, shockingly gay, and not even closeted. Cher just has no gaydar whatsoever.


Lady Susan Vernon of Lady Susan is a cad in her own right. But we love her, so instead of throwing her into the fire, we’ll let her sit with us and share our vegan marshmallows.


As always, if you’ve never read Ozten: Jane Austen for Australians, by me and friend of No Award Hayley, please do! We address all cads and bounders, but in Aussie accents. “Ozten”: Emma for Australians; “Ozten”: Pride and Prejudice for Australians.


ELIZABETH: This is a GROUSE pergola.
DARCY: Thanks?
ELIZABETH: I’m not kidding you could have the mother of all barbeques out here.