Fuckboys of Classic Literature: Far From the Madding Crowd Edition

This is a strange entry in our Fuckboys of Classic Literature category because the fuckboy of this book isn’t a character…but the author himself. I thought about inducting the soldier, Frank Troy, but ultimately decided he was more of an asshole than a fuckboy as his mistreatment of Bathsheba is rooted in his own failed, tragic love rather than a generalized view of women as existing for him alone.

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On a related note though: fuck Frank Troy.

No, the fuckboy of this story is Thomas Hardy, which is some kind of achievement. Good job, buddy? Hardy has earned his place by writing an entire book about a woman who is a paragon of independence, strength, and intelligence then completely undermining all of her achievements by making her character’s greatest failing that she’s shallow.

In the first chapter of Far from the Madding Crowd, Hardy takes the point of his novel and slams it against the reader with about as much subtly as setting an airhorn off right in your ear.

Upon meeting Bathsheba for first time, Gabriel Oak observes her and, with a passing glance, understands her completely. He falls in love with her, assumedly, but as Bathsheba departs makes a wry observation that foreshadows the entire plot of Madding Crowd.

“That’s a handsome maid,” he said to Oak.

“But she has her faults,” said Gabriel.

“True, farmer.”

“And the greatest of them is—well, what it is always…Vanity.”

I fully allow that maybe Hardy didn’t mean that the greatest fault of women is vanity. Hardy could mean that the greatest fault of people is vanity, though with a similar subtlety to the quoted dialogue, Bathsheba is given a passage detailing the manner in which she admires herself in a mirror right before Oak’s comment. This action isn’t even utilitarian—Hardy makes sure to note that Bathsheba doesn’t adjust her clothing or hair, she merely wants to admire herself. I’ve seen enough paintings of women staring in mirrors with various titles alluding to vanity to not dodge this thrown brick of symbolism. I’m not sure Oak owns a mirror and if he does, he sure wouldn’t pause to admire himself in it because he’s not obsessed with himself (obviously).

Regardless, it’s still exhausting to read an entire book devoted to showing how a woman who doesn’t flinch in the fear of entering traditionally male spaces in both leisure activities (not riding side saddle), and business (going herself to seal deals on the trade floor) is brought to ruin because she meets a man that flatters her vanity.

For all that Bathsheba haughtily scoffs at like Boldwood’s attempt to woo her with wealth and comfort, she falls quickly to the flattering seduction of Troy. For a woman who seems determined to assert her independence and claims of never being tamed, all Troy has to do is swing his sword around and she falls apart with a gusty sigh. This is both not a euphemism and a euphemism.

Hardy teased me with having Bathsheba avoid the trope of being the Gold-digger™. Alas, he swerved and instead served up Vanity™. A trait, it’s worth mentioning, that Hardy identifies as being worse than “beating people down,” which is actually perplexing because between the two options, I’d choose to keep company with the vain person.

Bathsheba is humbled through Far from the Madding Crowd, and her humbling is strictly tied to her vanity. When her vanity is cured, what is her reward? To marry the man who pointed out she needed to be humbled in the first place and has steadfastly stood at her side all the while despite her, at times, cruel treatment of him. Wait…or is this Oak’s reward for being faithful, humble, and consistently Good™? It’s almost like the book, as much as it claims to be about Bathsheba is instead about a wild woman being tamed for the Good Guy™.

Darn it though, Oak is a good guy. Out of the context of this story he might be one of the best natured men in classic literature I’ve encountered aside from Henry Tilney in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.

Bathsheba doesn’t even save herself from the tangled web of ruin her vanity has caused—instead, a man solves the problem for her. As soon as Troy shows up, Bathsheba loses all capability for action and becomes passive, a reward for the men to fight over. Her ability to act as an agent is a thing of the past. Not like that feisty woman at the beginning of the book who marched into the men’s trading hall with her head held high, scorning societal norms could do anything about her difficult situation!

It would have been a vastly better book if Bathsheba had blown Troy away with the shotgun herself, is all I’m saying…

…and maybe I wouldn’t have to call Thomas Hardy a fuckboy.

 

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Fuckboys of Classic Literature: Brave New World Edition

            On this day, we have gathered to induct into the prestigious pantheon of Literary Fuckboys the character Bernard Marx of Aldous Huxley’s iconic Brave New World.

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In case you haven’t had the opportunity to read Brave New World or weren’t forced to in high school, and in order to understand Bernard’s fuckboy status, the society in Brave New World is vastly different from our own. It’s often labeled a dystopia but there’s a fairly strong argument to be made that it’s a utopia for those who are subscribers to a system of morality like Utilitarianism where happiness is the ultimate good and outcome.

Philosophy aside, one aspect of the society functioning in Brave New World is that of sexual interaction free of the restrictions of monogamy and puritanical ideals of prudishness. Citizens are encouraged to have many sexual partners to the extent that long-term (here more than a few liaisons) is viewed as unusual and a social faux-pas. In a city where all conceptions are moderated and take place in test tubes, the objective of sex for a biological purpose other than pleasure is eliminated.

On this topic, society in Brave New World is a lot more liberal (and feminist) than our current structure. If you’re resistant to the idea of no more monogamy and sex as a purely functional activity for pleasure because it feels as though it jettisons such beautiful ideas of love, parenting, and intimacy through sex, Bernard Marx is the character you’d identify with at the beginning of the novel.

Bernard is a traditionalist where traditional is a view of society that a western audience has grown up with. Dating and relationships should be monogamous, Bernard feels in woe. There should be commitment and deep emotional bonding. Women are being denied the essential and transformative experience of motherhood!

Well, if you’re a feminist maybe Bernard already seems suspect to you, because the idea that motherhood is a vital and necessary part of a woman’s life is a little reductive of women to being uteri, but at least his rhetoric is familiar.

The fuckboy in Bernard starts peeking out from his identifiable and familiar façade of western thought soon after that. For, as he lusts and admires after a woman named Lenina, Bernard bemoans the sexual freedom of his compatriots.

Open promiscuity and the state of polyamory are disdained by Bernard. Women, if they had any self-worth at all, wouldn’t sleep with so many (or all) of the men they know. These women, in fact, Bernard says, view themselves “like so much meat.”

Telling a woman that if she respected herself she wouldn’t be sexually active, even when her sexual activity is an expression of her autonomy and desires, is a classic fuckboy trap that has a lot of unpleasant layers like working on an archaeological dig of bullshit. Firstly, it equates self-worth with the restraint of sexual behavior. This immediately revitalizes the idea of purity—to respect yourself, you shouldn’t spoil your body in sexual activities. The concept also reinforces the idea that sexual activity is degrading for a woman (not for men, of course), giving men the power to control a woman’s sexual activity with the threat of putting the woman on the fringe of society and marking her as ruined. The fuckboy part of this, when we dig deep, is that all the bullshit is wrapped up in the pretty package of “I’m saying this because I care about you and want you to care about yourself!”

It is insidious sexism because it comes off as genuine concern. I leave room here only with the amendment that a lot of casual sex can be an indicator of depression and qualifies as risky behavior, but that’s true for both men and women. You can have a lot of self-worth and have a lot of sex or no sex and you can have no self-worth and have a lot of sex or no sex. The evaluation of this is for individuals and shouldn’t be intrinsically linked.

At the same time as complaining about women’s promiscuity, Bernard wallows in sorrow on his own relationship status, which is no relationship because women reject him and find him unattractive. It’s hard to imagine how this could possibly be true, right Bernard? Women love when you tell them that they have no self-worth and insult the way they live in emancipated sexuality.

Bernard frames the classic fuckboy position here that women only want assholes and he’s the perfect, respectable, kind, and intelligent man who is actually worthy of their attention. He’s that guy that looks at a woman in a relationship she finds perfectly satisfactory and is happy with and says: doesn’t she know I’d treat her better than him? This completely ignores the reality that Lenina and her friends are satisfied with their way of life—they don’t feel ashamed, they don’t judge others, and they take the frequent changing of partners as a given way to explore pleasure with others.

Meanwhile, alone and bitter, Bernard is the “radical” who feels his beliefs, contrary to society, are the true good ideas and that if only the sheeple would listen to him, they would no longer be blinded by their false beliefs. We’re breaking the ground in another archaeological dig because this position of Bernard not only labels himself as a savior of women but implies that he has no qualms about forcing his personal ideology onto them. But, hey, we get it. It’s not like Bernard, though he respects women, thinks they are capable for thinking about their sexuality and sexual pleasure themselves. They need a man to tell them what’s right!

Brave New World should be re-titled Lenina Deserved Better because Bernard makes it a personal mission of his to forcibly show her the error of her beliefs. This includes preaching at her about the sacred beauty of motherhood, which is already unpleasant, but for Lenina especially so because she finds the natural physical birth process to be disgusting and unnatural. This is not relatable for the reader, again, from a western audience, but imagine being in Lenina’s pneumonic shoes. For her, natural birth is as repugnant as being born in a test tube is for us.

Despite Lenina asking Bernard to stop and leave her alone because his “lessons” are making her uncomfortable, ashamed, and unhappy, he doesn’t stop thinking he’s doing what’s best for her. The entitlement of Bernard to Lenina’s body and mind here is baffling—he wants to groom her to be his perfect partner because he desires her and thus her feelings and desires are irrelevant.

Ironically, and what really places Bernard into the fuckboy hall of fame, is that later in the novel when he does become desirable to women and they proposition having sexual relationships with him, all his strains of “they think of themselves as meat” evaporates! Poof! He sleeps with new women every day and brags about it to his friend, conveniently forgetting all of his preaching on the indispensable concept of monogamy.

These women’s desire for him rather show good sense instead of a lack of self-worth. It’s wildly coincidental that when they want him instead of another man, there’s no problem with freely enjoying sex, I’m sure. The sexual double-standard is the cockroach that survived the nuclear apocalypse.

Welcome to the pantheon, Bernard Marx, you’re a fuckboy with fuckboy logic through and through. I like to imagine that the island he gets shipped off to at the end of Brave New World is a bunch of fuckboy intellectuals holding symposiums where they moan about their own sexual worthiness and the tragedy of how feminist theories of sexuality has ruined society. And yes, in my imagination they are wearing fedoras.

Fuckboys of Classic Literature: Mansfield Park Edition

As my year with Jane Austen is coming to a close, I’ve been ruminating on Mansfield Park, particularly the quote “Let him have all the perfections in the world, I think it ought not be set down as certain that a man must be acceptable to every woman he may happen to like himself.”

In this quote, Austen attacks male entitlement and what we now call the friendzone—men feeling cheated or insulted that though they are nice and attentive to a woman they like, the woman doesn’t like them back. Austen shuts this down with one of her mildest characters, which adds to the humor because Fanny is all propriety and politeness, but even she has no time for men complaining about being friendzoned.

This line of thinking led me to the important discovery that Henry Crawford is literally a fuckboy, be it a 19th century fuckboy.

Seriously, his behavior through the entire novel escalates him to fuckboy over-achiever. He flirts with every woman he comes in contact with, believing that it is impossible for any woman to resist his charms and not fall in love with him (delusions of importance and attraction, fuckboy score: 1).

In fact, Henry decides to make Fanny fall in love with him simply because she DOESN’T seem attracted to him, undertaking to manipulate someone’s emotions for his own benefit and because, really, he thinks she’s hot and wants to have sex with her (fuckboy score: 2).

Plus there’s this whole scene:

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incredible

Then there’s the whole scene where Henry is angry and insulted when informed that, in fact, Miss Fanny Price does not find him all that attractive except in sort of a general objective way. (Fuckboy score 3)

After being thus insulted, Henry makes a point of it to turn everyone against Fanny and to criticize her for not caring about him when he’s possessing so many desirable qualities, making him…dare I say it?

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classic “nice guy”

And the FINAL fuckboy move is when Henry decides to blame Fanny and her choice to reject him for all of the trouble he causes later on.

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it’s her fault for saying no!

Henry Crawford is the quintessential fuckboy. Incredible.

This is a very important discovery and I hope to someday publish an academic paper on it. I already have a great title: “Male Entitlement: Fuckboys in Literature.”

There’s got to be other ones. I’m pretty sure I could nominate Frank Churchill as well.