Oh, Lord Byron. What beautiful poetry and prose you provided us at the height of the Romantic movement. Poems like Don Juan, “She Walks In Beauty,” and “Prometheus.” But what else have we inherited all of these years later from your words and personality? The Byronic Hero—that’s what. What is the Byronic Hero exactly? Oh, he’s a character who embodies the tell-tale signs of an anti-hero. He’s exceedingly brooding, tends to dwell in isolation, exemplifies traits of arrogance, and yes, he of course is an intensely enigmatic figure of romance for our literary heroines in the works in which he appears.
When I was a wisp of a thing in my high school days, I was immediately drawn to the classics. Like most teenagers, I was angst-ridden, and felt alone in the world. So of course I fell deeply for these silent and brooding characters. In a manner that would send my fifteen-year-old heart floating up to the heavens, here’s a list of some of my favorite Byronic Heroes.
1. Edward Fairfax Rochester from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Perhaps one of my favorite characters in general, Rochester is a deeply mysterious figure to our title character, Jane Eyre. Jane takes up a position as governess on Rochester’s vast estate, Thornfield Hall, and what begins as a friendship soon becomes a relationship of passion and love. Jane is strong and independent, and she fights against the love she feels for her employer, but Rochester continues to torment and tease her. Of course, owing to his Byronic nature, Rochester has some…skeletons locked away in an attic tower that Jane is absolutely forbidden from entering. This past and the mistakes he made in his youth cause Rochester great pain and suffering, and despite the mutual love, respect, and devotion the two characters feel for one another, Jane cannot reconcile his transgressions, and she leaves him. Sadness.
2. Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Arguably much less appealing than her sister’s character of Rochester is Emily Bronte’s version of the Byronic Hero, Heathcliff. Heathcliff is the adopted son of a man named Earnshaw, who found him alone on the streets during one of his journeys away from his estate, Wuthering Heights. When he returns home with the boy, he introduces him to his biological children: Catherine and Hindley. Hindley resents Heathcliff, but of course Catherine and her adopted brother develop a strong bond with one another. The story progresses, everyone grows older, and Catherine and Heathcliff develop an intense passion for one another. Of course, things do not work out for the two lovers, and Catherine chooses a man of much more respectable means to be her husband despite the love she feels for Heathcliff. This destroys Heathcliff’s mind, heart, and soul and he seeks vengeance upon all who wronged him, but never does his obsessive love for Catherine fade. Catherine also continues to love Heathcliff because she believes they are bound together by forces unknown, but owing to duty she continuously spurns him.
3. Claude Frollo from Notre Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo
Unlike Disney’s version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hugo’s original 1831 novel depicts his characters in a much darker light. A major change from this novel to film is the character of Claude Frollo. Understandably, Disney rewrites his character from priest to judge due to the lustful urges he feels for the the beautiful dancing gypsy girl, Esmeralda. This unfortunate change, however, turns him into a villain and not the antihero that he truly is. In the novel, the man is torn apart between his unfailing devotion to the Church and to God, and a fiery lust he never recognized in himself before. Truly, he is not a sinister man, but his inability to reconcile his very human desires destroys him and almost every other character linked to him.
4. Severus Snape from Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
Undoubtedly a Byronic Hero due to the unfailing love and devotion he continues to feel towards Lilly Evans-Potter “after all these years,” and the dangerous position he places himself in because of that love is Snape. His life is an unending tragedy from start to finish: an abusive and unhappy upbringing, relentless teasing from bullies, and a failed romance/friendship with Lily due to misguided direction from his peers which ultimately results in her death. He atones for his sins and his actions by vowing to protect her son’s life against Voldemort despite his complete hatred for the boy, and he places his own life in mortal danger to do just that. His life is nothing but pain and heartbreak, and for that he is one of my favorite modern-day Byronic Heroes.
5. The Monster from Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Technically, Victor Frankenstein and the Monster are both Byronic Heroes, but I was always drawn to the Monster. The Monster is created by Victor Frankenstein, a man of science who salvages the parts of corpses to construct this creature. Immediately upon awakening the nameless monster, Frankenstein abandons him for he is disgusted by the nature of having played God, and for his monstrous form. The Monster is actually quite intelligent and capable of a vast spectrum of emotions, and he truly does attempt to fit into society. The Monster, on his own, befriends a blind man who is incapable of judging his harsh appearance until his seeing-children enter the situation. They see the tragic creature, and cast him away, screaming and hurting him. The Monster no longer tries to conform to societal standards, and becomes quite bitter and hostile to the rest of the human race because he sees there is no place for a creature whose appearance is so starkly different from the rest of mankind.
Honorable Byronic mentions: Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen; Erik from The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux; and Edmond Dantes from The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexendre Dumas.
So there you have it. A fairly comprehensive list of some of the most emo boys in literature!
Featured Image Via Warner Bros.