Little Father Time
The eponymous hero of Hardy’s Jude the Obscure tries to lead a liberated life with his intellectual cousin, Sue Bridehead. They have a couple of children but unfortunately also have in tow little Jude, aka “Little Father Time”, the offspring of Jude’s marriage to heartless Arabella. This grim child eventually does the grimmest thing in all of English fiction, “because we are too menny”.
Richmal Crompton’s William may be thought “horrible” by some of the joyless adults he encounters, but he is, of course, our hero. The real rotter is Hubert Lane, spoiled creep and leader of the rival gang. Oleaginous with grown-ups, snide and condescending with his peers, he is roundly defeated in every encounter with scruffy William.
The Fifth Child
In Doris Lessing’s novel, David and Harriet Lovatt are decent, kind, affectionate, and already parents to four super kids. Then they have an unplanned number five, Ben, who turns out to be a kind of alien. Cruel and love-repelling, he is some kind of genetic throwback who has arrived to destroy his family.
In Martin Amis’s London Fields, Marmaduke is the privileged offspring of banker Guy Clinch and his wife Hope. A monster toddler, skilled in administering pain, he terrorises parents and nannies, and “gave no pleasure to anyone except when he was asleep”.
Kevin is probably the most resourcefully (and sometimes wittily) malign child in modern fiction. Lionel Shriver’s novel is written in the form of letters from Eva, Kevin’s mother, to her husband, recalling Kevin’s upbringing and her slow recognition of his methodical destructiveness. By the end, he has done really terrible things, yet surprisingly won our pity.
Pip’s occasional tormentor in Great Expectations is a boy “who excited loathing in every respectable mind”. Yet Trabb’s boy’s nasty sneers at Pip’s expense are invariably accurate, and, despite their antipathy, he helps to save him from the evil Orlick.
The Parsons children
In Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four, Parsons is Winston Smith’s neighbour, a man utterly loyal to the Party. His paternal affections are rewarded when his children betray him to the authorities for thought-crimes revealed when he talks in his sleep. (They are resentful because he wouldn’t take them to a public execution.) He is proud of their infant allegiance to the state.
There are plenty of horrid boys, it turns out, on William Golding’s paradise island in Lord of the Flies, but Jack is the one who brings out their nastiness. In a previous life he has sung like an angel in some English cathedral. Now he uses the practised tactics of the playground bully to turn the violence of the mob on first one victim, then another.
The leading contender from Heinrich Hoffman’s deeply horrible collection of tales known as Struwwelpeter. “Die Geschichte vom bösen Friederich” tells of a very nasty boy who does horrid things to both humans and animals. “He killed the birds, and broke the chairs, / And threw the kitten down the stairs”.
“The Children” is what John Wyndham’s Midwich Cuckoos are called by those who know them. A few months after a mysterious silver object has appeared in a nice English village, all the women of child-bearing age find they are pregnant. Their progeny, all 31 of them, have gold eyes, strangely silvery skin and telepathic powers, which they use to do bad things to those who seem to threaten them. Who will stop them?