The Byronic Hero: My Kind of Character

Scene from The Count of Monte Cristo.

Scene from The Count of Monte Cristo.

Currently, I am in the throes of reading Alexander Dumas ‘ masterpiece The Count of Monte Cristo.  Normally, I make a point to read as many books as possible despite my sluggish reading pace.  But this novel has been different.  It’s taken me weeks to get through these 1000+ pages because, 50 pages into this story I started slowing down, savoring each and every sentence.  I haven’t been so spellbound to a story since I finished Wuthering Heights last winter, and I think I know why.

People who read a lot might find they can identify with this concept; the idea that we readers have character types we are attracted to, characters who enchant, delight, and mesmerize us more than the others in a particular novel.   For me, I subconsciously categorize  books in this way — based on character types.  I’ve noticed a trend in some of my favorite works of English literature:  the brooding, Byronic, sometimes satanical hero.

Typically this protagonist was one that emerged in 19th-century romantic literature and has roots in the poetry of Lord Byron.  The Byronic hero has transcended time and emerged in modern literature as well, though is depicted more as an anti-hero in these more recent works ( an example of this might be the Phantom from Phantom of  the Opera).  But in 19th-century romantic literature, the Byronic protagonist was the hero, not the anti-hero.  The archetype was usually male and embodied these character traits:

  • arrogant
  • cunning
  • cynical
  • intelligent
  • perceptive
  • domineering
  • tormented by their past
  • vengeful
  • mysterious
  • charismatic
  • emotionally conflicted

The British historian and essayist Lord Macaulay summarized the Byronic hero perfectly:

“… man proud, moody, cynical, with defiance on his brow, and misery in his heart, a scorner of his kind, implacable in revenge, yet capable of deep and strong affection”.  — Critical & Historical Essays Volume 2 by Thomas Babington Macaulay

Michael Fassbender as Mr. Rochester in a recent film depiction of Jane Eyre.

Michael Fassbender as Mr. Rochester in a recent film depiction of Jane Eyre.

I am drawn to the Byronic hero because of these multifarious character description.  For those who have read the Count of Monte Cristo, the Byronic hero is in the title.   The more I read, the more I come to realize how he is a character of infinite dimensions.  Just when he shows a friend the ultimate hospitality and generosity, he secretly reveals a vengeful, convoluted plan that will eventually disgrace and ruin them.  Just when his mannerisms seem too gentle to hurt a fly, he declares he will duel one of his compatriots to the death.  Just when I believe he is too intelligent to possess any weaknesses, he succumbs to a woman’s maternal pleas.   He is both terrible and terrific at once, and he is what makes this story so compelling and formidable.

The Count of Monte Cristo isn’t the only example of a Byronic hero I’ve come across.  Wuthering Heights, another favorite novel of mine, has its own Byronic hero — Heathcliff.   Cruel to his subordinates and obstinate to most other characters, he loved Catherine enough to let her marry another, while he let himself deteriorate with the agony of not being by her side.  From Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester is another perfect example of the Byronic hero.   Though in love with Jane, he is too tormented by his past sins and dishonesty to be with her.  Only after the fire at his estate are his sins eradicated and he is able to atone for them to be happy.

Not everyone might be attracted to the intense personality of the Byronic hero.   Though it’s the character I remember the most, the one I carry away with me when the story is over.  Perhaps the Byronic hero is a reason why I believe there’s nothing more absorbing or worthwhile than writing.

 

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

Bilbo_in_Rivendell_-_The_Hobbit

I wish to make an ANNOUNCEMENT. He spoke this last word so loudly and suddenly that everyone sat up who still could. I regret to announce that — though, as I said, eleventy-one years is far too short a time to spend among you — this is the END. I am going. I am leaving NOW. GOOD-BYE!

–J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

My preparations to leave the country have prompted me to think about departures in general.  Saying goodbye, whether it be to life or loved ones or friends, is a crucial moment that shouldn’t be taken lightly.  Heck, even to material items.  As part of my preparations I sold my car today, my beloved 1995 Honda Civic.  I didn’t realize how attached I was to that hunk of scrap metal until it was driving away without me.   For a moment, I was resentful of the fact I had to sell it; I didn’t want to make the sacrifice.  I was consumed by that emotional, angry brooding people experience when life seems ‘unfair.’

Sacrifice at times is a necessary evil.  Human beings don’t like giving up the people or physical items which make us comfortable.  Perhaps the best example of this is when an elderly man or woman loses their spouse, their partner in everything, the person who has been at their side for years and who made life seem possible to endure.  Death is the most harrowing goodbye humans have to deal with, whether if it is a parent, spouse, child, or friend.  We don’t want to deal with it and sometimes we avoid it, a decision that can lead to regret and remorse later on.

Before I get too dismal, the purpose of this post was to discuss how goodbyes can be carried out in such a way that doesn’t make parting so distressing.  Goodbyes can be tactful, eloquent, and even memorable.  A great example to follow (in our everyday lives and for us writers) is in literature.   Here are some of my favorite closing lines from authors who knew how to said ‘adieu’ in ways that were maudlin  without being cheesy, and definitive to the point of lacking any precariousness.

Best Literary Endings

“Well, here at last, dear friends, on the shores of the Sea comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-earth. Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.” –J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

“For though he was master of the world, he was not quite sure what to do next. But he would think of something.” — Arthur C. Clark, 2001: A Space Odyssey

“He was soon borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance.”  –Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

As if that blind rage had washed me clean, rid me of hope; for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the benign indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself—so like a brother, really—I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again. For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.  –Albert Camus, The Stranger

“The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed sombre under an overcast sky- seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.  – Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

“I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita.”  – Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

If I don’t want to post to go on forever, I’m going to stop here.  If you have a favorite literary farewell, I’d love to hear it.

Writers: Masters in the Art of Selfishness

venice_pax

The solo traveller, the happy traveller.

Oh, I am a bad, bad blogger.  Yes, I’ll admit I’ve been neglecting my blog.  But there is a reason for it.  As I alluded to in my post ‘Finding Time To Read & Write,’ big changes are about to take place — are already taking place in my life.   As many of you may know, momentous life changes tend to disrupt one’s weekly routine.

In approximately 6 weeks, I will be moving to a town in England — specifically the southwest region — called Exeter.  Here I will begin studying towards a Master’s degree in British literature and creative writing.  Though I had been accepted to the program back in November of last year, I only decided not too long ago to enroll at the University of Exeter for my postgraduate degree.   But ever since my mind was made up, there has been much paperwork to complete, accommodation to secure, etc.  Only yesterday I finally sent out my visa application to the British Consulate after weeks of acquiring the proper documentation.  At last, this move — this major life change — feels real.  So why did it take me so long to decide?

Looking back, It’s hard to believe I brooded over this decision for eight months.  I can’t really pinpoint why it took so long; I only recall the elation I experienced on days I was leaning towards going, and the despair on days I had convinced myself this venture was too risky, to expensive…too reckless.   Today, I only wish I had decided sooner — if I had, I probably wouldn’t be scrambling around like mad trying to meet the requirements for a Tier 4 Student Visa.

But now that I definitely am going, this decision feels so right.  I have yearned for a change for quite some time.  A change in environment, lifestyle — the type of all-encompassing change that one can only get from immersion into a new country and culture.  For some people, I understand this urge to make  a drastic life change is lacking ; the thought never arises.  Perhaps it is instead viewed as a ‘disruption’ to one’s ineradicable daily routine.  For me, I know I will not be content with a linear life path — go to college, get married, move to suburbs, have kids, etc.  When I consider these generic life ‘goals’ most people share, I envision a future of such mediocrity that is terrifying enough to disrupt my sleep.

I strongly believe there is no reward without risk, nor is there success without suffering or failure.  These rules hold true for any type of profession, venture, or dream.  I am prepared for this.  And I also have to say that as a writer, one has to be selfish in some regards — one being the demand to experience the delights of the world through one’s own eyes — meaning, alone.  Writing is a solitary practice that must be devoid of disruptions.  Writers are self-involved in this way.  More than once, I have heard remarks from family, friends, and colleagues about my decision to move abroad, things like, “How could you move away from your family?” and “How are you going to survive there?”  I laugh inwardly at these questions mostly because they’re so worried while I, the one going, am not at all.

There was a recent article in the New York Times Magazine entitled “Yes Please, Party of One.”  The author Andrew O’Hagan discusses the bliss of traveling solo as a writer.  He says:

“I believe that traveling alone is the last great test of who you are in a world where everyone aches to be the same.”

Yes, I am going to England to get my Master’s degree, which will probably lead to a PhD, so that I can one day teach British literature at a university in the states.  I am going because I believe a degree in British Literature from a British university as opposed to an American university will hold more weight.  I am going because it is time to do something responsible and get the wheels moving on a career.  I am going because as I mentioned before, risks must be taken to escape the monotony of life.  But above all, I am going  for the reason Mr. O’Hagan has stated above.  In my own words, I am going for self-discovery.

How Does One Find Time to Read & Write?

My natural habitat -- I've missed this!

My natural habitat — I’ve missed this!

I’ll admit it; I’ve been slacking.  My last blog post was published two weeks ago today.  When I started this blog a few months ago, I vowed to write weekly and never break that pattern.  That is, unless some dire emergency transpired — which it hasn’t.  So what’s my problem?

As lame as I feel admitting it, life has gotten in the way of my blogging.  Which still isn’t an excuse at all; I expect more of myself.  I do not work full-time, nor do I have children or any other major responsibilities.  But a lot has been happening in the past two weeks.  My sister’s senior prom, awards ceremony, graduation, other graduation parties, bridal showers, etc.  And to my credit, on top of my two part-time virtual jobs I’m now an on-call nanny which has been taking up  a significant amount of my time.  I will also shamefully admit that last Sunday I was glued to the television set for the final round of the U.S. Open at Merion.  Imagine!  I, who never watch television during the day, sitting for hours in front of the television set watching men’s golf.

Aside from these events, there have been larger life decisions looming over my head lately.  In the past couple of weeks I’ve committed to attending graduate school in the fall.  Not only that but the school is outside the US, and there is a LOT of paperwork to deal with in order to meet visa requirements.  On top of everything else, I feel terribly ill today and am about to take another couple spoonfuls of NyQuil.

My worst nightmare -- being stressed and too busy to read or write!

My worst nightmare — being stressed and too busy to read or write!

Typically, I am concurrently reading a book for pleasure and a book for review purposes.   Lately, I am barely getting my freelance writing assignments completed on time.  But at the same time, I am disappointed in myself for a) missing a week of blogging, and b) not working on my book as often as I used to.

So…. the question I will pose to my blog readers is:  when life gets in the way, how do you stay consistent?  How do you manage to blog and write regularly even when obstacles get in the way and time just won’t allow for it?  And lastly how do you manage to make time to read and write without making a drastic life change, like quitting your job (or one of them)?

I would appreciate advice from anyone out there who reads, reviews books, and writes regularly — meaning authors, book reviewers, students, or anyone with words of wisdom.  Getting in the habit of blogging regularly will be a learning process for me, a process I need to get better acquainted with.

Til next week then, I truly hope.