The Byronic Hero

Song of the day: Sanctified by Nine Inch Nails

Have you heard of the Byronic Hero? A Byronic hero is a protagonist, or antihero, who is romanticized but flawed. Someone much like the Romantic hero who rejects and is rejected by the society. Someone steeped with darkened, destructive, dangerous traits.

The term Byronic hero is named for the characters often portrayed in the works of the colorful English poet, Lord Byron. If you know of Lord Byron’s excessive, reckless, and scandalous life, you would probably consider that he, himself, embodied the Byronic hero.

This archetypical character (predominately male, but sometimes female) might be:

  • Defiant
  • Jaded
  • Mysterious
  • Cynical
  • Charismatic
  • Seductive
  • Proud
  • Adaptable
  • Haunted
  • Intelligent
  • An outcast
  • Sexually dominant

Sounds like a hero I can really fall in love with.

Lord Byron summed the Byronic hero up best with the last stanza in his piece The Corsair. The Corsair is written about the privateer (or pirate – depending on who you ask) Jean Laffite.

He left a corsair’s name to other times,

Linked with one virtue, and a thousand crimes.

One virtue, a thousand crimes. Hmm…that describes the pirate captains in my Romancing the Pirate series quite well. I must have a thing for the Byronic hero. A tortured soul seizes my imagination and sends my heart apitter-patter. With hands tied behind my back, I would willingly follow him. *sigh*

So, who are some Byronic heroes?

  • Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights
  • The Phantom of Phantom of the Opera
  • Robin Hood
  • Severus Snape of Harry Potter
  • Anakin/Darth Vader
  • Lestat of Interview with a Vampire
  • Wolverine of X-Men
  • Xena, Warrior Princess
  • Scarlett O’Hara
  • Achilles in the movie version of Troy
  • And of course, Captain Jack Sparrow

Can you name a Byronic hero? Who is your favorite?

34 Responses to The Byronic Hero

  1. jdfaver says:

    I’ll take Achilles for a zillion, Alex.
    *hugs*
    ~J

  2. jbrayweber says:

    ME, TOO, JD! Over and over again. ;-)

  3. Love me my vampire..Lestat….

  4. jbrayweber says:

    The vampire is a classic Byronic hero. I love Lestat, Savannah. Thanks to Lestat and Anne Rice, I fell in love with paranormal books.

  5. I adore the vampire genre…I can’t help it…I think Lestat is such a complicated and interesting character.

  6. jbrayweber says:

    You are right, Savannah. Lestat is a very complicated character with deep, often disturbing human emotions that many would not explore. And yet, we love him.

  7. Jenn: Yeah, you can have Brad Pitt as Achilles. But when it comes to sword-and-sandal movie heroes, I’ll take Steve Reeves as Hercules, thank you. He was a little before your time. But he’s still hot among peplum fans. Certain with this one!

  8. jbrayweber says:

    You’re right, Mary Anne. I hadn’t heard of Steve Reeves. So I looked him up. Niiiice biceps, and abs, and arms…

  9. You want to know more about him…I wouldn’t mind meeting him in real life..LOL

  10. jbrayweber says:

    Walking on the dark side, Savannah? LOL! See you there! Ha!

  11. You know it..I’ve always loved the dark side…

  12. Love Captain Jack Sparrow! Oh, man! Where’s his picture? LOL Great post! :)

  13. jbrayweber says:

    See, Melissa, I’m keeping you guys on your toes. You’d EXPECT me to post a picture of good ol’ Jack.
    Thanks, girl!

  14. Nancy says:

    Can’t see Heathcliffe as other than a whiney, moody baby. I don’t know most of the movie characters.
    Scarlett is not a hero byronic or otherwise. She is a survivor .
    Byron wasn’t even a Byronic hero. He wasn’t his characters.
    I had never heard before that the Corsair was wriiten about Jean Laffite. Didn’t know Laffitte was a Muslim.

  15. jbrayweber says:

    Thanks, Nancy!

    I agree about Heathcliff. I have never found him as much of a hero at all, let alone a Byronic one. But many others feel strongly that he fits the mold.

    Scarlett is certainly a survivor. No question. But she ticks off many of the characteristic qualities found in the Byronic hero. She’s defiant, smart, highly adaptable, sexually attractive, and treated as an outcast after her husband Charles was killed.

    While Lord Byron didn’t coin the phrase, the Byronic hero shows up in many of his works. He may not be his literary characters but many scholars and historians have felt his own traits (cynical, defiant, seductive, very moody, charismatic, among several other things) embodied the Byronic hero.

    It is widely believed that the Corsair was based, in part, on Jean Lafitte as his exploits were renowned at the time. And no, Jean Lafitte was not Muslim. He was French.

  16. One man’s hero may be another’s villain.
    It is subjective much like many things in life. One may see Scarlett as a survivor or as the hero for doing whatever it took to save the plantation and the people who lived there. One can see Robin Hood as a no account thief or a hero for giving most of the riches away to the poor.
    Heroes are a very interesting topic to study through history whether real or romanticized- would you consider Hitler a hero? There are thousands of people who all but idolized him.
    Enough academia- I love a dark hero with dark qualities…especially when it’s a good woman that helps to bring redemption! Nothing better in a book-imho.

    PS. The Corsair was loosely based on Jean Lafitte and other contemporary characters of that time. While there is no one Corsair, he embodied many qualities of the pirate Jean Lafitte.

  17. jbrayweber says:

    Great points, Stacey.

    For those of us who had not READ Star Wars, we probably didn’t envision Darth Vader as the protagonist, let alone a Byronic hero. So, it’s true. Our perceptions of literary figures, as well as people in real life, our not necessarily linear with what others think.

    And if I hadn’t mentioned it enough already, I’m a sucker for the dark hero, too.

  18. Thank you for your post, Jenn.

    As Stacey put it, one man’s (or woman’s) hero is another’s villain. While almost all romance readers are crazy about Byronic heroes, an irreducible tiny minority of us aren’t. Guess who belongs to this small group.

    I have my my own ideas about heroism. For me, there are two basic types of heroes.

    One hearkens back to the original definition of the word in classical antiquity. He (or nowadays, she) exhibits great courage and strength (physical and/or moral), overcomes tremendous obstacles, and accomplishes wondrous deeds that benefit others. And that’s who he/she does it for, rather than for self-centered motives.

    The other kind of hero I admire is a nice guy, one who’s easy to love. A beta male. He naturally does the right thing. Which is where the problems lie. No good deed goes unpunished.

    Both types of of heroes are worlds apart from the Byronic model. And they’re rare in today’s romance fiction. So how do I find them? You guessed it. I create my own.

    BTW, there’s plenty of room for debate about some of these heroes on your list. Robin Hood, at least as I envision him, is way too much in the classical hero mold to be lumped with Heathcliff and Lestat.

    I didn’t see Achilles in the film “Troy” as much of a hero. I saw him as Brad Pitt in a breastplate.

    And Darth Vader isn’t a hero at all. In his universe he’s the ultimate embodiment of evil.

    As for that famous fictional temperamental Georgian belle with a colorful first name—okay, you see her as a heroine. Stacey sees her as a survivor. Mary Anne sees her as a pain in the ass. Well, there you have it!

  19. jbrayweber says:

    LOL! Love your response, Mary Anne! You never disappoint.

    You’ve mentioned before your heart lies with the beta male. I know a few others that also have a fondness for them, as opposed to the Alpha. It’s you guys that keep chick flicks alive. HAHA! Don’t shoot me. I’m just kidding!!!!! :-)

    In all honesty, where would we be without those lovable, sweet, strong, stabilized, romantic beta male? And you just can’t go wrong with the classical hero. He’s the man we grow up loving. As you as said, a man of courage and strength both physically and morally.

    And I agree that those on the list are up for debate. Certainly. And we could go on and on discussing why or why not. As I mentioned in another reply, I don’t find Heathcliff a Byronic hero at all. Some on the list fit certain Byronic molds, but not others. It is a varietal list and those on it shouldn’t be thought of as running in the same herd. And Scarlett…well, I love her, but it took me a long time to feel that way about her. She’s just so human.

    Now…about Brad Pitt as Achilles…oh, great balls of fire. For me, he nails it. Breast plate and all.

  20. jeff7salter says:

    How about Fox Mulder from the X-files?
    Butch Cassidy
    The Sundance Kid
    Jesse James?
    The guy named Ned _____ [Australia]

  21. jbrayweber says:

    Finally! Someone giving me a list! LOL! And a great list, at that. Really good call, Jeff. Your list also brings to mind Billy the Kid (of the movie Young Guns, of course). And you’re thinking Ned Kelly.

    Thanks, Jeff!

  22. jeff7salter says:

    Good points, Mary Anne.
    And, Jenn — here’s another for the list: Most of the characters played by Errol Flynn. Captain Blood comes to mind … and Casanova.

  23. Jeff: We’ll have to agree to disagree about Errol Flynn. I don’t see swashbucklers as Byronic heroes. Not the classic Hollywood type, anyhow. I see them as the first type of hero I describe in my longer previous comment.

    If could nitpick for a moment, which I really shouldn’t do because this is a very minor detail and I hope you don’t get mad at me: Errol Flynn never played Casanova. He played Don Juan.

    Yeah, these two have a lot in common. The main difference, probably the only meaningful one, is that Casanova was a real person.

    Don Juan wasn’t. He originated in a play. And has since turned up in quite a few other stage productions, including the famous Mozart opera. And of course, movies.

    Jenn; Thanks for the Heath Ledger bit. I haven’t kept up with movies in recent years the way I used to.

    Keep up the good work!

  24. jbrayweber says:

    Good catch, Mary Anne. There are so many of the old Hollywood movies I would love to see. As a kid, I watched many. But I couldn’t tell you who starred in them much less the name of those old flicks. *sheepish grin*

    Thanks for the kind words. Always appreciated!

  25. jeff7salter says:

    Yes … Don Juan.
    It was Bob Hope who played Cassanova.

  26. Jeff: Yeah, talk about weird casting!

  27. jbrayweber says:

    Ah, yes, Casanova. Another character played by Heath Ledger. *swoon*
    And Errol Flynn, how did I forget about him? Thanks, Jeff!

  28. Jeff: You mean Ned Kelly, the famous outlaw of 19th-century Australia? There was a movie about his quite a few years ago. He was played by—I’m not kidding—Mick Jagger.

    I dunno about Fox Mulder. He’s awfully cerebral, too much a part of the system, to be a Byronic hero. And on top of that, he has a sense of humor. But then, my definition of a Byronic hero isn’t necessarily yours. Or anyone else’s.

    Just my opinion, but if Jesse James were alive today, he wouldn’t be a romantic bandit, steeped in the aura of the Old West. He’d be just a criminal.

    As for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid—well, they were a couple of lovable anti-heroes in that movie. As for what they were really like—well, as the saying goes: When the fact becomes legend, print the legend. That’s how most of us prefer to remember those guys.

    Thanks for replying!

  29. jbrayweber says:

    There was a movie about Ned Kelly starring the late Heath Ledger, too. :-)

  30. jbrayweber says:

    Oh, and you nailed it, Mary Anne. Once criminals become legend, oftentimes they become romanticized.

  31. girldrinkdrunk says:

    I’m a little late, but Paul Newman is pretty much the ultimate Byronic actor: Brick Polllitt (cat on a hot tin roof), Hud (whoa!), Lucas Jackson (cool hand luke) is the epitome of it.

    and what about the heroines:
    Selene (underworld)
    Lara Croft
    Elle (quick &the dead)

  32. jbrayweber says:

    I LOVE Brick! Yeah, Paul Newman certainly played a few Byronic roles. Great female list, too, Kristen. I have a little girl crush on Selene. LOL!

  33. Great post and comments.

  34. jbrayweber says:

    Many thanks, Ella!

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