The need for justice in society is obvious, but books about revenge dwell in the land where mere justice is not sufficient. Many books about revenge illustrate circumstances where the harm was so grievous and so personal that only a personal vengeance can satisfy the victim. In the face of impossible obstacles, the burning need for satisfaction can drive characters to extraordinary lengths. Books about revenge have drawn on this primal motivation to deliver compelling stories.
However, books about revenge also explore the negative consequences of the quest for vengeance. Revenge can be singularly powerful, driving characters to engage in self-destructive behaviors in pursuit of their goals. Revenge twists personalities and sanctions actions that might otherwise be morally reprehensible. Books about revenge caution readers against the excess of personal vengeance; the need for revenge may be strong, but the cost is too high.
#1 – Gone Girl
Gone Girl, like other books about revenge, illustrates the lengths that people will go for revenge. Amy Dunne has disappeared under mysterious circumstances, making Nick, her husband, the prime suspect in her disappearance and possible murder. In the first half of the book, readers are treated to both spouses’ versions of their struggling marriage, but it becomes clear that neither narrative can be trusted.
#2 – Wuthering Heights
This classic tale of revenge focuses on the passionate love between the two main characters, Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw. When Catherine is unwilling to marry Heathcliff due to his lowly class status, he flees and returns years later to get his revenge. After a series of tragic deaths, including Catherine’s, Heathcliff inherits Wuthering Heights and unleashes his wrath on its occupants.
#3 – The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
The third in a series of books about revenge, this book continues the story of Lisbeth Salander as she struggles to survive from the severe wounds sustained in the previous book. Upon her eventual recovery, she will have to face trials for three murders and attempt to get revenge on the people responsible for her current predicament.
#4 – The Scarlet Letter
After an affair leads to the birth of a child, Puritan Hester Prynne must stand judgment from her peers. The villagers demand that she wear a scarlet letter on her chest to mark her crime of adultery, but her lover remains unnamed and unpunished. However, when Hester’s husband returns, he begins a quest for vengeance to discover the identity of the unknown man.
#5 – The Count of Monte Cristo
This classic novel, completed in 1844, has inspired many other books about revenge. Edmond Dantes is falsely accused of a crime and sent to a brutal and isolated prison. With the help of another inmate, Edmond plans his escape and inherits a fortune. After his escape, he returns to society as a rich man and prepares to get his revenge on the long list of people who have wronged him.
#6 – Great Expectations
Pip, the narrator of this book, retells the story of his life, beginning as a simple orphan boy with a great love for a village girl named Estella. When Pip begins to receive financial assistance from a mysterious benefactor, his life quickly changes. However, Miss Havisham, Estella’s caretaker, manipulates the young girl to turn her against men; Miss Havisham, bitter about being abandoned on her wedding day, desires to inflict the same heartbreak on young men through Estella.
#7 – A Tale of Two Cities
Set during the French Revolution, this classic work begins with Dr. Alexandre Manette, a man falsely imprisoned for years, seeking out his adult daughter, Lucie. Together, the pair begins a new life, but the beautiful Lucie quickly draws the attentions of two men, Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay. The rich backdrop of this novel includes many subplots and themes, including the revenge sought by the French revolutionaries.
#8 – Hamlet
As with many classic books about revenge, this story ends in tragedy after a quest for vengeance inadvertently causes many deaths. Hamlet, the young prince of Denmark, meets a ghost he believes to be his murdered father and is compelled to seek revenge. As Hamlet proceeds with his plan, he appears to be descending into madness and causes the deaths of friends and foes.
#9 – True Grit: A Novel
Many books about revenge, including True Grit, are set in the Old West and other environments where the law can’t be trusted to deliver justice. Mattie Ross seeks revenge after a drifter murders her father. To help her catch the killer, Mattie employs Rooster Cogburn, a seasoned gunfighter with one eye, and LaBoeuf, a Texas Ranger who also wants to catch the murderer. Although the two men repeatedly attempt to abandon Mattie, the three eventually form a bond over their shared goal.
#10 – Again the Magic
Blending romance and revenge, Again the Magic begins with the happy but forbidden romance between Aline Marsden and John McKenna. When Aline is forced to give up John, he disappears for many years. When he returns with more power and more riches, he is determined to exact revenge on Aline. As with many books about revenge, calculated plots go awry with unintended consequences.