Jane Austen’s Rascals: Ranked


Earlier this month, I shared my ranking of Jane Austen’s heroes—a tough task, since they’re all pretty wonderful. If you really think about it, though, part of the appeal of the Darcys and the Wentworths of the world is that we can wipe our brows at the end of the day and think, “Thank God our girl didn’t end up with {insert your Austen cad of choice}.” Jane Austen knew how to write a bad boy, and her books would definitely not be the same without the devilish Wickhams or the too-charming Henry Crawfords—so shouldn’t they get a little love too?

Well, here they do. Here is my ranking of Jane’s rogues and rascals, from Ugh to Best Bad Boy Ever.

(Spoiler alert: This list contains major plot points of Jane’s six novels. Consider yourself warned!)

6. John Thorpe, Northanger Abbey


Ugh. This guy is just awful. He’s not even charming, and charm should absolutely be a prerequisite if you’re going to try to steal a lady from one Henry Tilney. He’s rude, he’s always yelling at everybody, and he practically kidnaps Catherine in his carriage. Plus, by boasting about his connection with the Norlands and exaggerating their wealth to General Tilney, he actually throws Catherine and Henry together under the roof of Northanger Abbey. What kind of a rascal hand-delivers his attempted conquest to the hero? A totally incompetent one. He could take a few lessons from the other guys on this list.

Rascal Rating: D

5. William Elliot, Persuasion


If this guy wants to be a rascal, he’s got to step up his game. He happens upon his distant cousin in Bath and decides to make amends with her family so that he can secure his place as heir—and that’s kind of his whole game. He tries to woo Anne, but he’s another one who could do with a few charm sandwiches, especially when competing against The Best Hero Ever, Captain Frederick Wentworth. (Scientific fact.) Sorry, William. You’re just kind of bland for me, and for a rogue, you don’t cause nearly enough trouble.

Rascal Rating: C

4. Frank Churchill, Emma


Now we’re getting somewhere. Frank Churchill is definitely charming and mischievous. He gets super expensive haircuts, sings, dances and loves being coy with the ladies. Frank’s not a bad guy, but he does make flirtatious overtures at Emma in order to conceal his secret engagement to Jane Fairfax. The real problem with Frank is that he teases and gossips about Jane in hopes that no one will find out about their relationship. Rascal Etiquette 101: Don’t insult your secret fiancée if you plan on spending the rest of your life with her. You know she’s going to bring this behavior up every time you forget to take out the garbage.

Rascal Rating: B

3. Henry Crawford, Mansfield Park


Henry Crawford is totally hard to read. He gets points for being the Austen rascal who comes closest to marrying our heroine, and he actually genuinely falls in love with Fanny. He isn’t thrown by her family’s poverty and he even helps her brother rise in the Royal Navy. But—and here’s the big but—we can’t forget that he starts flirting with Fanny as a game, or that he rekindles his affair with Fanny’s married cousin and runs off with her, causing scandal on the whole family. If he had stuck around and married Fanny, he actually could have turned into a good guy—although spending time with that sister of his might be enough to make anyone run away.

Rascal Rating: B+

2. George Wickham, Pride and Prejudice


Wickham is so bad and I love it. I mean, his name alone sounds like “wicked,” so he was obviously born to be a rascal. He causes outrage by running off with Georgiana Darcy, and then he does the same thing with Lydia Bennet! He’s a serial slimeball, but he’s so dashing and pleasant that everyone is still delighted by him—for a while, anyway. Even Elizabeth is taken in by him, and Elizabeth is pretty much the smartest gal in all of Meryton. Wickham could open a school on cutting a fine figure, spinning a fabricated story and whisking away young ladies. It’s poetic justice that he gets his comeuppance in the end and has to spend his life with Lydia. While Lydia prattles on about bonnets, I can’t help but think that he might go off to his corner to work on his memoir: George Wickham: The Mischief That Could Have Been.

Rascal Rating: A

 1. John Willoughby, Sense and Sensibility


When it comes to rascals, there’s Willoughby, and then there’s everyone else. Willoughby is hands-down the most charming of all of Jane Austen’s characters, with all of his talk of sonnets and feelings, not to mention his devilish good looks. He carries Marianne Dashwood home in the rain, for crying out loud, and visits her every day to see how her sprained ankle is. This guy could be Prince Charming—except there’s just that one little thing with the girl he knocked up and refused to marry, and the other small matter of dropping Marianne like a hot potato because he needed to find a rich wife. Of all of Austen’s bad boys, Willoughby’s behavior is the most reprehensible, but here’s what makes him stand out: he apologizes. For twelve pages, he explains his every motive, every action, never trying to paint himself in the best light. Even knowing that it won’t change anything, he admits his wrongdoing, shows how he truly feels about Marianne, and confesses that by raising himself to affluence, he has lost everything that could have made it a blessing. (Aww! Hugs for Willoughby.) “Though I have always been a blockhead,” he says, “I have not always been a rascal.” A rascal you are, Willoughby, but for that tarnished heart buried deep underneath somewhere, you will always be the best.

Rascal Rating: A+++

Admit it—aren’t some of Austen’s rogues a little more fun than her heroes? Which rascal is your favorite?

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