I. Background -- "Mad, Bad and Dangerous to know."- Lady Caroline Lamb about Lord Byron
So much has been written about the Byronic Hero that I wonder if I hadn't gone off the rails in choosing this topic for a blog. But when it comes to writing characters, one can't find a more interesting or complicated model. In a nutshell, Byronic Heroes are nuts (bipolar perhaps?) with brooding, outsider sensibilities for whom the ends justify the means. They have all the markings of a completely brutal villain and yet are redeemed, sometimes only in death, by their unrequited love. While you might not want to write a completely Byronic character, using some of their dark bad boy qualities might spice up one's writing.
With Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, it can be argued thatEmily Bronte was actually taking a stand against the Romantic/Byronic Hero. In his marriage to Isabel one sees that a Byronic Hero isn't a diamond in the rough who can be polished up. A brute is a brute. Catherine loves him unconditionally because he is a part of her but wouldn't marry him.Heathcliff retaliates by marrying Isobel, a woman he doesn't love. What makes him sympathetic is our understanding that as a child Catherine was his respite. Like Severus Snape's love for Lilly, the roots of the situation lie in childhood.
J.R. Rowling's Severus Snape is by her accountmerely an anti-hero, yet there is something of the Byronic Hero in him. Many fans recreate their own versionsof Snapewherein he has run the gambit from reluctant hero, to sentimental and tragic hero. Here Snape'scharacter is softened and muzzled and redeemed as a solace or sop to the reader who fell in love with Snape in the books and/or loved Rickman's performance in the movies. While he spends the series as an antagonist, the reader's imagination takes him further to be the protagonist in his own stories.
Is the Byronic Hero a loser? I'd say so. Though he fits comfortably into the anti-hero category, the flaws are so deep and the sins so damnable that one really wouldn't want any heroine stuck with this character forever after. There are unforgivable actions in the past of any true Byronic Hero. Ultimately, while an antihero might have Byronic qualities, a full Byronic Hero will probably will only be redeemed through death. He's just that messed up.
II. Creating the Byronic Hero's character
· Background: An orphan or abused by parents with only one person they could turn to, this sets up the capacity for intense loyalty or passionate love which keeps the BH from being a mere villain. At the same time having been abused there is a compulsion to act out the role of the abuser which is sometimes not kept in check.
· Superior skills: This person having survived a painful childhood has a fierce determination to never be vulnerable again and will work hard to be competent in whatever ability they feel will most protect them. For Heathcliff it's making money; with Erik from The Phantom of the Opera, he is an expert illusionist.
· The inability to quite rise above their beginnings. They may wish to be a saint but the sinner keeps popping up. As a result, on the surface the Byronic Hero may seem quite cool and in charge but scratch that surface calm and all hell may break loose.
· Action: I believe that creating a character comes as much from his goal and what kind of actions the character takes. His goals may be altruistic, such as Snape protecting Harry Potter, or it may be that of revenge such as Heathcliff marrying Isabel. These goals usually stem from deep childhood hurt and the desire to never be hurt again. In the case of unrequited love the character might be completely conflicted: one moment lashing out, the next remorseful and looking for redemption for their deeds.
· Character Arc: An antihero can find redemption and have a happily ever after. However, the Byronic Hero, because of his depth of depravity, can only be redeemed through death. So we have a tragic childhood, a life of superior accomplishment along with unrequited love, acting out in violent and dangerous manner and finally, death.
· Larger than Life: While surveying various examples of the Byronic Hero on the internet, I found that many characters who are larger then life are tossed into the Byronic Hero category. This makes for great debate. Some of the characters I found listed I'd describe as antiheroes or even tragic heroes while not quite coming up to my definition of being so vile and brutish that death can be the only redemption. It's tempting to widen the net, but I'd still be inclined to say while an anti-hero may have features of the Byronic Hero but not be one based on his deeds not being brutish enough.
· Appearance: Some would say that all Byronic Heroes are handsome, but I disagree. Heathcliff though good looking also had a dark complexion, definitely not a plus during a time of racial bigotry. There are many Byronic Heroes such as Erik from Phantom of the Opera who become even more compelling because they are not perfect in looks.
III. Abusers - We love reading about them, but wouldn't want to date one.
Where does this fascination with Bad Boys come from? Is it because they are safe to read about but in real life they are abusers? Is this a desire on the reader's part to have pay back or control of such a monster through his love for us. Isn't there some pleasure to be had in the idea of the character paying the ultimate price and being redeemed through death? Poetic justice.
Charlotte Bronte in Jane Eyre's Mr. Rochester created a pseudo Byronic type. Once blinded and widowed, he's safe for Jane to have a happily ever after. Yeah, he kept his mad wife locked up and tried to become a bigamist, but it's understandable. In Beauty and the Beast, I think we also have another pseudo Byronic type because besides being a spoiled ruler and having a curse that needed to be broken he is more a jerk than a bad boy. In the story, he roars a lot and is scary, but the curse can be broken.
And I put forth that you need to really examine what crimes he does. You probably want someone not as bad as a stalker or serial killer. Tortured souls are great but watch out that you're not playing into a masochistic fantasy, or at least do it with that awareness. These heroes are not good role models for real life. We don't want to beWuthering Heights' Isabel, waking up after the wedding and wondering what went wrong. This is a pattern which too many women play out in real life. A pearl in the rough is one thing, but a monster is a monster.
The Byronic Hero is an extreme of the hero type in the subsection of antihero. There is something in the reader who wants to save the Bad Boy, change that tiger into a pussy cat via love. Maybe it's wish fulfillment because the reader in real life eventually had to dump the junkie who kept promising to get clean. But some monsters must remain monsters. Either way it's something to look at if you are into antiheroes.
Please see this wonderful article"Heathcliff: A Byronic Challenge" by Allison Mastershttp://www.colorado.edu/pwr/occasion...Heathcliff.pdf
[i]April Grey‘s urban fantasy novel, Chasing The Trickster, is published by Eternal Press. Her short stories have been published in such print anthologies as Demonmind's Halloween 2010, The Best of Everyday Fiction 2, Northern Haunts, Ephemera and Terrible Beauty, Fearful Symmetry. Many of these stories can be found in her collection, The Fairy Cake Bake Shoppe available through Amazon and Smashwords. More at: www.aprilgreywrites, www.aprilgrey.blogspot and www.amazon.com/author/aprilgrey
One Man, Two Women, Two Gods...who will survive the Trickster's snare? Ghostly images materialize in Nina Weaver's photos.
Goons try to kidnap her. When her photographs are stolen and her best friend is shot, she realizes that she has no one to turn to but her ex-lover, Pascal "Goofy" Guzman. Together they go on a desperate road trip in search of answers. The truth is darker and more terrifying than Nina could ever have imagined. After their love re-ignites, they fall into the Trickster God's trap. http://www.eternalpress.biz/book.php?isbn=9781615725328