10 Literary Bad Boys We Love to Love

by Isla McKetta on July 18, 2012

Girl Reading on Bed

Whether or not the cliché that every girl loves a bad boy began with literature, books can set up some pretty strange relationship expectations. And even though we know better, some literary bad boys are impossible to resist. Here are 10 naughty men to set your heart a-racing.

Bad to the Bone

Dorian Gray, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Sure Dorian drives Sybil to suicide, but the man never ages. And he commits his life to lust and debauchery. He’s not a good marriage prospect (at least in modern terms), though he sure is a good time. Just remember, there is no heart of gold in his unchanging chest.

“The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful.” – Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer

Another good time is Henry Miller. On the plus side, he really likes women. Or at least women’s bodies. On the minus side, he was more than willing to sponge off his lovers in the name of art. Ah, what people will pay for a little affection.

“I want to undress you, vulgarize you a bit.” – Henry Miller, Letter to Anaïs Nin

Patrick Bateman, American Psycho

Bateman is all the things women are taught to want in a man: well-dressed, works out, has a really big stereo…Maybe he’s not really a serial killer; maybe he’s just an unreliable narrator.

“All it comes down to is this: I feel like shit but look great.” – Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho

Heathcliff, Wuthering Heights

No one can say that Heathcliff didn’t have a rough start as a foundling tormented by his foster siblings. You have to wonder if the unbreakable spell he comes to hold over Catherine is love or revenge. He proves his “love” by wreaking vengeance on everyone who ever did anything to separate them. And then he dies.

“If he loved you with all the power of his soul for a whole lifetime, he couldn’t love you as much as I do in a single day.” – Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights

Count Dracula, Dracula

Dracula stalks and feeds on Mina and then turns her into a vampire. Though there is little evidence in the book that he loved Mina (or anyone else), Dracula endures as an icon for eternal love. Maybe it’s his love bites.

“Once again…welcome to my house. Come freely. Go safely; and leave something of the happiness you bring.” – Bram Stoker, Dracula


Jay Gatsby, The Great Gatsby

Jay Gatsby isn’t a bad guy. He’s just a loner. With mob connections and a taste for someone else’s wife. It turns out he really loves Daisy—enough to protect her from a murder charge. Who doesn’t need that kind of backup?

“[Gatsby] smiled understandingly—much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it…It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Tea Cake Woods, Their Eyes Were Watching God

Tea Cake was a gambler and a drifter, but his sly grin unlocked Janie’s heart. I defy you not to melt when he puts that cigarette between his “full, purple lips.”

“[Tea Cake] looked like the love thoughts of women…Crushing aromatic herbs with every step he took. Spices hung about him. He was a glance from God.” – Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

Ponyboy Curtis, The Outsiders

Though he proves by the end that he’s more reluctant hero than bad boy, Ponyboy’s gesture of escorting Cherry home incites a gang war between the Greasers and the Socs. You have to love that even at 14 Pony Boy had a strong sense of himself.

”We wear our hair long and dress in blue jeans and T-shirts, or leave our shirttails out and wear leather jackets and tennis shoes or boots. I’m not saying that either Socs or Greasers are better; that’s just the way things are.” – S.E. Hinton, The Outsiders

The Sandman, The Sandman

Neil Gaiman’s Morpheus is an immortal who bears great responsibilities—like killing his son to save him from eternal imprisonment. He’s not always a nice guy, but you can count on the fact that he will always do the right thing.

“We make choices. No one else can live our lives for us. And we must confront and accept the consequences of our actions.” – Neil Gaiman, The Sandman, Vol. 9: The Kindly Ones

Mr. Darcy, Pride and Prejudice

Darcy is hard to like at first—shunning Elizabeth at the ball and reminding her of her inferior birth while proposing marriage. All is forgiven when Darcy shows his true nature by saving Elizabeth’s sister from social ruin.

“Vanity and pride are different things…A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.” – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Can’t get enough bad behavior? Check out the 10 Top Villains of Literature. Or leave a comment to tell us about your favorite literary bad boy.

Isla McKetta, MFA is a novelist and book reviewer. Read her reviews at A Geography of Reading or connect with her on Google+.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Connie Feick July 18, 2012 at 5:30 pm

You forgot Dexter Morgan from the Dexter series …

Isla McKetta July 19, 2012 at 9:19 am

So true!

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