Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

The Best Villain Downfalls in Literature

Authors put a lot of effort into creating villains that we love to hate. Think about the Wicked Witch of the West, Cruella de Vil, The Joker, Voldemort… all those villains that make us shudder, make us angry, make us scared, and make us cry. As fun as it can be to let these villains run amok, and make the good guys lose a battle now and then, I think we can all agree that there is no greater satisfaction than seeing a villain’s downfall. To celebrate this collective schadenfreude, I’ve put together a Keeping Up With The Penguins list of the best villain downfalls in literature.

The Best Villain Downfalls in Literature - Words in Red and White Overlaid on Silhouette of Man Holding Crowbar - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Dracula (Dracula)

Dracula - Bram Stoker - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The recent popularity of vampire novels might make us a bit more sympathetic to the plight of the bloodsucking night-walker, but if you read Bram Stoker’s original novel, it’s hard to feel sorry for this creepy motherfucker. He kidnaps, assaults, spies on and out-smarts the protagonists at every turn… but in the end, he gets knifed, his powers are destroyed, and his vampire “sisters” don’t fare too well either. It’s a huge relief, tbh. Check out my full review of Dracula here.

Alec Stoke-d’Urberville (Tess of the d’Urbervilles)

Tess Of The D'Urburvilles - Thomas Hardy - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Tess of the d’Urbervilles is probably better known as a dirty book, but trust me: Alec has one of the best villain downfalls in literature. He knocks Tess up out of wedlock, blames her for his fall from Christian grace, manipulates her, and acts like an all-round lecherous prick. Tess gets him in the end though – she stabs him in a frenzy, and runs off chasing her one true love. (OK, fine, Tess ends up paying the price for her crime too, but her vengeance is still fucking awesome.)

Uriah Heep (David Copperfield)

David Copperfield - Charles Dickens - two volume green hardcover set laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I remember my grandfather telling me as a child that Charles Dickens was the most inventive and brutal writer in the English language when it came to writing villain downfalls. Uriah Heep is truly repulsive, writhing, sneaky, and awful. He protests that he is a “‘umble servant”, while exploiting the vulnerable and robbing everyone blind (not to mention that he still lives with his mother…). In the end, Mr Micawber outsmarts him, proving what a thieving bastard he is; Heep is forced to make reparations, he loses the position he connived to attain, and later he ends up in a god-awful Victorian prison. The whole downfall is, of course, beautifully written (and you can read the rest of my love letter to Dickens review of David Copperfield here).

Humbert Humbert (Lolita)

Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Technically, in the case of Nabokov’s Lolita, the villain was also the protagonist, but it was still really satisfying to see the disgusting Humbert Humbert get what was coming to him. After obsessively manipulating and abusing Lolita throughout her teenage years, she runs off with another man, leaving Humbert heartbroken and devastated. His grief (sharpened by news of Lolita’s pregnancy to her new lover) leads him to seek out and kill the man he believes “took” Lolita from him, and that crime lands him in jail. He dies awaiting trial. A miserable end for a miserable man, and it feels so good!

The Officer (In The Penal Colony)

Perhaps not as well-known as the others on this list, but certainly more brutal than any of them, is the unnamed Officer from In The Penal Colony, one of Franz Kafka’s short stories. The Officer is a strong advocate for the use of a punishment apparatus on his colony; wrong-doers (without trial or opportunity for defense) are slowly tortured by needles that pierce their skin with the words of the commandment they have violated. If that weren’t grotesque enough, the officer meets his end by climbing into the machine itself, only to have it malfunction and needle him to his death. Kafka’s never a cheery read, but he sure knew how to take down a bad guy!

Richard Eugene “Dick” Hickock & Perry Edward Smith (In Cold Blood)

In Cold Blood - Truman Capote - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

This might be a controversial inclusion, given that the villains in question weren’t fictional, but I stand by it. Truman Capote’s true crime account may read like a novel, but the downfalls of murderers Hickock and Smith were very real. Throughout Capote’s telling, you learn intimate details about their rather miserable lives, culminating in their heinous crime (where they brutally murdered a family of four), after which they are ultimately captured and put to death themselves. It’s a sad story, and raises all kinds of questions about the “justice” of the death penalty. (You can read my complete review of In Cold Blood here – it’s recommended reading on Keeping Up With The Penguins.)

Becky Sharp & Emma Sedley (Vanity Fair)

Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I couldn’t help myself, I had to include this one: a great villain downfall, but in reverse! In this case, I was super-glad that the boring Amelia Sedley (the “good” girl) had to live out a dull life of hum-drum struggle, while the fabulous Becky Sharp (who may have been immoral and shameless, but also great fun!) gets to run off with the life insurance money of the husband she murdered and go on an adventure! I say it counts, because Vanity Fair is famously called the “novel without a hero”, so I can call boring Amelia the “villain” all I want. (This snarky entry might make more sense if you check out my full review of Vanity Fair here.)

Tom (The Girl on the Train)

The Girl on the Train - Paula Hawkins - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Here’s a more recent example: seeing Tom get his comeuppance in Paula Hawkins’ novel will definitely have you heaving a sigh of relief. It’s much like a modern Tess of the d’Urbervilles, in that a gaslighting motherfucker gets called out on his bullshit, and the sisters are doing it for themselves. Read my full review of The Girl On The Train here.

So, if you’re at a point in your life where you’re feeling a bit disheartened, maybe it seems like the good guys always lose out or that karma never quite comes around, try giving one of these a go. Seeing the villains get what’s coming to them never fails to lift the spirits! 😉 What do you think is the best villain downfall? Let me know in the comments below (or tell us over at KUWTP on Facebook!).




  1. This is a great post! The idea behind it is neat and I love your picks. I think that Uriah Heep is permanently embedded in my mind as a screaming villain. I also like your take on Becky Sharp. I do not know if you have read it, but I think that I would include Beatty, from Fahrenheit 451 on a list of great villain downfalls.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      March 9, 2018 at 11:40 PM

      Ah, perfect! Fahrenheit 451 is on The List, so it’ll be coming up soon – it’s great to get a hint of what I’m in for! 🙂

  2. I was very fond of the Wicked Witch of the West though, very sad that she got taken out by the goody two shoes from Kansas. Such a terrible conclusion to what could have been a great idea. Also the Wizard of OZ didn’t get his for being a terrible fraud – no justice.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      March 15, 2018 at 4:26 PM

      Oh, my gosh! What an *excellent* point! I had honestly never thought about it that way before… Love it!! 🙂

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