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It’s no secret that Byronic heroes are quite popular in modern culture, the first and most obvious one being at the top of the page. Byronic heroes have remained popular ever since Byron’s day; and Byron’s attribution of this archetype to himself gave him overnight celebrity status. However, this phenomenon raises some questions. If these characters have a tendency to be antisocial and iconoclastic, then it would seem paradoxical that this character type has such enduring success, and that these characters are revered by large portions of society. So why are these characters so popular?

It may be because these characters are most able to exert their will and thus appeal to power fantasies within the reader. This agency possessed by Byronic heroes is somewhat similar to Nietzsche’s concept of will to power, so from that Nietzschean perspective it would make sense that these people would be admired by those who are less able to exert their own wills. After all, who wouldn’t want to take down villains like Batman, bring utter ruin to their enemies like Heathcliff, or be able to summon spirits for no other reason than being lonely? However, this becomes problematic in Manfred. Although Manfred possesses great power, he doesn’t use it to exert his will in any way, and Manfred himself is a self-destructive individual. But at the same time, he refuses to deny his own will when he refuses several times to submit to the spirits or the abbot.

Another (and the most simple) explanation is that controversial characters inspire gossip. Byron himself can attest to this, seeing as how he is often referred to as the first celebrity. Byron was surrounded by gossip about his love affairs and a possible incestuous relationship with his half-sister; which he deliberately fueled in Manfred by naming the absent female lover after an incestuous god, and inserting the line “The Lady Astarte, his-“. Gossip helps to fuel the readers imagination; and thus keep discussions going and the characters alive in the public imagination.

Another explanation is that people relate to Byronic heroes in the broader sense of being representative of human struggle. They represent that Promethean aspect of human experience that states that human progress and human striving comes at a great cost. They are able to achieve great things, but they can only do so at a great cost; this holds true for Manfred, Heathcliff, and Batman.

Whatever the cause may be, Byron’s tradition lives on in our favorite brooding heroes of modern times.

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2 responses to “Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know: The Enduring Success of the Byronic Hero

  1. eric31174

    I can’t get the title to show, but it’s supposed to be “Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know: The Enduring Success of the Byronic Hero”

  2. The Romantic Shea ⋅

    Having not read Manfred until after todays class, I have to say that your post really helped me make more sense of the “Byronic” hero than any online description or definition has. Relating it to Batman was a great way to connect a classic idea to something more modern. Also the idea of gossip I think is very important in a lot of the works we’ve been reading recently – especially Persuasion. I think the characters are so popular because they are so relatable to everyone. Everyone has a moment of of angst and brood- as you suggested it is representative of the human struggle. I agree with what you mention in your post and I really like the examples you used outside of Manfred (Heathcliff and of course, Batman). I just wonder how all the “Byronic” characters would look if compared and contrasted next to each other. Which characters have certain characters that you’ve described and where do they differ, why do they differ?

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