This character has several characteristics that make them appealing to writers and readers alike. Below, you can explore what these characteristics are and how they are used.
The term ‘Byronic Hero’ originated from an intense love of Byron’s writing and the cult of personality that developed around the author during his lifetime. He was famously described as “mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” something inspired by his sexual exploits and emotional depth. But, it also attracted people to him. Such is the case with Byronic heroes as well.
Explore Byronic Hero
Definition of Byronic Hero
A Byronic hero is a fictional character. They’re someone who exhibits a specific set of characteristics that make their life similar to that of Byron’s best-known protagonists, and Byron himself.
These characteristics are:
- Highly perceptive
- Sexually liberated
- Lacking impulse control
- Forced to deal with trauma
Some Byronic heroes include:
- Lestat from Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice
- Severus Snape from the Harry Potter series
- Tyler Durden from Fight Club
- Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights
- The Phantom from The Phantom of the Opera
Origins of Byronic Hero
The Byronic hero began in Byron’s own writing. Some of Byron’s Byronic heroes are Sardanapalus from Sardanapalus, Juan from Don Juan, and Torquil from “The Island.” Juan is perhaps the best-known of these three examples. The character lives a few of Byron’s own experiences, like embarking on a grand tour of Europe. He’s depicted as sensitive, kind, and emotionally deep. He’s also described as being incredible in control of his own life in all areas, except when it comes to sex. By the end of the narrative, he’s learned to better regulate what his heart wants and what his head knows is right.
Childe Harold is another quite famous example from Byron’s own writing. He appeared in ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’ published between 1812 and 1818. It’s a long narrative poem, providing ample time for character development. At the beginning of the poem, readers learn that Childe Harold is tired of his life of privilege and decides to set out on a journey through Europe. He’s looking to feel something that he never has before. He remains melancholy throughout his journey though.
Examples of Byronic Heroes
Edmond Dantes from The Count of Monte Cristo
Edmond Dantes is the protagonist in Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. The novel follows Dantes as he’s falsely accused of treason and imprisoned without a trial on an island off of Marseilles. He was turned in by a rival, Fernand Mondego, and Dantés eventually escapes the island seeking revenge. Dantés is himself a Byronic hero, sharing many of the attributes of Byron’s own characters. He’s intelligent, loyal, passionate, and emotionally turbulent. The trauma of being imprisoned changed his life forever, eventually even overcoming the love he shared with his fiancé at the beginning of the novel. Here is a quote:
He decided it was human hatred and not divine vengeance that had plunged him into this abyss. He doomed these unknown men to every torment that his inflamed imagination could devise, while still considering that the most frightful were too mild and, above all, too brief for them: torture was followed by death, and death brought, if not repose, at least an insensibility that resembled it.
Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre
Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre feathers the Byronic hero, Mr. Rochester. He has a mysterious past and a secret at it is his heart that the protagonist, Jane, can’t initially uncover. Despite the mystery, Jane is drawn to him, believing they are kindred spirits. They’re intellectually equal, even though their social positions couldn’t be more different. Eventually, Jane discovers that Rochester is already married, to Bertha Mason. She’s mentally ill and is kept, without the benefit of modern medicine, in the house’s upstairs rooms. Rochester’s Byronic features include a past lustfulness and darkness, in part fueled by his relationship with Bertha. He regrets the person he used to be and is trying to do away with some of the more troubling Byronic characteristics he exhibits. Here is a quote:
His figure was enveloped in a riding-cloak…but I traced the general points of middle height, and considerable breadth of chest. He had a dark face, with stern features and a heavy brow…He was past youth, but had not reached middle age; perhaps he might be thirty-five. I felt no fear of him…Had he been a handsome, heroic-looking young gentleman, I should not have dared to stand thus questioning him against his will, and offering my services unasked.
In these lines, Jane describes meeting Mr. Rochester before she knew who he was. She knows right away that she felt comfortable in his presence and even if he’s not the most handsome man, that she’s drawn to him.
Why Do Writers Use Byronic Heroes?
Writers use Byronic heroes because they are deep and complex characters. They offer a great deal in terms of emotional baggage. Their brooding and mysterious natures make exploring their past trauma interesting.
Readers are often compelled by the mystery and curious about what the character is thinking or feeling. Not all Byronic heroes are the same, but the best-known are those that are equal parts attractive and mysterious, or even dangerous.
Gatsby has many of the features of a Byronic hero. These include his mysterious past, regrets, and strong emotions hidden beneath the surface. His illegal activities, which serve as the source of his fortune, only add to this image.
Victor Frankenstein from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is another example of a Byronic hero. He’s fascinated by one line of work, to a fault, and has a darker, suffering side that makes him a sympathetic figure, no matter the wrongs he commits. He also has a deep love for his family.
A romantic hero lacks the danger that a Byronic hero has. The latter is likely to be rougher around the edges than a romantic hero is.
Related Literary Terms
- Romanticism: was a movement that originated in Europe at the end of the 18th century and emphasized aesthetic experience and imagination.
- Narrative Poem: contain all the elements of a story and are normally longer than average.
- Atmosphere: a literary technique that is concerned with the feeling readers get from the elements of a narrative.
- Ballad: a kind of verse, sometimes narrative in nature, often set to music and developed from 14th and 15th-century minstrelsy.
- Cliffhanger: a narrative device that’s used to end a story abruptly before an action or segment of the plot is concluded.
- Epic Poetry: a long narrative poem that tells the story of heroic deeds, normally accomplished by more-than-human characters.
- Novel: a long, written, fictional narrative that includes some amount of realism.