I adore romantic heroes in literature with a (possibly unhealthy) passion, so I often have a hard time with female characters who run roughshod over the hearts of their loving, devoted fictional paramours. On the flip side, I can’t stand female characters who moon over complete cads when we all know they could do better. So what’s a reader to do? How about call out a list of the lamest fictional girlfriends? We’re onto you, ladies. You’ve been warned. (Also see our list of the lamest fictional boyfriends.)
Daisy Buchanan (The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald)
Granted, no one we meet in Gatsby is such a prize, but Daisy is arguably the novel’s most infuriatingly self-serving characters. After she and Gatsby fall in love, she turns around and marries big dumb brute Tom Buchanan while Gatsby is serving overseas. Nice, right? Given their disastrously unhappy marriage, I couldn’t really blame Daisy for rekindling her romance with Gatsby once he showed up in the neighborhood and was all, “Oh hey again, I now happen to be a newly minted millionaire who never stopped loving you.” Less sympathetic was Daisy’s willingness to allow Gatsby to take the fall for her hit-and-run car accident that killed Tom’s mistress. And when a tragic misunderstanding resulted in Gatsby’s violent death, Daisy skipped his meager funeral to take a vacation with her husband and child. Classy!
Catherine Earnshaw (Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte)
Don’t even get me started on my love of Heathcliff—now there’s a man who could wander across my bleak, windswept moor any day. Granted, you can argue that he was just as reprehensible as his lover, the beautiful and tempestuous Catherine Earnshaw. However, while Heathcliff remained eternally devoted to Cathy, she did not always return the favor. After all, why marry a rootless (if smoking hot and fanatically loyal) orphan boy when you’ve managed to snag the eye of the frail, snobbish heir to a neighboring estate? Thus the impetuous young Cathy became engaged to wussy little Edgar Linton of Thrushcross Grange, allowing her desire for social acceptance and advancement to prevail over her love of the brooding Heathcliff. (I mean, why have steak, when you can have a turkey slider?!) This drove Heathcliff away from Wuthering Heights and ultimately sent him down a destructive path of single-minded revenge and madness that lasted until he died, miserable and alone. Way to go, Cathy. Heathcliff loved you so much that after your tragic early death he dug up your grave so that he could visit you. Trust me, it was romantic. I guess you had to be there.
Scarlett O’Hara (Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell)
First, I’d like to state for the record: I love Scarlett O’Hara. Beneath her soft, Southern Belle exterior laies a ruthless businesswoman with a spine of steel; a fearless and formidable adversary who will stop at nothing to protect what’s hers. However, throughout several marriages of various levels of convenience and disaster, Scarlett never quite gave up on her early infatuation with the milquetoast Ashley Wilkes, who rejected her advances early in the story. It was clear to everyone but Scarlett that she met her match in the fiery, conniving Rhett Butler, and that Ashley, although a perfectly nice guy, was a wet noodle, undeserving of her endless devotion. Scarlett’s stubborn blindness, her refusal to acknowledge until the bitter end that Ashley was not the one for her and never had been, is part of what makes her such a compelling and flawed character. She may have made this list, but she’s still a total boss.
Connie Monaghan (Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen)
I really enjoyed Franzen’s Freedom, but I had some serious issues with Connie Monaghan, the eternally on-again, off-again girlfriend of the Berglunds’ prodigal son, Joey. Joey’s romance with the pretty, quiet girl next door blossomed early on, and she then spent almost the entire novel waiting around for him to call her up so she could do whatever he wanted her to do to make him happy. The one time Connie showed some backbone and briefly stepped out on Joey, sleeping with someone else in his prolonged absence, she broke it off as soon as he learned about it and became jealous. Spoiler alert: In what was possibly a happy ending only to her, Connie eventually managed to get Joey to marry her. Congratulations, Connie. You help yourself to that Berglund kid, he’s alllll yours.
Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen)
Oh, Elizabeth Bennet—so bright, so likeable, yet so frustratingly wrong-headed. From the get-go I was aggravated by Lizzy’s withering assessment of the handsome if standoffish Mr. Darcy, based only on a brief encounter with him at a ball. Her conviction that he was an arrogant, haughty man, coupled with her eagerness to believe only negative assessments of his character, led her to refuse his initial marriage proposal—which nearly made me bite my copy of Pride & Prejudice in half. I wanted to leap into the book, take Lizzy by the shoulders and shake her. (Okay, so maybe I really wanted to leap into the book, take Mr. Darcy by the arm, and purr, “Forget about that Bennet girl for a minute, darling. What do you say we take a nice carriage ride around the block, just the two of us?”)
Who’s your vote for the lamest girlfriend in fiction?