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The Byronic Hero
Romantic Conflicts
I used to think all poets were Byronic-
Mad, bad and dangerous to know.
And then I met a few. Yes it's ironic-
I used to think all poets were Byronic.
They're mostly wicked as a ginless tonic
And wild as pension plans. Not long ago
I used to think all poets were Byronic-
Mad, bad and dangerous to know.
(Wendy Cope, ‘Triolet’)
Description of Byron in 1814
by Harriet Wilson
 He was habited in a dark brown flowing robe, which was confined round the
waist by a leathern belt, and fell in ample folds to the ground .... He was
unmasked, and his bright penetrating eye seemed earnestly fixed, I could not
discover on what. “Surely he sees beyond this gay scene into some other
world, which is hidden from the rest of mankind,” thought I, being
impressed, for the first time in my life, with an idea that I was in the presence
of a supernatural being. His attitude was graceful in the extreme. His whole
countenance so bright, severe, and beautiful, that I should have been afraid to
have loved him .... His age might be eight and twenty, or less; his complexion
clear olive; his forehead high; his mouth, as I afterwards discovered, was
beautifully formed, for at this moment the brightness of the eyes and their
deep expression fixed the whole of my attention.
George Gordon Byron
1788-1824Born into an aristocratic family.
Inherited a baronetcy age 10
Sat in the House of Lords
Achieved early fame as a poet
Married for one year (1814)
Left England permanently in
1816
Died fighting for Greek
independence
From Gothic
(Ken Russell, 1986)
The literary hero
 From Aristotle’s Poetics: the hero must be
‘larger than life’, but with a tragic flaw
 Shakespearean heroes: Hamlet, Othello,
Macbeth
 Pre Romantic movements:
 Sturm Und Drang 1760s-80s. Goethe: The
Sorrows of Young Werther (1774)
 Goethe’s Faust: Part one published 1808.
Faust makes a pact with the Devil
Byronic Hero
Byron’s fictional heroic prototypes
Manfred, the ominous hero-
villain of Horace Walpole’s
The Castle of Otranto (1764)
The brooding, guilt-haunted
monk Schedoni of Ann
Radcliffe’s The Italian (1797)
Napoleon Bonaparte, (1769-1821)
 1795 Napoleon took charge of
the armies of France
 1815 Defeat at Waterloo
 Byron fascinated by Napoleon’s
heroic aspirations and his pride
and downfall
The Satanic hero
Blake: declared Milton ‘a true
poet & of the Devils party
without knowing it’ (c.1793)
Hazlitt: ‘the most heroic
subject that ever was chosen
for a poem’ (1818)
Percy Shelley declared Satan
to be the moral superior to
Milton’s tyrannical God
(1819)
Other representations of
masculinity
 the hard-living, rakish aristocrat (Samuel Richardson’s Lovelace
in Clarissa (1747–8));
 the effeminate fop (Captain Whiffle in Tobias Smollett’s
Roderick Random (1748));
 the hyper-emotional man of feeling (Henry Mackenzie’s Harley
in The Man of Feeling (1771) or Jane Austen’s Willoughby in Sense
and Sensibility (1811)).
‘Christian Manliness’
 ‘It was evident that piety was the predominating principle
of his mind, and that he was consulting its interests as
carefully when prudence made him forbear to press it, as
when propriety allowed him to introduce it.’
 Description of Mr Stanley in Hannah More’s novel Coelebs
in Search of a Wife (1809)
 moral earnestness, sincerity, patriotic love of England,
dedication to hard work and the family.
The Prince Regent – the opposite of
Christian Manliness
From Lara (1814)
In him inexplicably mix’d appear’d
Much to be loved and hated, sought and fear’d;
Opinion varying o’er his hidden lot,
In praise or railing ne’er his name forgot:
His silence form’d a theme for others’ prate
They guess’d– they gazed – they fain would know his fate.
What had he been? what was he, thus unknown,
Who walk’d their world, his lineage only known?
A hater of his kind? Yet some would say,
With them he could seem gay amidst the gay;
But own’d that smile, if oft observed and near,
Waned in its mirth, and wither’d to a sneer;
That smile might reach his lip, but pass’d not by,
None e’er could trace its laughter to his eye
(Lara, i.289–302)
 ‘Byron’s narrative stimulates curiosity and fascination about this
intense feeling rather than offering a moral judgment on it. The effect
is a perpetual deferral of closure about the hero, even after his death.
We are never sure just what to make of him. Such deferral
encouraged the repeated appearance of this hero in narrative after
narrative.’
 (Andrew Elfelbein, ‘Byron, Gender and Sexuality’ CC Byron)
 ‘a man proud, moody, cynical, with defiance on his brow, and misery
in his heart, a scorner of his kind, implacable in revenge, yet capable
of deep and strong affection.’
 Thomas MaCauley, The Edinburgh Review 1831
From Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812-
18)
Whilome in Albion's isle there dwelt a youth
Who ne in virtue's ways did take delight;
But spent his days in riot most uncouth,
And vexed with mirth the drowsy ear of Night.
Ah me! in sooth he was a shameless wight,
Sore given to revel and ungodly glee;
Few earthly things found favour in his sight
Save concubines and carnal companie,
And flaming wassailers of high and low degree.
Childe Harold bask'd him in the noontide sun,
Disporting there like any other fly;
Nor deem'd before his little day was done
One blast might chill him into misery.
But long ere scarce a third of his pass'd by,
Worse than adversity the Childe befell;
He felt the fulness of satiety;
Then loathed he in his native land to dwell,
Which seem'd to him more lone than Eremite's sad cell.
For he through Sin's long labyrinth had run,
Nor made atonement when he did amiss,
Had sigh'd to many, though he loved but one,
And that loved one, alas! could ne'er be his.
Ah, happy she! to 'scape from him whose kiss
Had been pollution unto aught so chaste;
Who soon had left her charms for vulgar bliss
And spoiled her goodly lands to gild his waste,
Nor calm domestic peace had ever deign'd to taste.
And now Childe Harold was sore sick at heart,
And from his fellow bacchanals would flee;
'Tis said, at times the sullen tear would start,
But Pride congeal'd the drop within his e'e:
Apart he stalk'd in joyless reverie,
And from his native land resolved to go,
And visit scorching climes beyond the sea;
With pleasure drugg'd he almost long'd for woe,
And e'en for change of scene would seek the shades below.
from Canto III
To fly from, need not be to hate, mankind:
All are not fit with them to stir and toil,
Nor is it discontent to keep the mind
Deep in its fountain, lest it overboil
In the hot throng, where we become the spoil
Of our infection, till too late and long
We may deplore and struggle with the coil,
In wretched interchange of wrong for wrong
Midst a contentious world, striving where none are strong.
There, in a moment, we may plunge our years
In fatal penitence, and in the blight
Of our own soul turn all our blood to tears,
And colour things to come with hues of Night;
The race of life becomes a hopeless flight
To those that walk in darkness: on the sea,
The boldest steer but where their ports invite,
But there are wanderers o'er Eternity
Whose bark drives on and on, and anchor'd ne'er shall be.
 ‘I by no means intend to identify myself with Harold but to deny all
connection with him…I would not be such a fellow as I have made
my hero for all the world.’ (Letters and Journals, vol 2, 122).
 From the preface to Canto IV: ‘it was in vain that I asserted, and
imagined, that I had drawn a distinction between the author and the
pilgrim; and the very anxiety to preserve this difference, and
disappointment at finding it unavailing, so far crushed my efforts in
the composition, that I determined to abandon it altogether -- and
have done so.’
from Manfred (1816-17)
Philosophy and science, and the springs
Of wonder, and the wisdom of the world,
I have essayed, and in my mind there is
A power to make these subject to itself–
But they avail not: I have done men good,
And I have met with good even among men–
But this avail'd not: I have had my foes,
And none have baffled, many fallen before me--
But this avail'd not: -- Good, or evil, life,
Powers, passions, all I see in other beings,
Have been to me as rain unto the sands,
Since that all-nameless hour. I have no dread,
And feel the curse to have no natural fear,
Nor fluttering throb, that beats with hopes or wishes,
Or lurking love of something on the earth. -
Now to my task. –
‘my blood! The pure warm stream
Which ran in the veins of my fathers, and in ours
When we were in our youth and had one heart
And loved each other as we should not love
And this was shed.’ (2.1.24-8).
‘I loved her, and destroyed her!...
Not with my hand, but heart – which broke her heart/ It gazed on mine, and
withered’ (2.2.117-19).
‘incest . . . is not a thing to be at all brought before the imagination’. (Francis Jeffrey,
Edinburgh Review 1817),
 Augusta Leigh 1783-1851  Anne Isabella Millbank 1792-
1860
from Act 111 scene iv
Thou hast no power upon me, that I feel;
Thou never shalt possess me, that I know:
What I have done is done; I bear within
A torture which could nothing gain from thine:
The mind which is immortal makes itself
Requital for its good or evil thoughts -- 130
Is its own origin of ill and end –
And its own place and time -- its innate sense,
When stripp'd of this mortality, derives
No colour from the fleeting things without,
But is absorb'd in sufferance or in joy,
Born from the knowledge of its own desert.
Thou didst not tempt me, and thou couldst not tempt me;
I have not been thy dupe, nor am thy prey –
But was my own destroyer, and will be
My own hereafter. -- Back, ye baffled fiends! 140
The hand of death is on me -- but not yours!
Byronic Heroes?
Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab (Moby Dick)
Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray
Wilkie Collins – Count Fosco (The Woman in White)
Charlotte Bronte – Mr. Rochester (Jane Eyre)
Emily Bronte – Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights)
R.L. Stevenson – Dr. Jeckyl (Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde)
Hollywood Film Noir/
Westerns: Dirty Harry/ Anti Hero
Modern Byronic Heroes?
Dream (Neil Gaiman,
Sandman series)
"He's gotta be the tragic figure
standing out in the rain,
mournin' the loss of his
beloved.”
 Bram Stoker: Count Dracula
 LeStat (Anne Rice)
 Angel (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

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Byronic Hero

  • 2. I used to think all poets were Byronic- Mad, bad and dangerous to know. And then I met a few. Yes it's ironic- I used to think all poets were Byronic. They're mostly wicked as a ginless tonic And wild as pension plans. Not long ago I used to think all poets were Byronic- Mad, bad and dangerous to know. (Wendy Cope, ‘Triolet’)
  • 3. Description of Byron in 1814 by Harriet Wilson  He was habited in a dark brown flowing robe, which was confined round the waist by a leathern belt, and fell in ample folds to the ground .... He was unmasked, and his bright penetrating eye seemed earnestly fixed, I could not discover on what. “Surely he sees beyond this gay scene into some other world, which is hidden from the rest of mankind,” thought I, being impressed, for the first time in my life, with an idea that I was in the presence of a supernatural being. His attitude was graceful in the extreme. His whole countenance so bright, severe, and beautiful, that I should have been afraid to have loved him .... His age might be eight and twenty, or less; his complexion clear olive; his forehead high; his mouth, as I afterwards discovered, was beautifully formed, for at this moment the brightness of the eyes and their deep expression fixed the whole of my attention.
  • 4. George Gordon Byron 1788-1824Born into an aristocratic family. Inherited a baronetcy age 10 Sat in the House of Lords Achieved early fame as a poet Married for one year (1814) Left England permanently in 1816 Died fighting for Greek independence
  • 6. The literary hero  From Aristotle’s Poetics: the hero must be ‘larger than life’, but with a tragic flaw  Shakespearean heroes: Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth  Pre Romantic movements:  Sturm Und Drang 1760s-80s. Goethe: The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774)  Goethe’s Faust: Part one published 1808. Faust makes a pact with the Devil
  • 8. Byron’s fictional heroic prototypes Manfred, the ominous hero- villain of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764) The brooding, guilt-haunted monk Schedoni of Ann Radcliffe’s The Italian (1797)
  • 9. Napoleon Bonaparte, (1769-1821)  1795 Napoleon took charge of the armies of France  1815 Defeat at Waterloo  Byron fascinated by Napoleon’s heroic aspirations and his pride and downfall
  • 10. The Satanic hero Blake: declared Milton ‘a true poet & of the Devils party without knowing it’ (c.1793) Hazlitt: ‘the most heroic subject that ever was chosen for a poem’ (1818) Percy Shelley declared Satan to be the moral superior to Milton’s tyrannical God (1819)
  • 11. Other representations of masculinity  the hard-living, rakish aristocrat (Samuel Richardson’s Lovelace in Clarissa (1747–8));  the effeminate fop (Captain Whiffle in Tobias Smollett’s Roderick Random (1748));  the hyper-emotional man of feeling (Henry Mackenzie’s Harley in The Man of Feeling (1771) or Jane Austen’s Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility (1811)).
  • 12. ‘Christian Manliness’  ‘It was evident that piety was the predominating principle of his mind, and that he was consulting its interests as carefully when prudence made him forbear to press it, as when propriety allowed him to introduce it.’  Description of Mr Stanley in Hannah More’s novel Coelebs in Search of a Wife (1809)  moral earnestness, sincerity, patriotic love of England, dedication to hard work and the family.
  • 13. The Prince Regent – the opposite of Christian Manliness
  • 14. From Lara (1814) In him inexplicably mix’d appear’d Much to be loved and hated, sought and fear’d; Opinion varying o’er his hidden lot, In praise or railing ne’er his name forgot: His silence form’d a theme for others’ prate They guess’d– they gazed – they fain would know his fate. What had he been? what was he, thus unknown, Who walk’d their world, his lineage only known? A hater of his kind? Yet some would say, With them he could seem gay amidst the gay; But own’d that smile, if oft observed and near, Waned in its mirth, and wither’d to a sneer; That smile might reach his lip, but pass’d not by, None e’er could trace its laughter to his eye (Lara, i.289–302)
  • 15.  ‘Byron’s narrative stimulates curiosity and fascination about this intense feeling rather than offering a moral judgment on it. The effect is a perpetual deferral of closure about the hero, even after his death. We are never sure just what to make of him. Such deferral encouraged the repeated appearance of this hero in narrative after narrative.’  (Andrew Elfelbein, ‘Byron, Gender and Sexuality’ CC Byron)
  • 16.  ‘a man proud, moody, cynical, with defiance on his brow, and misery in his heart, a scorner of his kind, implacable in revenge, yet capable of deep and strong affection.’  Thomas MaCauley, The Edinburgh Review 1831
  • 17. From Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812- 18) Whilome in Albion's isle there dwelt a youth Who ne in virtue's ways did take delight; But spent his days in riot most uncouth, And vexed with mirth the drowsy ear of Night. Ah me! in sooth he was a shameless wight, Sore given to revel and ungodly glee; Few earthly things found favour in his sight Save concubines and carnal companie, And flaming wassailers of high and low degree.
  • 18. Childe Harold bask'd him in the noontide sun, Disporting there like any other fly; Nor deem'd before his little day was done One blast might chill him into misery. But long ere scarce a third of his pass'd by, Worse than adversity the Childe befell; He felt the fulness of satiety; Then loathed he in his native land to dwell, Which seem'd to him more lone than Eremite's sad cell.
  • 19. For he through Sin's long labyrinth had run, Nor made atonement when he did amiss, Had sigh'd to many, though he loved but one, And that loved one, alas! could ne'er be his. Ah, happy she! to 'scape from him whose kiss Had been pollution unto aught so chaste; Who soon had left her charms for vulgar bliss And spoiled her goodly lands to gild his waste, Nor calm domestic peace had ever deign'd to taste.
  • 20. And now Childe Harold was sore sick at heart, And from his fellow bacchanals would flee; 'Tis said, at times the sullen tear would start, But Pride congeal'd the drop within his e'e: Apart he stalk'd in joyless reverie, And from his native land resolved to go, And visit scorching climes beyond the sea; With pleasure drugg'd he almost long'd for woe, And e'en for change of scene would seek the shades below.
  • 21. from Canto III To fly from, need not be to hate, mankind: All are not fit with them to stir and toil, Nor is it discontent to keep the mind Deep in its fountain, lest it overboil In the hot throng, where we become the spoil Of our infection, till too late and long We may deplore and struggle with the coil, In wretched interchange of wrong for wrong Midst a contentious world, striving where none are strong.
  • 22. There, in a moment, we may plunge our years In fatal penitence, and in the blight Of our own soul turn all our blood to tears, And colour things to come with hues of Night; The race of life becomes a hopeless flight To those that walk in darkness: on the sea, The boldest steer but where their ports invite, But there are wanderers o'er Eternity Whose bark drives on and on, and anchor'd ne'er shall be.
  • 23.  ‘I by no means intend to identify myself with Harold but to deny all connection with him…I would not be such a fellow as I have made my hero for all the world.’ (Letters and Journals, vol 2, 122).  From the preface to Canto IV: ‘it was in vain that I asserted, and imagined, that I had drawn a distinction between the author and the pilgrim; and the very anxiety to preserve this difference, and disappointment at finding it unavailing, so far crushed my efforts in the composition, that I determined to abandon it altogether -- and have done so.’
  • 24. from Manfred (1816-17) Philosophy and science, and the springs Of wonder, and the wisdom of the world, I have essayed, and in my mind there is A power to make these subject to itself– But they avail not: I have done men good, And I have met with good even among men– But this avail'd not: I have had my foes, And none have baffled, many fallen before me-- But this avail'd not: -- Good, or evil, life, Powers, passions, all I see in other beings, Have been to me as rain unto the sands, Since that all-nameless hour. I have no dread, And feel the curse to have no natural fear, Nor fluttering throb, that beats with hopes or wishes, Or lurking love of something on the earth. - Now to my task. –
  • 25. ‘my blood! The pure warm stream Which ran in the veins of my fathers, and in ours When we were in our youth and had one heart And loved each other as we should not love And this was shed.’ (2.1.24-8). ‘I loved her, and destroyed her!... Not with my hand, but heart – which broke her heart/ It gazed on mine, and withered’ (2.2.117-19). ‘incest . . . is not a thing to be at all brought before the imagination’. (Francis Jeffrey, Edinburgh Review 1817),
  • 26.  Augusta Leigh 1783-1851  Anne Isabella Millbank 1792- 1860
  • 27. from Act 111 scene iv Thou hast no power upon me, that I feel; Thou never shalt possess me, that I know: What I have done is done; I bear within A torture which could nothing gain from thine: The mind which is immortal makes itself Requital for its good or evil thoughts -- 130 Is its own origin of ill and end – And its own place and time -- its innate sense, When stripp'd of this mortality, derives No colour from the fleeting things without, But is absorb'd in sufferance or in joy, Born from the knowledge of its own desert. Thou didst not tempt me, and thou couldst not tempt me; I have not been thy dupe, nor am thy prey – But was my own destroyer, and will be My own hereafter. -- Back, ye baffled fiends! 140 The hand of death is on me -- but not yours!
  • 28. Byronic Heroes? Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab (Moby Dick) Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray Wilkie Collins – Count Fosco (The Woman in White) Charlotte Bronte – Mr. Rochester (Jane Eyre) Emily Bronte – Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights) R.L. Stevenson – Dr. Jeckyl (Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde)
  • 29. Hollywood Film Noir/ Westerns: Dirty Harry/ Anti Hero
  • 30. Modern Byronic Heroes? Dream (Neil Gaiman, Sandman series) "He's gotta be the tragic figure standing out in the rain, mournin' the loss of his beloved.”
  • 31.  Bram Stoker: Count Dracula  LeStat (Anne Rice)  Angel (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)