Characteristics of the Byronic Hero

The Byronic hero--so named because the character evolved primarily due to Lord Byron's writing in the late 18th and early 19th century, which fused existing characteristics into a single literary character--is one of the most prominent literary character types of the Romantic period.

Romantic heroes represent an important tradition in British literature. In England, Milton's Paradise Lost (reinterpreted), a number of Gothic novels and dramas, the heroic romances of Sir Walter Scott , some of the poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the works of Lord Byron, all contain a protagonist who is a Byronic hero.

A Byronic hero exhibits several characteristic traits:

1. He is a rebel against society (think of "The Highwayman")
2. The Byronic hero does not possess "heroic virtue" in the usual sense; instead, he has many dark qualities.
3. He has emotional and intellectual capacities that are superior to the average man. These heightened abilities force the Byronic hero to be arrogant, confident, abnormally sensitive, and extremely conscious of himself.
4. Typically he has some sort of dark secret (in Jane Eyre, for example, Rochester's wife is hidden in the attic).
5. He is usually isolated from society as a wanderer or is in exile of some kind. It does not matter whether this social separation is imposed upon him by some external force or is self-imposed (think of Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights)
6. Often the Byronic hero is moody by nature or passionate about a particular issue.

Due to these characteristics, the Byronic hero is often a figure of repulsion, as well as fascination.

A perfect way to sum up the Byronic hero: "beautiful but damned".

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