We all do crazy things for love.

And we write about our characters doing even crazier things for love.

Where should we draw the line? Where does a character cross from deliciously flawed to just plain dysfunctional? And when we indulge in over-the-top romance, are we improving ourselves by strengthening our ability to empathize or sabotaging ourselves by creating unrealistic expectations and desensitizing ourselves to inappropriate behavior?

These case studies might help answer those questions!

7) Jay Gatsby

Gatsby is number eight on this list because, at the end of the day, I think I would classify him as pitiful rather than creepy.

Sure, he falls into the obsessive camp. He turns his life into a circus to try to lure Daisy into his arms. But he never tries to control her. Even his boldest move–demanding that Daisy renounces her husband–ends in him retreating with his tail between his legs.

6) Humbert Humbert

Humbert Humbert is number seven on this list not because he isn’t creepy (he is, supremely), but because many readers overlook his romanticism. Humbert is number seven because I can come up with more sincere “pros” for him than I can for any of the other characters on this list:


For everything you wanted to know about Lolita and more, check out the New York Time’s commemoration of Lolita.

5) The Chairman

In Memoirs of a Geisha, Sayuri is only to happy to fall into the Chairman’s arms at last, but should we be happy for her, given that:


I realize that I might be projecting my social norms onto a time and place where they don’t belong…but I can’t help wishing that when the Chairman first encountered Sayuri as a little girl crying in the street, he would have adopted her as a daughter instead of abetting her transformation into a geisha (in hopes that he would one day be able to “sponsor” her).

4) Mr. Rochester

At first, he is cruel to Jane. Then, he is hot-and-cold with her. Finally, he tries to marry her, only to be thwarted by the revelation that he is keeping his insane first wife locked up in the attic.

Some readers believe that Rochester is redeemed when he tries to save crazy-first-wife from a fire at the end of the novel–and so redeemed, he is finally worthy of wedding Jane.

But there are alternative theories. I’ll let John Green explain them to you:

Mr. Rochester.png
Can this marriage be happily-ever-after?

3) Edward Cullens

I considered leaving Edward off of this list because I know he’s been called out plenty of times before. But then I remembered that he:


Not to mention that Twilight spawned a little fan-fiction number called Fifty Shades of Grey, wherein a psychotically controlling boyfriend buys the company where his girlfriend is working because he thinks her boss is flirting with her.

2) Heathcliff

Oft-cited as the most romantic book of all time, Wuthering Heights actually showcases a dysfunctional relationship (albeit, a passionately dysfunctional one).


Plus, Heathcliff hangs a dog at one point in the book. He. Hangs. A. Dog.

1) Zeus

Sure, he was the mightiest god on Mt. Olympus, but when Zeus descended from his throne, all the nymphs fled for the hills.


Honestly, this guy makes Donald Trump look acceptable!

Are you a fan of any of these characters? What redeems them in your eyes? Who would you add to the list?

And of course, happy Valentine’s Day!

9 thoughts on “7 “Romantic” Book Characters Who Are Actually Just Creepy

  1. I think Mr. Rochester redeemed himself. He found himself in an insufferable situation without the possibility to extricate himself. Of course, he was wrong to lie to Jane, but his motives are understandable and relatable.
    Heathcliff, on the other hand, I found completely cruel and evil, without any redeeming values.


    1. I would agree that there is a WORLD of difference between Rochester and Heathcliff! It seems like Rochester’s behavior can be traced back to circumstances rather than just a bum nature. Still, he gives me the creeps on various occasions, not just limited to the old wife-in-the-attic, but also when he brags to Jane about his other mistresses and attempts to make her his mistress as well (his overtures making Jane feel anxious and degraded). Great paper about that here: http://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?cc=mfsfront;c=mfs;c=mfsfront;idno=ark5583.0012.004;g=mfsg;rgn=main;view=text;xc=1

      All that said, it’s been a while since I read Jane Eyre. Maybe if I picked it back up again, I would find some tender, redeeming moments from Rochester that I have forgotten!


  2. This cracked me up! Thanks for the VD laugh.

    Now I will be trying to come up with witty pros and cons of my own for some other literary lovers. I am thinking of women . . . .


  3. I, too, found Rochester creepy… In fact, most of my college class of Young Folk seemed to think so, all of us blatantly at odds with our Professor who was raised thinking him “romantic”…. My how times have changed!


  4. I’m late by four years but love this! Come to realize the “great” love stories I grew up with are not necessarily healthy love stories. I wonder though how possible it is to make a healthy balanced story interesting 🤣. Maybe the ones that get seared into memory are bound to be the colorful/horrible ones.


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