We remember the bad guys and forget the good ones. Is that human nature or some deep seated need to be 'bad' ? Whatever it is is manifested in our deep sympathies towards Byronic heroes or anti heroes as they are popularly known. Now the question arises, what is this hero we are talking about?
Who Is A Byronic Hero?
As the name suggests it has a lot to do with the Romantic poet Lord Byron. It is rumoured that women (and we are talking about the 18th century) stripped their clothes and threw it at this handsome poet. But behind the poet who wrote about Romanticism was a hedonistic man who can at best be described as a womanizer and at worst a demonic vampire. That is why in spite of being a romantic poet he lends his name to a race of heroes who are negative, intense, adored and hated at once by us.
How It Started?
It was not like history started with the Byronic hero in place. For a long time on the literary scene the Greek classical tragic hero ruled the roost before the modern classic came in place.. The great man with one tragic flaw falls and it inspires our fear and awe by watching that 'fall' from grace. Most of the Shakespearean heroes too were tragic rather than anti heroes. It is incredible but true that the first example of Byronic hero might have been provided by Byron himself in his epic poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. The rest as you know is history.
Women Writers And Byronic Heroes:
Although Byron started the tradition he did not give it a name. It is the women writers of that century that made it reach the heights with modern classics. The funny part is that they all used male pen names to get published. The cruelty of Heathcliff created by Emily Bronte is unforgettable, he almost half human half animal. Yet he is the hero of the most controversial modern classic Wuthering Heights, not the docile and gentle Edgar Linton. Again the ill behaved monster of man, Mr Rochester who has caged his mad wife for years in an attic is both the hero and villain of Jane Eyre.
Why Byron's Legacy Continues?
Nothing has changed, women still find Byronic heroes irresistible and there is ample evidence of that in popular culture. Whether it is Bollywood star Shahrukh Khan from Baazigar or Micheal Corleone from the Godfather, they are all anti heroes. The most recent one in the march of anti heroes is Edward Cullen from the Twilight series. He is a vampire whose mode of survival is to kill and yet he is irrevocably in love with his prey. The lion falls in love with the lamb and learns to eat grass!
They kill remorselessly and are selfish to the core yet they love their women and sire families. It is the dichotomy that makes them more human than the idyllic romantic heroes. That is why Byronic heroes almost always work.