Byronic heroes are characters who leave you wondering whether to pity them or hate them. They often appear to be villainous but have a deep, dark, and tragic past.
The dictionary defines Byronic heroes as melancholic and rebellious young men who are distressed by a terrible wrong they have committed in their past.
Byronic heroes were first introduced by Lord Byron in his autobiographical narrative poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812-1818), and were found in several of Lord Byron’s literary works.
Critic and historian Lord Macaulay, better described a Byronic hero as “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“.
Characteristics of a Byronic Hero
❖ Capable of being redeemed
❖ Capable of heroic behavior
❖ Cynical and sarcastic
❖ Dark personality
❖ Easily bored
❖ Emotionally conflicted, moody, or tortured
❖ Self-critical and introspective
❖ Socially dominating
❖ Sophisticated and well-educated
❖ Struggles with integrity
❖ Troubled past
❖ Very intelligent
Novel: The Vampyre
Author: John William Polidori
About the Character: Lord Ruthven first appeares in the Gothic novel Glenarvon. The character is based on Lord Byron. Lord Ruthven is portrayed as a suave British aristocrat. But it is soon revealed that he is also the original vampire. He is a sexually alluring, disambiguous womanizer. He is also quite a horrifying character.
Novel: The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Author: Victor Hugo
About the Character: Unlike the animated version of this story, Claude Frollo is not a villain to the core. He has his moments when he is devoted to his no-good brother. However, he is portrayed as bitter, which makes it easy to dislike him.
The reason behind Claude Frollo’s bitterness is relieved in the Book IV.V. Where it’s said that Frollo loses his youthful idealism when he adopts Jehan and Quasimodo. Shards of lost and broken dreams deeply affect his personality, making him meaner. And since he denies himself love for years, frustration builds inside him and makes him almost villainous.
Frankenstein and the Monster
Author: Mary Shelley
About the Character: Frankenstein creates the monster, but disowns it because the creature repulses him. The monster is hurt, and craves attention, love, acceptance, and companionship, and therefore, he kills people who are close to Frankenstein. However, the plan backfires, when Frankenstein sets out to get revenge for the death of his dear ones.
Both these characters are hot tempered, furious, want revenge, and required closure.
Novel: Wuthering Heights
Author: Emily Brontë
About the Character: As a child Heathcliff is taken in by Mr. Earnshaw. However, Mr. Earnshaw’s son, Hindley, treats Heathcliff badly, which often creates a lot of friction between them. To make things worse, he falls in love with Earnshaw’s daughter, Catherine.
When Catherine marries Edgar for his position and breeding, it turns Heathcliff into a tortured, brooding, and obsessive person, who seeks vengeance, against Hindley, Edgar, and both their families.
Novel: Jane Eyre
Author: Charlotte Brontë
About the Character: Rochester is a stern-featured, pompous, and rude man. He falls in love with Jane, who is not only his governess but also half his age. On the day of their marriage, she finds out that he keeps his wife locked in the attic.
However, it turns out that Mr. Rochester’s wife is mentally unstable and needs to be kept away for the sake of everyone’s safety. Despite her bouts of insanity, he has been taking care of her for years.
Novel: The Phantom of the Opera
Author: Gaston Leroux
About the Character: Eric’s physical appearance always horrifies the people around him. He is often denied compassion and sympathy, which makes him crave for love and a sense of belonging. The life that he has led has made him bitter, jealous, possessive, and headstrong, especially when it comes to Christine, a young woman whom he loves.
Eric tries for weeks to make Christine fall in love with him, but to no avail. However, she agrees to marry him when he threatens to kill her lover, Raoul. Upon agreeing to marry him, he lifts his mask and kisses her, and to his surprise, she kisses him back. He confesses to her that he has never received a kiss before. Overwhelmed by emotions, he set both lovers free.
Author: J.K. Rowling
About the Character: Throughout the Harry Potter series, Professor Severus Snape is portrayed as an emotionless, complex, coldly sarcastic, and hateful person. He is often seen targeting the protagonist, Harry Potter. Snape hated Harry’s father, but loved his mother, and despised their alliance.
Snape also joins hands with Harry’s nemesis, Lord Voldemort to bring down Dumbledore, the Principal of Hogwarts. But in the end, it is revealed that Snape is following Dumbledore’s orders and plays a small but an important role in bringing down Voldemort. He secretly adores Harry and wishes to keep him safe, even if it means that he would be seen as a villain.
We humans are complex creatures, aren’t we? We often hide behind a rough and tough exterior. Sometimes, we act rude and harsh to keep people away in order to protect ourselves. Or then, we react the way we do because of our past experiences. Byronic heroes shed light on these gray and misunderstood personalities in literature.