The aim of this paper is to investigate the transformation of the Byronic Hero from its creation in early Greek theatre through classical English literature and 19th-Century Russian literature to the modern times. The Byronic Hero is probably one of the most widespread literary types. Under the term ‘Byronic Hero’ literary critics conventionally mean a young man, well-bred and intelligent but rebellious and usually disapproved and disregarded by the larger part of the society. He is an exile and ultimately self-destructive:
‘For the Byronic overreacher, who longs to fulfil his divine aspirations, the human body is a form of imprisonment’ (Wu, 2005, p. 891). A typical Byronic Hero not always handsome, yet always inextricably attractive, often to both sexes: ‘Not exactly handsome, the Byronic hero is magnetically attractive, with a piercing gaze and an air of mystery. His face seems to signify that he is haunted by some terrible crime’ (Polidori, Le Fanu & Stoker, 2002, p. 6). Thorsley (1984, p. 189), an influential researcher of Romanticism, gives the following account of the Byronic Hero:
‘…the Byronic Hero is the one protagonist who in stature and in temperament best represents the [heroic] tradition in England. ’ The image of the Byronic Hero is surprisingly controversial. He is usually disapproved and disregarded by the larger part of the society. Thorsley (1984, p. 187) notes that, ‘with the loss of his titanic passions, his pride, and his certainty of self-identity, he loses also his status as hero. ’ It is more than self-evident that the classical Byronic Heroes is Byron’s Childe Harold. The Canto I from the Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage provides an excessive proof for all the abovementioned images of a Byronic Hero.
The following lines can be interpreted as the example of rebellious nature of the Byronic Hero: ‘Who ne in virtue’s ways did take delight/But spent his days in riot most uncouth…’ (Canto I, 2, lines 1-2) A Byronic hero is melancholic and ‘sick at heart’: ‘And now Childe Harold was sore sick at heart…’ (Canto I, 6, line 1) Finally, a Byronic hero is constantly wandering and forcing himself to voluntary exile: The Childe departed from his father’s hall…’ (Canto I, 7, line 1) So we see that the Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage outlines a conventional image of a Byronic hero.
Different variations of the Byronic Hero can be found in literature and popular culture, yet all of them are united by certain distinguishing features: ‘The Byronic hero strives to penetrate the barriers of nature and history, whether it be Manfred in the Hall of Arimanes, Cain with Lucifer in Hades, or Harold exploring the historical topography of Europe’ (Wu, 1999, p. 479). All the aforementioned examples are taken from Romantic literature. However, it is important to note that the Byronic Hero emerged much earlier than the epoch of Childe Harold.
Precursors of this typical hero of English Romanticism can be traced back to Greek theatre. The notion of hamartia is intrinsically linked to the early development of the Byronic Hero: ‘Another primary characteristic of the classical ideal of the tragic hero was the hamartia, or the tragic flaw. Generally, this flaw was hubris, or excessive pride in one’s position or abilities that led to a failure to exercise proper judgment in a situation. This lack of judgment led the hero along the wrong path and thus brought about his fall’ (Broussard, 2000, para. 4).
Classical Greek tragedies always feature a tragic hero who can be regarded as the earliest embodiment of the Byronic Hero. The Byronic Hero is present in literary Gothicism as one of the literary trends within the tradition of Romanticism. In the Romantic literature, two different types of heroes can be found, namely Satanic Hero and Byronic Hero. Byronic hero is associated predominantly with female features, and power isn’t his attribute – he is characterized by meekness and tenuity. To the contrary, the Satanic hero bears all the typical masculine features and is associated with impressive and aggressive power.
In fact, Satan is also believed to be an early version of the Byronic Hero. Despite some apparent differences, these two literary types have much in common: ‘Like Satan, the Byronic hero is an outsider and an overreacher, though the divine Law that he violates is not the First Commandment but the Seventh, a sin often involving not only adultery but incest’ (Polidori, Le Fanu & Stoker, 2002, p. 6). As for the classical period in literature, Heathcliff from ‘Wuthering Heights’ is another example of Byronic hero. He is only obsessed by his love for Cathy and hatre for everyone all the rest:
‘In the uncouth, passionate Heathcliff, Bronte creates a Byronic hero who lives outside conventional morality’ (Platt & Matthews, 2003, p. 509). Captain Ahab from ‘Moby Dick’ is sometimes also cited as a Byronic Hero, although there no broad consensus among critics: ‘Captain Ahab’s rebellious nature and attitude towards existing norms illustrates his Byronic qualities, as well as the overall dark nature of his humanity’ (Hospelhorn & Nicolson, 2003, ‘Moby Dick’). Byronic Hero found new incarnation in classic Russian literature.
Such notable writers as Alexander Bestuzhev-Marlinsky, Alexander Pushkin, and Mikhail Lermontov all contributed to the emergence of the phenomenon later referred to as ‘the Russified Byronic Hero’; it is also important to point out that this type of the Byronic Hero was significantly different from the classical interpretation (Malone, 2006). Bestuzhev-Marlinsky, an important representative of Russian Romanticism and Byronism, creates a hero in Sturm und Drang style, heavily influenced by other ramifications of European Romanticism (Bagby, 1995).
Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin is also perceived as another example of ‘the Russified Byronic Hero’; he prefers loneliness to happiness and forces himself into voluntary isolation, caught in the everlasting ennui. Another variation of this type of Byronic Hero can be found in Turgenev’s ‘A Hero of our Time’: ‘Bazarov, as an extreme example of the tragic Byronic hero, generates his own moral code within his society and proves to have a rebellious nature towards the stereotypical society boundaries in which he is held’ (Hospelhorn & Nicolson, 2003, ‘A Hero of our Time’).
At the same time, Pechorin from Lermontov’s ‘Fathers and Sons’ is believed to be the classical example of Russified Byronic Hero: ‘Perchorian displays byronic qualities as a wandering nomad, unable to establish lasting permanance with the society that created him. Lermontov was a noted scholar of Byron; incorporating his writings into much of his own literature and poetry’ (Hospelhorn & Nicolson, 2003, ‘Fathers and Sons’). Lermontov is credited for the creation of another vivid example of Byronic Hero in Russian literature, the Demon. In general, Lermontov contributed a lot to the evolution of Byronic hero in Russian poetry:
‘Lermontov’s early Byronic poems constituted one of the major phenomena of Russian romanticism, while his poems ‘The Demon’ and ‘Mtsyri’ demonstrate re-evaluation of Byronic ideas and the crisis of poetic individualism’ (Muraviev, 2005, para. 1). Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov from ‘Crime and Punishment’ is sometimes regarded to be Realistic hero; however, he bears numerous traits that are typical for Byronic Hero: ‘As in the case with the earlier Russian Byronic heroes, Rodion Raskolnikov’s isolation is not physical, but stems from his mental isolation from, and feeling of superiority over, the society in which he lives.
Since his status above his contemporaries cannot be reinforced by physically distancing himself from them, Raskolnikov cultivates a mental and spiritual isolation’ (Malone, 2006, para. 5). In the modern time, the recreation of the Byronic Hero is often attributed to Albert Camus in his novel ‘The Rebel’: ‘But it was Camus’s recreation, in modern terms, of the solitary Byronic hero, who resists fate and an alien world by defiant acts, which brought the cult so vividly to life and gave it actual meaning to youth on both sides of the Rhine’ (Johnson, 2001, p.
575). As for the contemporary incarnation of the Byronic Hero, the brightest example is found in popular culture rather than literature. Jim Morrison projects the majority of the characteristics of the Byronic Hero. The Byronic Hero is an extraordinary and talented young man. The tremendous success of Jim Morrison leaves no doubt in his enormous talent and energy. Secondly, the Byronic Hero is rebellious and opposes almost all social laws and norms. He deliberately distances himself from the social institutions.
This feature was characteristic of Jim Morrison from the early childhood: he used to question authority and for that he was dismissed from the scout club; at night, he used to leave home secretly and go to crowded and disreputable bars. His juvenile misbehaving soon evolved into a consistent social protest expressed trough music and show. ‘Philosophies of Protest’ was his favorite course in Florida State University. Morrison rejected social institution, and we find evidence for it in the fact that he had never been married. Instead, he ‘married’ Patricia Kennealy in a Celtic pagan ceremony.
The Byronic Hero is never impressed by rank and privilege though he may possess it. Jim Morrison might have become a representative of the ‘golden youth’ with good educational background, stable job, and respectable position in the society. But his choice was in favour of the flamboyant bohemian lifestyle. The conventional Byronic Hero is well-red and possibly well-bread. Jim Morrison took a keen interest in self-education; he devoted time to reading Nietzsche, Jung, Ginsberg, Joyce and Balzac. He derived inspiration in the writing of French symbolists, especially Rimbaud.
It’s very interesting to observe that Arthur Rimbaud himself was an exemplary Byronic Hero, with his dark passions and impressive talents. Another indicator of the Byronic Hero is the exile, usually imposed by the young men himself. Paris exile is an essential part of Jim Morrison’s biography. The Byronic Hero is continually depressed and melancholy. It is reported that in Paris Jim searched for a sense of life and a sense himself in the world as well as for inspiration to create impressive poetry. But even in the city of great poets Jim was constantly uninspired and severely depressed.
Making an overall conclusion, it is necessary to remind that the figure of the Byronic Hero is first found in classical Greek theatre in the form of the tragic hero. During the Middle Ages, the literary figure of Satan was developed as a prototype of the Byronic Hero. The classical example of this literary type is Byron’s Childe Harold. Numerous examples in classical literature prove that this type was appealing to the reader, especially in the era of Romanticism. Russified Byronic Hero is one of the most notable variations of this literary type. French symbolists and Albert Camus reinvented the Byronic Hero at the dawn of the 20th century.
The Byronic Hero remains attractive to the audience now and is widely used in popular culture. References Bagby, Lewis. Alexander Bestuzhev-Marlinsky and Russian Byronism. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995. Lord Byron. Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. Teddington, UK: Echo Library, 2006. Johnson, Paul M. Modern Times Revised Edition: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, Revised ed. , 2001. Thorslev, Peter L. Romantic Contraries: Freedom Versus Destiny. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984. Platt, Dewitt, and Roy Matthews.
Western Humanities, Complete. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003. Polidori, John William, Le Fanu, Joseph Sheridan, and Bram Stoker. Three Vampire Tales: Dracula, Carmilla, and The Vampyre. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002. Wu, Duncan. Companion to Romanticism. Malden: Blackwell Publishing Limited, 1999. Wu, Duncan. Romanticism: An Anthology. Malden: Blackwell Publishing Limited, Third ed, 2005. Broussard, Jonathan. ‘Diabolos Herodes: Victor Hugo’s Presentation of Satan as a Heroic Figure, Or The Devil With a Cause. ’ April 6, 2000. August 19, 2007. <http://students. mcneese. edu/jb6366/devil. html>
Hospelhorn, Sarah, and Andrew Nicolson. ‘Byronic Heroes in Russian Literature. ’ April 2003. August 19, 2007. <http://www. angelfire. com/ex/russian224/literarybyronic. htm> Malone, Caitlin. ‘Cloak and Axe: Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov as a Byronic Hero. ’ The Birch, a Journal of Eastern European and Eurasian Culture. Fall 2006. August 19, 2007. <http://www. thebirchonline. org/cloakandaxe. htm> Muraviev, O. S. ‘Mikhail Yurievich Lermontov (1814 – 1841). ’ Institute of Russian Literature of the Russian Academy of Sciences. 2005. August 19, 2007. <www. pushkinskijdom. ru/Default. aspx? tabid=1249>
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