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I look at Kurtz from Heart of Darkness as an anti-hero very close to being a villain. His character is extremely memorable, mysterious, symbolic and haunting. His last words, "the horror, the horror" have echoed through literature for over a century now and still maintain their enigmatic power.
I just hated to love the villain of Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange, the young "droog" thug, Alex. Guilty of "ultraviolent" acts of assault, raping older women as well as young "devotchkas," and finally murder, Alex nevertheless finds a way to beat the ultra-progressive British judicial system. An experimental treatment helps to cure him before he eventually returns to his old ways.
I also think Kurtz is a great villian. He makes my skin crawl, anyway. Another one, though he experiences a change of heart, is Ebenezer Scrooge. Dracula, from Bram Stoker's work. Iago is probably Shakespeare's worst villain, though Macbeth or Claudius are also pretty bad. Grendel and his mother from Beowulf, Big Brother from 1984, though he's more of an institution than a person. The Green Knight is another. Finally, or course, there is Lucifer/Satan from Paradise Lost.
My vote goes with Mrs Danvers in Daphne du Maurier's "Rebecca". She is sinister, evil and a clever torturer. She was also magnificently portrayed in the Hitchcock film based on the novel. Chapter twelve, where she calmly coaxes the new Mrs de Winter to consider suicide is chilling in the extreme.
Richard Rich in A Man for All Seasons is a villain-like character in British literature as well as British history. A man who sold out his friend Thomas More for an exchange with higher position and wealth, claimed a false testimony which lead to the execution of a highly admirable hero.
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