Friday, March 26, 2010

Byronic Hero by Blackriverrosi

Byronic HeroThis is a featured page

byronic loversByronic Hero - The Brontë SoulloversThere are at least four distinguishing factors in the Byronic Hero's philosophy of life: revolt against society, pursuit of individual goals, romantic expression and the constant experience of strong emotion. The result of these qualities is an anti-social being who lives emotional adventures according to his own desire.

Heathcliff, in Wuthering Heights, is a perfect example of the Byronic Hero. He is a larger than life Byronic Hero because he never wavers from his purpose .. to possess and to be possessed by his love.

The Byronic Hero has some specific personal qualities. He is exotically handsome, dark and rather wild. Trelawny, a friend of Lord Byron's, was recognized as the Byronic hero type. He was described as, " a curious being, a savage in some respects. His face was as dark as a Moor's with a wild, strange look about the eyes and forehead ... his whole appearance giving one an idea of toil, hardship, peril and wild adventure." How like Heathcliff!

In Wuthering Heights, Mr. Lockwood describes Heathcliff as, " a dark-skinned gypsy, in aspect, in dress and manners, a gentleman ... rather slovenly, ... with an erect and handsome figure; and rather morose." Heathcliff, our exotic gentleman.

Later in the story, Nellie describes Heathcliff upon his return after a three year's absence - " He had grown a tall, athletic, well-formed man ... (with) upright carriage ... and intelligent (face). A half-civilized ferocity lurked yet in the depressed brows and eyes full of black fire, .... but his manner was dignified."

And so there he stands, Heathcliff, the Byronic hero, tall, dark, fiercely handsome, half wild with a suppressed rage flaming blackly in his eyes, yet composed and with a dignified strength.

The Byronic hero was always a gentleman, as the Devil himself is a gentleman, and a very melancholy one. Heathcliff was constantly referred to as both gentleman and devil. Mr Earnshaw brought him home, a ragged orphan and told his wife to " take it as a gift of God; though it's as dark almost as if it came from the devil." When Nelly tries to check on Hareton's life at the Heights, Heathcliff makes Nelly run away, " feeling as scared as if (she) had raised a goblin" When Heathcliff mourn's Cathy's death, he howled, " like a savage beast."

Heathcliff, both man and devil, both gentleman and beast, is as powerful in his emotion and his emanations of evil, as any Byronic hero ever invented.

Of course, the Byronic hero is a romantic hero, and therefore, an individualist. In the best melancholy style he claims for himself the freedom to be as wide and as wild as he pleases. He claims his rights as a gentleman, as a property owner, as a master over servants, wives and children, but he cares nothing for society, its conventions or rules. He oversteps them all and lives, through his passion. He loves what he loves and what he cannot help loving. Heathcliff does all of these things, and never wavers from his own passions.

The Byronic hero is proud. Heathcliff and Catherine run wild on the moors, growing up there, almost becoming the moors, the sky, the rocks and the wind. Heathcliff takes pride in his freedom, even the freedom to be dirty in his degradation by Hindley. In his pride he declares. " I shall not....I shall not stand to be laughed at, I shall not bear it. ...I shall be as dirty as I please."

Yet, the Byronic hero is also a gentleman and strives to be so. Heathcliff leaves and struggles to improve himself. He returns, rich, mannered and educated, though mysterious, wild and proud. He " fought a bitter life (he tells Cathy) for I struggled only for you."


It is said that the Byronic hero holds the " ordinary people " of the world in contempt. He hates the vulgar commonplace, the artificial niceties, the stupid and insipid feelings of all he holds weak, and therefore, inferior. Heathcliff certainly shows contempt for the ordinary, the silly and the weak. He sneers at Hindley and Frances who were " like two babies, kissing and talking nonsense by the hour - foolish palaver that we should be ashamed of. "

When Heathcliff and Cathy look through the Linton's window to see Edgar and his sister quarrelling over a small dog, he says, " We laughed outright at the petted things; we did despise them."

When Heathcliff and Edgar clash in the kitchen of the Grange, Heathcliff shows his contempt for Edgar by saying, " I'm mortally sorry that you are not worth knocking down." To Cathy, he sneers, "...And that is the slavering, shivering thing that you preferred to me."

Of Isabella, he says he would blacken the eyes on her " mawkish, waxen face" and on the drunken Hindley, " .. he kicked and trampled on him .. then bound up the wounds with brutal roughness. "

Not even his own son, Linton, escaped the contempt that Heathcliff felt he deserved. His first sight of Linton and Heathcliff sneers, " God! what a beauty!....Oh damn my soul but that's worse than I expected ..."

And Cathy, his great love is not receives Heathcliff's contempt in full measure. He hold her to task, crying, " Why did you betray your own heart, Cathy? I have not one word of comfort. You deserve this....... My ( tears will ) damn you. You loved me-then what right had you to leave Me? ..... nothing .... would have parted us.... you, of your own will, did it".

For the Byronic hero, who is forever true to his own heart, Cathy's betrayal is the most comtemptuous crime of all.

The Byronic Hero knows how to love with his whole being and ridicules the pathetic attempts at love that others make. His love is a high romantic expression that scorns sentiment and romantic foolishness, Heathcliff ridicules Isabella.s romantic ideas of love. " The first thing she saw me do ... was to hang up her little dog,,, Now was it not absurdity ... to dream that I could love her?"

He mocks Edgar's ability to love, saying, " If he loved her with all the powers of his puny being, he couldn't love as much in eighty years as I could in one day."

The Byronic hero is an emotional being and his emotions bear the strength of constancy. Heathcliff loves Cathy and hates all who interfere with him. Through his love he suffers, and his pain and his hatred grow in intensity. " I have no pity! ... The more the worms writhe, the more I yearn to crush out their entrails!"

The Byronic hero has other strengths, the strength of control, the strength to endure. He is no murderer, and keeps a rough household going. And he does give his admiration where it is deserved, for in spite of Hareton being the son of his old enemy, Hindley, he knows Hareton is worthy of love. He would have loved him " had he been someone else".

The Byronic hero fights on until the end, until he reaches his own goal, his own " heaven ". Worn out with his long struggle to be reunited with Cathy, Heathcliff nears his goal, and looks, " almost bright and cheerful, ... very much excited, and wild and glad!" Remaining true to his personal journey, for he has nothing to do with the reality of others, Heathcliff, the Byronic hero triumphs in death. he is reunited with his love ... he is the single-minded Byronic hero to the end.

A certain disdain for the Byronic hero in history simplified the code of qualifications to two great commandments - to hate your neighbour and to love your neighbour's wife. You might hate any number of neighbours and love any number of their wives. But Heathcliff is single-minded. he love's Cathy and it makes no difference that she is a neighbour's wife, no difference, that is to his love. For the Byronic hero, marriage and love have nothing to do with each other. He tells Nelly that she was " a fool to fancy for a moment that ( Cathy) valued Edgar Linton's attachment more that mine."

Byronic love obsesses on the idea of a man and a woman so similar in character and in spirit, as to be almost one individual.

Byron, who loved his sister, wrote

" She is like me in lineaments - her eyes,
Her hair, her features, all to the very tone
Even of her voice, they said were like to mine ...
She had the same lone thoughts and wanderings,
Her faults were mine - her virtues were her own -
I lov'd her, and destroy'd her!"
Lord Byron
Cathy and Heathcliff are one. Brought up as brother and sister, they roam the moors, sharing all of their dreams and sufferings. Catherine declares, " Nelly, I am Heathcliff - ( he is ) as my own being." As Cathy dies, Heathcliff cries out, " God, would you like to live with your soul in the grave?" And as Heathcliff plans his burial beside Cathy, he says that by the time Edgar gets to them he won't know ' which is which ....... ( for he will be) dissolve(d )with her."

Byron himself, referred to Napoleon as a typical Byronic hero - a man of destiny, of dark and enormous powers; but overcome at last by the united forces of ordinary people. It is true that Heathcliff fails to destroy the Earnshaws and the Lintons, for the younger Catherine and Hareton marry. But his hatred was only secondary to his love, so unlike Napoleon, he triumphs. He rests in the quiet earth with his cheek " frozen against hers."

Lady Caroline Lamb was supposed to have said of Byron, He was mad, bad and dangerous to know." Cathy said of Heathcliff, " he is a fierce, pitiless, wolfish man." Byron might have said the same thing about Heathcliff as he said about Napoleon, " he was a grand creature."

But Charlotte Bronte, while trying to apologize for Emily's grand hero, said it all ... for there he stands. Heathcliff, " colossal, dark, and frowning, half statue, half rock: in the former sense, terrible and goblin-like; in the latter, almost beautiful ..."

Emily Brontë herself, I think, was a Byronic Hero. The Double Soul of Emily Bronte made her a great thinker and writer.

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