The Byronic Hero vs
Let me set up a little dreamscape of mine in terms of the Romantics: sitting in a field of blooming flora, having a clear mind and connecting all thoughts and feelings to the surroundings through the art of poetry. This gives me a sense of calm and a desire to delve into the minds of the Romantic poets to see what it is that brought them fear or peace. Romantic literature is a mind hive of ideas and theories. But there are two that seem to both contrast and replicate one another. These are the images of the Byronic Hero and Mother Nature.
The Byronic Hero was developed by the Romantic poet Lord Byron and has maintained a cultural presence in all media forms. Modern day examples vary from Bucky Barnes to Indiana Jones, who both show a desire to act recklessly in order to receive what they want, whether that be love or prized artifacts. A more literary example would Mr Heathcliff in Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, who is impassioned by losing Catherine, as seen in his speech: “Be with me always—take any form—drive me mad! Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you!’”
Mr Edward Rochester in Charlotte Bronte`s Jane Eyre serves as another example, demonstrated through his seduction of Jane by provoking her jealousy, which leads to her uncovering her feelings for him. This list of Byronic heroes could go on forever, but what each of these characters has in common is that they are seen to not only make unreasonable actions in efforts to find love, but they jeopardise their own reputation of being a man by choosing to act with emotion. Some could say their actions don’t even make them a boy.
These ‘heroes’ are then romanticised by their female counterparts; I, too, am guilty of seeking a man who acts bad but is soft for that love of his life. This type of hero is “characterized [by the literature stack exchange] as being arrogant, violent, reckless, seductive, traumatized and self-serving.”
The romantic poets belonged to a heavily patriarchal society, so it is quite intriguing, don’t you think, that here a man is portrayed as someone who affects society in a negative manner. Some theorists say that the Byronic hero is put in place to show a younger audience that not all men are balding misogynists, and that men and women are not so drastically different. So, I argue that the Byronic hero is a male figure consistent with patriarchal ideas of womanhood, especially considering that the Byronic heroes lack of reason and dependence on emotion. The most cliché image is that of women running on their emotions and then facing catastrophic consequences in their lives. This is developed into the figure of mother nature. However, the Byronic hero also runs on his emotions, most commonly his distaste for society, which puts him as a threat to social cohesion.
This opposes the traditional characterisation of women as the ‘catastrophic demon’ of society, their emotions making them reckless. In our lives, women who enter male dominated careers are the demons stirring change, and men then feel threatened. Mother Nature acts in such a form. For me, when I hear the words ‘mother nature,’ the ideas of nurturing mothers and newborn babies that are one with the natural world come to mind. But the Romantics used mother nature as a symbol of a threat to masculinity and the catalyst of catastrophe.
It is important to note that the romantic poets were predominately male. Even though these poets recount their threatening experience of nature, they were also afraid of liberated women. Such a trope still exists among us; those men with their sleeves rolled up, briefcases in hand and noses up to the sky are the ones who cannot stand a more successful woman to lay beside them. Interestingly, the same man who founded the Byronic hero tended to use mother nature in these connotations in his poetry. He throws these ideas in Darkness:
“The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave,
the moon, their mistress, had expired before”
(Byron, lines 78/79)
Here we see that women who are illustrated through mother nature are seen as sinful and seductive and that they are the ones that cause the utmost chaos in society. These ideas of women being at fault are trends still relevant in today’s society.
Just like there are two kinds of men, two kinds of women are also visible in romantic poetry. There are times when Mother Nature in romantic poetry does take on its cliche role. This can be seen in Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey:
“The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being.”
Here nature is the poet’s nurse. It is the thing that keeps humans on a moral path in life, and unlike Byron, Wordsworth does not find the actions of nature threatening. Instead, they are calming for his soul. Something about the seaside connotations of ‘anchor’ causes my breathing to ease, and suddenly, I am in love with romantic poetry once more. I am serene. I am calm. And no bad connotations of mother nature could ever change that.
There is nothing more to say than that the Byronic Hero does not beat Mother nature, and Mother Nature does not beat the Byronic Hero. Rather, they stand side by side, showing different sides to both men and women.