Byronic characters, scenes, actions, and structures are moody, mysterious, alluring, and usually dark. Commonly, the word “Byronic” is paired with “hero,” describing a very specific type of character seen throughout a wide range of genres.
Definition of Byronic
“Byronic” refers to something that shares common features with Lord Bryon’s life and/or literary works.
If a character is Byronic, then they likely have dark features, a brooding and emotionally turbulent personality, and a willingness to go to the extreme.
Byronic characters, scenes, and events share many of the same features as seen in Gothic literature.
Who Was Lord Byron?
Lord Byron, born Lord George Gordon Byron, was one of the leading figures of the Romantic movement. He was born on the 22nd of January 1788 in Dover and is widely regarded as one of the greatest English-language poets of all time. His work is still commonly read by poetry lovers and scholars alike. His poetic works include ‘Hours of Idleness,’ ‘Lara, A Tale,’ and ‘Hebrew Melodies.’
Today, he’s regarded as a historical celebrity. He was well-known during his lifetime, loved by some and hated by others. He was outspoken, exciting, and as Lady Caroline Lamb put it, ‘mad, bad, and dangerous to know.’ His narrative poetry and satire are juxtaposed with his beautiful lyrics like ‘She Walks in Beauty.’ Byron died in Missolonghi on 19th April 1824. When speaking about Byron’s death, a youthful Alfred Lord Tennyson is described by Anne Isabella Thackeray with this passage:
Byron was dead! I thought the whole world was at an end,” he once said, speaking of those bygone days. “I thought everything was over and finished for everyone — that nothing else mattered. I remembered I walked out alone and carved ‘Byron is dead’ into the sandstone.”
Read more of Lord Byron’s biography.
Examples of Byronic Elements in Literature
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Wuthering Heights is, without a doubt, Emily Brontë’s best-known work. In it, readers are introduced to Heathcliff, a brooding young man of mysterious origins. He has dark features, a short temper, and none of the characteristics of high society. His relationship with Catherine Earnshaw, an equally ill-tempered youth, is at the heart of the novel. His character evolves subtly throughout the novel. Here is a quote from the book in which he lets his emotions show after Catherine’s death:
Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living. You said I killed you–haunt me then. The murdered do haunt their murderers. I believe–I know that ghosts have wandered the earth. Be with me always–take any form–drive me mad. Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! It is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!
Here is an example of how Byronic characters take life and its events to the extreme. His entire existence has revolved around Catherine in one way or another, and now, with her passing, he demands that she haunt him as the murdered haunt their murderers.
Explore Emily Brontë’s poetry.
‘She Walks in Beauty’ is one of Byron’s best-known and most characteristic poems. It was written after Byron met his cousin, Mrs. John Wilmont. She wore a spangled black mourning dress, and Byron was so struck by her beauty that he was inspired to write ‘She Walks in Beauty.’
The speaker’s awe at the woman’s beauty is at the center of the poem. It comes across like the awe one would experience when looking at a pristine natural scene or a work of art. Here are the first few lines:
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
In these lines, the romantic elements of Byronic writing come through clearly. His speaker admires this woman’s beauty in a way that places it above all other sights one might encounter.
Read more of Lord Byron’s poetry.
Byron’s heroes have influenced a wide variety of authors. Including the following characters:
- Heathcliff from Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights
- Edmond Dantes from Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo
- Mr. Rochester from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre
- Steerforth from Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield
- Eugene Onegin from Alexander Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin
Byronic heroes are brooding, deep, dark, mysterious, arrogant, sexually alluring, self-destructive, and usually have some past trauma that drives them.
Someone with a Byronic attitude is proud of their identity, sometimes cynical, proud but filled with deep emotion. This character might hide the latter behind what appears to be a cold exterior.
Byronic love is not concerned with the traditional features of relationships. Characters don’t care about age, race, or differences in social status (such as in Wuthering Heights). The choice to love which one wants is often featured.
The Byronic hero is named after George Gordon, better known as Lord Byron. His writing and the complex array of characters he created, inspired the term. The characteristics of a Byronic hero were also influenced by Byron’s personality and how he lived his life.
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
- Tragic Hero: is usually the protagonist in a piece of literature. Specifically, a tragedy. This kind of character has a tragic flaw.
- Climax: is the point at which the main character is forced to contend with the central conflict of the story.
- Tragic Flaw: a literary device that is used by writers to complicate their characters. Flaws include pride, envy, and cowardice.
- Cliffhanger: a narrative device that’s used to end a story abruptly before an action or segment of the plot is concluded.
- Concession: a literary device that occurs in argumentative writing in which one acknowledges another’s point.
- Dilemma: a problem or conflict that has more than one possible solution. There are always important consequences one has to contend with.
- Epic Poetry: a long narrative poem that tells the story of heroic deeds, normally accomplished by more-than-human characters.
- Listen: The Byronic Hero
- Watch: The Real Reason Lord Byron Became So Famous
- Listen: Features of Gothic Literature