Friday, 8 April 2011

The Byronic Hero - Darcy, Rochester, Heathcliff and ...Edward.

I love the Byronic Hero, especially since I read 'Twilight History' by Nancy R Reagin. I hope you will find something to interest you too. If you're not a fan of the Twilight series (I admit I was late to the party,) chances are you've read and enjoyed Price and Prejudice, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, all chock full of dashing Byronic heroes.

 Lord Byron, sketch by G. H. Harlow, c 1815

It's no accident that the Twilight saga was such a blockbuster. Stephenie Meyer has done her research, and throughout the story, her attention to detail is amazing. 'They' say that much of the explanation for the success of Twilight is Edward's inhumanly angelic face and perfect, marble body. Twilight satisfies because its universe is both like and unlike ours. Stephenie Meyer's world building has been thought out to the last detail, and casting Edward as the Byronic hero was her coup de grace.

The Byronic Hero: Darcy, Rochester, Heathcliff and…Edward

We all love him or hate him – he’s the tall, dark brooding hero. The Byronic hero, based on the fictional characters of author Lord Byron, is a mysterious man, intelligent, sophisticated, educated, magnetic, charismatic, socially and sexually dominant while at the same time being detached from human society. We suffer his moods accompanied by his bouts of temper. His past is often troubled and he is riddled with self-destructive secrets.

Lord Byron himself, according to his lover Lady Caroline Lamb, was ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know.’ Recent examples of this type include Batman, Dr Gregory House from the television series House, MD, and the late actor James Dean.

The Byronic hero is sometimes called an anti-hero because of his negative qualities. Gilbert and Gubar compare him to a bewitching monster like Milton’s Satan – “He is in most ways the incarnation of worldly male sexuality, fierce, powerful, experienced, simultaneously brutal and seductive, devilish enough to overwhelm the body and yet enough a fallen angel to charm the soul.”

Now to Twilight and how Stephenie Meyer has used Edward to embody the Byronic hero. The Byronic hero's mystery, moodiness and sensuality call to mind Bella’s reaction to Edward in their meadow: “I sat without moving, more frightened of him than I had ever been. I’d never seen him so completely freed of that carefully cultivated façade. He’d never been less human…or more beautiful. Face ashen, eyes wide, I sat like a bird locked in the eyes of a snake.” (Twilight, 264.)

At several points in the saga, Bella notes that Edward’s beauty is terrifying. She describes being captivated by Edward as “locked in the eyes of a snake,” yet she also describes him as an angel.

Early in their meeting, when Bella tries to get Edward to explain how he saved her from being crushed by Tyler’s van, Bella thinks, “I was in danger of being distracted by his livid, glorious face. It was like trying to stare down a destroying angel.” (Twilight, 65.) And in Breaking Dawn, she says, “His face glowed with an expression of triumph that I didn’t understand – it was the expression an angel of destruction might wear while the world burned. Beautiful and terrifying.” (730).

But...the Byronic hero is not simply seductive and strong, he is also tormented. He is well aware of his flaws even as he despises them in others; his introspection often leads him to black moods and self-destructive behaviour. Edward has a penchant for self-flagellation, as does Darcy, Rochester and Heathcliff. Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights are explicitly mentioned in the saga. Foremost is Edward’s name. Bella comes across it in Austen’s works, leading her to wonder, “Weren’t there any other names available in the late eighteenth century?” (Twilight, 148.) In Wuthering Heights we have Edgar and Isabella Linton. In Jane Eyre, Rochester’s first name is Edward.

The Byronic parallels among Edward, Darcy, Rochester are many. I will continue to explore this topic next post.

Colin Firth's Mr Darcy


Sarah said...

Oooh, sexy Byronic heros. Excellent post!

Wen Baragrey said...

You're spot on. And..yum!

Cat Lavoie said...

Awesome post! And thank you for posting pictures! *swoons at Colin Firth's Mr Darcy*

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Crap, is that the real reason I named my main character Byron?!

Denise Covey said...

Sarah: Oh, I'm glad you like it!

Wen: Yum yum.

Catherine: Stand back you!

Alex: For sure!

Anonymous said...

Hi, Denise. I'm at my youngest daughter's today, tomorrow. Neck surgery yesterday morning went well, but a slight fever today kept her overtime so she didn't get home til 4:30 and she has pain. I'm going to drive back Monday.

So, I'm sitting here for a few minutes, reading through this fascinating post. This is an excellent in-depth look at the Byronic Hero. There were some who saw my first husband this way, flawed and tragic (I did). Not sure if I portrayed him this way in my memoir. I'll be curious to see what you think when you read it.

Now I'm going to head over to your travel blog. I only have the time and energy to do a few while I'm here, and yours top the list!

Lydia Kang said...

This is my kind of eye candy. You rock!

Michael Di Gesu said...

Great literary heroes... Who can't relate to Heathcliff, Darcy, and Rochester.

Only I think Edward falls short next to the other awesome literary characters... Sorry, I'm not a big fan of Meyer's writing. The story wasn't bad, but her writing lacks a lot. in my so humble opinion of course. LOL

Denise Covey said...

Ann: I'm honoured that you took the time for a peek at both my posts today. Prayers and thoughts are with you and your daughter.

Lydia: Yes, rather.

Michael: Meyer is no literati and I don't think she claims to be but she's one clever chickie. The more I research the more I see that she deserves her success. We could all do our best to emulate her success.


Trisha said...

Well. This blog post was awesome, and I feel sated somehow. LOL.

Thank you!

Kerrin said...

love your new byronic hero series!
Never thought of Edward in league with Darcy, but i can see the connection!
Love Colin Firth as Darcy!!!!

Unknown said...

*sigh* I love your travel posts but I sure do like this one.

Dawn Embers said...

Interesting post. I'm not as interested in this type of hero but I've only read one of those books (Pride & Prejudice). Edward just looks weird. I feel like in the movies his lips look too nature compared to the white dead look of his face that they were going for. Maybe it's just me but it really bugs me any time I see a picture of the actor when he's Edward.

Denise Covey said...

Trisha: You too?

Kerrin: Yes, he is in the league but on the bottom rung according to anyone of we, ahem, slightly older ladies.

Clarissa: Well I know you've got this thing about Mr Darcy, although he's not jumping into any water today, shame.

Dawn: Edward's not everyone's favourite vamp I know. He's not in the league with the other cool dudes.

dolorah said...

Now this is a series I can get lost in. (Not that I haven't enjoyed your travel posts . .)

I haven't read the twilight series, but the distinctions here have me almost convinced.

I appreciate how you've linked Edward's personality to so many literary favorites. I've never heard the term Byronic Hero before, but I do like and understand an anti-hero.

These analogies really make me think. Thank you Denise. I'll have to save this post and ruminate on it a while.


Trisha said...

Don't get me wrong - I really enjoyed Twilight, in spite of all the badness of it. And yes, I did recognise that badness too :D I'm team Jacob anyway. LOL. But Edward CANNOT compare with D'arcy.

Did you see "Lost in Austin"? It had a VERY nice Mr. Darcy in it.

Trisha said...

Omg, I said I was team Jacob. I meant I'm Team Jasper :D Namely after I saw the third movie.

Denise Covey said...

Donna: Somehow you missed that term? Been bandied around for a long time. It is great to revisit these heroes and to think about why they've had such an impact on literature. Edward has had his own sort of impact.

Trisha: Thanks for the heads up on 'Lost in Austin/Austen?' I must check it out. Anything for my Darcy research, ha ha ha.


Unknown said...

The Jane Austen connection was the one part of twilight I liked... I'm reading Jane Eyre right now... and enjoy it right now... and hoping to get to Wuthering Heights soon.

Ellen Brickley said...

An interesting post, thanks!

Sarah Rees Brennan's The Demon's Lexicon was an attempt to get inside the mind of the Byronic hero, and it's worth reading.

Edward really is the classic Byronic hero - although I feel Jacob has his moments too!

Michelle in a shell said...

Wow, who would have thought Twilight characters were so complex! Thank you for sharing this...I feel a little less ignorant :)

George said...

That's amazing.

Denise Covey said...

Austin: Hope you enjoy Jane Eyre. It's so intense.

Ellen: Sorry I haven't mentioned Jacob. Obviously he has his following but he's not in the mould of the Byronic hero - too nice.

Michelle: Amazing how intricate it is. I'm sure you're not ignorant. Just something most people wouldn't be fascinated by.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of anti heroes, I like them. Dexter, Clint Eastwood, vigilantes and such. Sometimes you just can't stay within the limits of the law to catch the lawless.

Kittie Howard said...

You nailed it, girl! Lord Byron is smiling on a dark cloud somewhere.

Deniz Bevan said...

I don't know... Is Edward old enough and does he have the gravitas necessary to be a Byronic hero?
Whenever I see the name Rochester I always think of the Earl of Rochester. He of Charles II's court...

Francine Howarth said...


Hee hee, I'm with Deniz on Rochester the rake, the poet, the satirist: 1700s!

I never liked Jane Eyre's R, and I always thought her desperate enough to have married any man who asked for her hand.

As for Twilight: I didn't like the book, and the star in the movie didn't do it for me at all. I much preferred Ann Rice' Vampire novels, her characters far more complicated and intriguing as well as down right hot hot hot!

Colin Firth: another matter entirely. ;)


Ann said...

My favorite Rochester was George C. Scott until Timothy Dalton. And there is only one Darcy...I'm afraid that is Colin Firth! Never will another Darcy reign!

Tiger85 said...

What a fantastic post. I agree with you Ann on the fact that Colin Firth is the only Darcy. I really enjoyed reading this. =)

Denise Covey said...

Stephen: Yes, we love our anti heroes. Don't mind a bit of Clint myself.

Kittie: I wonder about him.

Deniz: I understand your POV entirely. All a matter of taste.

Francine: Let's face it. Edward Cullen is too gauche for us. I loved the broody Mr R of Jane Eyre and I think you're a bit harsh on the poor girl.

Ann: I thought Timothy Dalton's face was too open and friendly and dimply for the broody Mr R. Well, there is a new Mr Darcy but i think the jury's out on that one. Long may Colin Firth's Darcy live, swoon.

Tiger85: Another rave for our Mr Colin Firth. Maybe I should be posting about him next post, never mind Mr Darcy!!

MMAR said...

What a great post!! I loved reading Twilight : ) Thanks for stopping by Keeping Up With The Rheinlander's.

Unknown said...

I really enjoyed reading this post (who wouldn't?!). Not sure I've heard of the term Byronic hero before - but I've just realised that I have one in the WIP I just finished ;-)

Kristal Lee said...

Thanks for stopping by, it's KRISTAL kLEEr, for the A-Z Challenge. I'm following back. :)

Amie Kaufman said...

Wow, what a fantastic dissection! I admit I'm so late to the Twilight party that I still haven't arrived, but this offers a fantastic insight into its appeal.

Denise Covey said...

Hi Melissa: It was lovely to meet you. glad you liked the post.

Rachel: Well, see, the BH is just a subconscious idea from years of reading.

Kristal: Glad you popped by. Hope you enjoy your visits.

Amie: Hee hee. It pays to eventually drop our prejudices and pride and wallow in a bit of vampishness.

Theresa Milstein said...

Mr. Darcy is my favorite. I like the exploration of your male love interests in this post.

SweetMarie83 said...

What a fantastic post! Such an interesting and in depth exploration, I loved reading it and I'm anxious for more!

Thank you for visiting, commenting and following my blog, I really appreciate it!

Denise Covey said...

Theresa: Hmm, Mr Darcy. Make sure you stay tuned.

SweetMarie83: Glad you liked it. Come back for more Mr Darcy soon!

Raquel Byrnes said...

You have no idea how helpful that was! I'm currently working on a Gothic romance and Byronic heroes are a key ingredient. Awesome post.

Denise Covey said...

Raquel, you're welcome.

KM Nalle said...

I have never heard this term and I am completely intrigued! I suppose it's because I am also completely smitten with Byronic heros. I believe my MC might be one (although badly done). Looking forward to your next post.

Denise Covey said...

Kari Marie: Great.

N. R. Williams said...

I hadn't thought of this before. I think the last book in my epic fantasy may be a Byronic hero. I'll have to consider it more. I'm a little ways off from that at the moment.
N. R. Williams, The Treasures of Carmelidrium.