The nineteenth century had its proper share of bad boys. Even though it’s more than a century ago, and even though some of them were not even real at all, there’s no doubting the attraction of one mr. Rochester, mr. Knightly, or mr. Heathcliff.
The nineteenth century’s bad boys are more commonly known as Byronic heroes, named after both Byron
himself as well as after the men in his writing, mostly in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. The words “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” were later remarked about Byron by Caro Lamb, who had an affair with him.
A Byronic hero is easy to characterize: it is a man, usually a gloomy or somewhat depressed person or in any case a person with deep thoughts and intense feelings. He might be moody or unpleasant to deal with, and definitely be a little uncivil. He might be quite good-looking (as Byron himself was) or be somewhat ugly or unusual looking (as mr. Rochester.) He might have a hidden past or carry some deep, dark secret. But the most important thing, the one big element that all the Byronic heroes share, is: he is incredibly attractive. In spite of all his faults, there is something so engaging and intriguing about him, you cannot help but be interested in the Byronic hero.
As easy as it is to characterize, so hard is it to find them. Which is strange, since the Byronic hero is a fairly well-known concept and you’d expect nineteenth-century literature to be crawling with these mysterious broody men. Not so! The only few that I would name Byronic for certain are Jane Eyre’s Rochester and Wuthering Heights’ Heathcliff. Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, maybe, but I seem to be alone on that. Erik from Phantom of the Opera, thought that is not Victorian but rather later. And Byron himself, of course.
Others that are called Byronic but I’m not sure I can agree: Captain Wentworth in Persuasion by Jane Austen (1818), Claude Frollo from Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831), Edmond Dantes from Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo (1844), (1847), Dorian Gray from The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) by Oscar Wilde, and James Steerforth from Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield (1849–1850).
What do you think? Who is truly Byronic, and who isn’t? And who is your favourite, in real life, novel, or movie? Let me know!
(Depending on how bright your screen is set, this Heathcliff picture is a bit saucy. But definitely shows off the brooding/sexy image. Maybe not appropriate for work? View it here.)