I just saw this post: Was Heathcliff intentionally made a Byronic Hero?

Not being familiar with literary terminology, I have no idea what a Byronic Hero is. I had read Wuthering Heights long ago (it was, IIRC, the second English book I ever read), and from what I remember, Heathcliff, while certainly one of the main characters, wasn't very "heroic". Words to describe him would best be lifted from this ELU question (Polite synonyms for “a——hole-ish” behavior).

What makes a "Hero" Byronic?

up vote 15 down vote accepted

Byronic heroes were based off of Lord Byron's epic poem Child Harold's Pilgrimage. According to Lord Macaulay in Rupert Christiansen's Romantic Affinities: Portraits From an Age, 1780- 1830, this is a description:

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.

Lord Byron later wrote other works with heroes of a similar mold and his influence was seen during the Romantic movement and lasts through to modern works as well (ie the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera)

  • Great answer! Thanks for teaching me something new. – ktm5124 Jan 21 '17 at 20:53

It's complicated, but a Byronic hero tends to be rebellious, a loner, darkly romantic, and often an antihero.

Shmoop's literature glossary has a short description:

Cooked up by the "mad, bad, and dangerous to know" Lord Byron, a Byronic hero is an antihero of the highest order. He (or she) is typically rebellious, arrogant, anti-social or in exile, and darkly, enticingly romantic. Did we mention Byronic heroes tend to also be kind of hot? Yeah, that too.

TV Tropes has a much longer description, with a long list of defining characteristics:

The Byronic Hero is a type of character popularized by the works of Lord Byron, whose protagonists often embodied this archetype, though they existed before him, it became prominent during Romanticism. Sometimes an Anti-Hero, others an Anti-Villain, or even Just a Villain, Byronic heroes are charismatic characters with strong passions and ideals, but who are nonetheless deeply flawed individuals who may act in ways which are socially reprehensible because he's definitely contrary to his mainstream society. A byronic hero is on his own side and has his own set of beliefs which he will not bow nor change for anyone. A Byronic hero is a character whose internal conflicts are heavily romanticized and who himself ponders and wrestles with his struggles and beliefs. Some are portrayed with a suggestion of dark crimes or tragedies in their past.

The following traits are very characteristic of Byronic heroes and may be helpful in identifying them:

  • Is usually male (though female examples are not unheard of) and is always considered very attractive physically and in terms of personality, possessing a great deal of magnetism and charisma, using these abilities to achieve social and romantic dominance. One mark against him personality wise, however, is a struggle with his own personal integrity.
  • Is very intelligent, perceptive, sophisticated, educated, cunning and adaptable, but also self-centered.
  • Is emotionally sensitive, which may translate into being emotionally conflicted, bipolar, or moody.
  • Is intensely self-critical and introspective and may be described as dark and brooding. He dwells on the pains or perceived injustices of his life, often to the point of over-indulgence. May muse philosophically on the circumstances that brought him to this point, including personal failings.
  • Is cynical, world-weary, and jaded, often due to a mysterious Dark and Troubled Past, which, if uncovered, may reveal a significant loss, or a crime or mistake committed which still haunts him, or, conversely, that he may be suffering from some unnamed crime against him.
  • He is extremely passionate, with strong personal beliefs which are usually in conflict with the values of the status quo. He sees his own values and passions as above or better than those of others, manifesting as arrogance or a martyr-like attitude. Sometimes, however, he just sees himself as one who must take the long, hard road to do what must be done.
  • His intense drive and determination to live out his philosophy without regard to others' philosophies produces conflict, and may result in a tragic end, should he fail, or revolution, should he succeed. Because of this, he is very rebellious, having a distaste for social institutions and norms and is disrespectful of rank and privilege, though he often has said rank and privilege himself. This rebellion often leads to social isolation, rejection, or exile, or to being treated as an outlaw, but he will not compromise, being unavoidably self-destructive.

An excellent defining example, although not from literature per se, would be Captain Malcolm Reynolds from the cult TV series Firefly.

  • Maybe because of Nathan Fillion's looks, but Mal was far more likeable than Heathcliff (and a more decent person too, IMO). Would you say Gone With The Wind's Rhett Butler is also Byronic? – muru Jan 20 '17 at 2:25
  • @muru Haven't seen Gone With The Wind, sorry. (And I simply refuse to read Wuthering Heights, because I've read enough about it to know that the story is horribly miserable.) – Rand al'Thor Jan 20 '17 at 2:28
  • @Randal'Thor Wise choice. You aren't missing anything. – Lauren Ipsum Jan 20 '17 at 11:08

Reference has a pretty good explanation: (emphasis mine to highlight key traits)

The Byronic hero is characterized as being arrogant, violent, reckless, seductive, traumatized and self-serving. Developed by 19th-century poet Lord Byron, this type of character rejects social norms and exists as a form of antihero, or a protagonist lacking conventional heroic qualities.

Romantic writer Lord Byron was frustrated with the types of heroes found in traditional and Romantic stories. Through creating the Byronic hero, he aimed to make heroes more accessible and psychologically complex. The Byronic hero is similar to the Romantic hero in that he is imperfect and often isolated from society, but Byron's version is much more extreme.

Byronic heroes are known for their intelligence, cynicism and self-awareness. They are usually emotionally or intellectually tortured. Two of the most famous examples are Heathcliff in Emily Bronte's "Wuthering Heights" and Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice." Ian Fleming's James Bond and F. Scott Fitzgerald's Jay Gatsby can also be considered Byronic heroes. This type of character remains popular in contemporary literature and entertainment. Since the development of the Byronic hero, the classic, idealized hero has become less common.

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