Villainy: A lecture in Anti-Heroism


Cassandra Jaskiewicz, Contributor

  On Sept. 21, the UNO English department hosted the first of many Midday Musings scheduled for this semester. Three presenters described the birth of a villain, the modern-day villain and how villains have changed throughout the years.

  Betsy Housten, a MFA creative writing student at UNO, presented first. In her unique, original creative performance, she wrote a crown of sonnets for many villains featured in the Sherlock Holmes universe. Each crown highlighted the thought process and reasoning behind a character’s motives.

  “My name was Hope, but I’d none left,” Housten recited, her poem enticing the audience immediately. “I heard the brute that kidnapped my sweet Lucy, fled to London from our Salt Lake Valley home, poisoned them with a choice of pills: one to kill and one to live.”

  Here she follows Jefferson Hope, the featured killer of the “Study in Scarlet,” and immerses the audience in the original story’s time and place while underlining the desire for revenge.

  “Waiting in vain for the breath of new day was I, tumbled into Reichenbach Falls by Sherlock, my nemesis,” Housten said. “Holmes could pay for my death with his life between the walls of rushing water that swallowed us whole. My legacy, a network of thieves, assassins, spies, informants and moles, cannot be erased.”

  Showcasing the inner workings of James Moriarty, an iconic villain who appears in many stories and renditions of Sherlock Holmes, Housten doesn’t leave a villain untouched. She finished her double-crown with Maria Gibson, who was featured in “The Problem at Thor Bridge.”

  Amanda Coffey, who is pursuing her bachelor’s degree at UNO, began by stating her deep love of Shakespeare in general and “King Lear” in particular. She explained her fixation on Goneril and Regan, focusing on how these characters were raised and who they become in the future.

  “What we see in Regan and Goneril is sort of inability to love in a reasonable way,” Coffey stated, causing the audience to gain sympathy for the two villains. “They don’t love their father, they don’t love their husbands, they don’t love each other, they don’t love their sister…it corrupts your ability to love and be loved.”

  Dr. Dan Doll, a professor at UNO, took a broader approach to villains. He pointed out the wide and varied definitions of villains, from outlaws to jaywalkers, and argued that villains are a domesticated version of the modern-day hero. Today, heros are police officers and fireman, but in classic tales, they were paragons of justice and truth. Doll addressed what this “domestication” of heroes means for the evolution of villains.

  “The villain here is that everyone is helpless before the legal system,” Doll said. “This isn’t a totally new idea, is it? The same sort of description describes Charles Dickens’ ‘Bleak House,’ but there seems to be a new kind of villain that is in some ways more prevalent and it has to do with our willingness to accept certain things about the world.”

  Doll explained there is no real way to point to villains in a story and stop them.

  Afterwards, the discussion moved to the floor, and a lively question-and-answer session ensued.  The Midday Musing event was an informed, informal event that engaged all who attended.