LITR 5535: American Romanticism

Sample Student Research Project 2006


Brouke M. Rose-Carpenter

November 20, 2006

Research Journal

Somebody save us!


            Human beings have always had a need to put a face on heroic actions.  People need to know that there is someone out there that will save them.  Even though, their faith stays intact, people need to have the reassurance that, “people help people.”  It is through this hope in the human race that superheroes are born.

            All it takes is one good deed to be witnessed by someone, to begin the retelling of ones actions, and then it becomes like the “telephone game.”  The story starts by a person rescuing a cat from a tree.  As it circulates the cat becomes a child, the tree becomes a skyscraper, and the person didn’t climb the tree, but they flew up there.  So now, a simple, kind act of getting a cat down from a tree is now, a phenomenal rescue of a child in a burning building, and the person flew up there to save the kid!!  A superhero is born!!!!

            It is a fascination with the idea of human kindness, along with the combination of super human powers. The United States of America was founded on dreams and hopes, and all it takes is for one person to go beyond the call of duty to make dreams come true.  Along with man’s desire for greatness, and a life full of fairytales, the idea of a hero is contrived from their own imagination.

            The earlier forms of heroic figures consisted of the epic hero, who is fighting for a good cause, and the issue of life and death is no matter to him, as long as his cause prospers.  Then the white knight, who rides up on his steed in his suit of armor with his blonde hair and blue eyes, (the sign that he is a good guy), and saves the day, typically leaving with the damsel in distress.  The heroes are always this good guy who fits the stereotypical heroic description, one who is typically described with lighter colors, very clean, fighting for noble acts, his past is known, he is loved, and is ALWAYS a male (hence the use of all the “He’s.”)  After centuries of this “expected hero” and his actions, people go bored and weary; the good guy’s to be in white, while the bad guy is defined by his dark or even black colors.  The cliché of good and bad grows tiresome for Americans.  With times changing, and common people becoming more aware of the world, and the knowledge around them, calls for a new kind of hero, someone more unexpected, someone who is not perfect in every way, someone they feel is more life like. This gives way for the birth of the “Byronic Hero.”    


What and who, is this Byronic hero????





Within the contents of these websites, a list of Byronic characteristics are listed:


v     A rebel

v     Does not possess the usual “heroic virtues”

v     Dark Qualities

v     Larger than life

o       Intellectual capacity

o       Self respect

o       Hypersensitivity

v     Moody by nature

v     Struggles with integrity

v     Distaste for social institutions and social norms

v     Exiled, outcast, or outlaw

v     Cynical

v     Loner

v     Passionate about a particular issue

v     Emotional

v     Rebels against life itself

v     Arrogant

v     Confident

v     Troubled past

v     Often characterized by some unknown sexual crime

v     Extremely conscious of himself

v     A figure of repulsion, as well as fascination


Here, the reader is able to see what a Byronic character possess to make him stand out from the rest.  It is apparent that the reason to distinguish between a Byronic hero and the classic hero, are of the utmost importance.   This form of hero will not be expected character to save the day.  The Byronic hero is full of multiple complexities, as listed above, and it is within that turmoil, that the hero Americans desire emerges. 

In the first website, there is also the influence the Byronic hero had on the Bronte sisters.  The hero’s in multiple works, by the Bronte sisters, is highly inspired by the complex Byronic hero.  It is as one of the characteristics states, he is “a figure of repulsion, as well as fascination.”  The Byronic hero intrigues new readers, because of his unfamiliarity.  The “A typical” hero is boring, but this new kind of hero is mysterious and fabulous.  This Dark hero is beginning to evolve into the minds of new and future authors. 

Home is where the heart is, but where is the Byronic Hero’s home?????

  1. Lutz, Deborah. Midwest Quarterly: A Journal of Contemporary Thought. Love as Homesickness: Longing for a Transcendental Home in Byron and the Dangerous Lover Narrative (MQ) 2004 Autumn; 46 (1): 23-38.

In this article, Deborah Lutz explores Freud’s idea that, “love is homesickness.”  She does not make the same connections as Freud does, but she explores the emotional connection rather than the physical.  

The Byronic hero is a traveler, literally and figuratively at times.  Lutz believes that the traveling side of the Byronic hero is due to his lack of love and home.  His travels are provoked by the need of love, and a homestead.  Once he finds the love he longs for, he will then find the home he desires within his beloveds arms.  Lutz states that “love creates a dwelling place in space and time.”  This theme of homelessness, and its connection to the need for love runs much deeper than the Byronic hero, that authors prior to Byron’s heroic creation have had the same theme.  She then goes into listing the past hero’s that also held these same desires.  She also states, “The Byronic philosophy sees love as the ultimate, and only, redemption and home for one in this life.” 

Even though love is needed to obtain a home, she states that it seems impossible for the Byronic hero to find love due to his tormented misanthropic exile.  That his very foundations of love are failure, the forgetting of what is possible, and finally the hero must fail, because he cannot be redeemed by becoming a couple.  That the hero must fail by definition of the Byronic hero.  His tormented melancholy failure torments him and continues to almost succeed, but then fail, until experiencing eternal loss, and the repetition ruins the thought of ever having bliss.  She then goes into the use of the Byronic hero by the Bronte sisters and others.

Characters used:

v     Cain, Genesis

v     Rochester, Jane Eyre

v     Heathcliff, Wuthering Heights

v     Conrad, The Corsair

v     Childe Harold

v     Giaour, The Gaiour

v     Manfred Astarte,

v     Odysseus

v     Romeo,  Romeo and Juliet

v     The Flying Dutchman

v     The Wondering Jew

v     Satan, Paradise lost

v     Ancient Mariner, Rhyme to the Ancient Mariner

v     George Vavasor, Can you forgive her?

v     T.J. Swift,  Stranger in her Bed

As she moves through these literary works, she explains their need for love and home, and the connection; the desire and loss theme, of both love and home, and its repetitious pattern throughout all of these Byronic characters. 

            The Byronic Hero has to go through many trials and tribulations, but still doesn’t seem to come out on top, even though lady luck is not on his side, he does what is to be done, when he believes it is the right thing to do.  His desire and loss is inspiration to many readers, and it is this need for love, and a homestead that is one of the driving forces towards the American Dream.  Perhaps this is one of the reasons that Americans cling to the Byronic hero so adamantly.

What is with American’s attraction to the Byronic Hero????


These two sites give brief definitions of the “American Dream,” although they are

not in depth, they provide a reader with the sense of the dream of happiness, freedom, and the overcoming of adversities.  Americans have had to face many obstacles to get to where they are now, not all of the attempts were prosperous, or easily achieved.  For a person to witness the realistic behavior in a character is inspirational to them, and they want to see a real person over coming real problems, just as they are, and the people around them. 

            Not only are the realistic dilemmas appealing to the American audience, but just as they have left Europe for something new, they now want something new in a hero them as well.  This is another reason the Byronic hero is so popular to American readers.  He reiterates the new idea of a hero.  He follows the change of pace in time and culture.  He gives a new spin on the tiresome heroic tale.  People still want to see good triumph over evil, but they want to see it in different scenarios.  The idea that “no good dead goes unrewarded” is still in play, but perhaps the reward is not of the earthly kind.   People also understand, that even though one has done and honorable act, it is not always rewarded like in fairytales, but in reality, sometimes standing up for what is right is not always the most profitable.  Americans needed to know that they are doing what they should do, but in reality it isn’t as easy as it looks, and that things aren’t always what they appear.  

            With all of the immigrants coming to America, people are now encountering a multitude of different ideas, cultures, faces, and beliefs that they never knew existed.  The Byronic hero personifies these strange new encounters.   People behave differently when they are from another country, and this took some getting use to.  When they read about the familiar heroes in stories, it was only a reminder of how unaware they are of the world.  The Byronic hero let them know that there are unfamiliar people out there, but they have their reasons, they are not bad people, and they should try to get to know them.  The American people like this reassurance.  To know that other people are just as unfamiliar with things as they are, and lets them know they are not alone. 

Does the Byronic hero have sex appeal?????


            On this website they conducted a study of what American women are looking for in a mate.  It is assumed that women are looking for a virtuous man, but this assumption was wrong.  They gave three types of men, one having the stereotypical classic heroic traits, the second having the Byronic hero’s traits, and the third acted as a filler.  The majority of American women chose the Byronic male.  American’s like the mystery that a person has, because every person that has come to the United States has this mystery about them.  To be frank, every person that they meet has this mystery until they get to know them, and even then they leave a few skeletons in their closets.  That is why Americans are drawn to the Byronic Hero, because of the mystery.  People came to America with the hopes of new possibilities, and literature was not excluded from this hope. 

So, now what is happening to the Byronic Hero?????

  1.  Stein, Atara. The Byronic Hero in Film, fiction, and Television.  Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2004.




The Byronic hero is a timeless hero that realistically shows that the appealingly good can be bad, and the bad can be good.  People really don’t know who they are dealing with until they get to know them.  That is why the Byronic hero is still used today.

In Atara Stein’s book, The Byronic Hero in Film, Fiction, and Television, she tracks the inspiration and influence of the Byronic hero. She follows the Byronic hero’s evolution from paper to screen.  The Byronic hero has made such a lasting impression on Americans from its stories and novels, that once Americans turned to cinematic entertainment, the Byronic hero followed.  Stein follows the Byronic hero in: Pale Rider, Unforgiven, The Terminator, Aliens, The Crow, Sandman, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Angel.  She takes the Romantic version of the Byronic hero, and all his characteristics, and applies him to the modernized Byronic hero, and then does a compare and contrast of the Byronic hero over two centuries in fiction, film and television.  She talks of the Byronic Hero playing the role as the Protagonist in Westerns, action flicks, space odysseys, vampire novels, neo-Gothic comics, and sci-fi television. 

The hero exhibits supernatural abilities, his own personal moral code, (which he adamantly sticks to) anti-social behavior, arrogance, and the defiance of oppression.  He typically plays the role of the outlaw, outcast, and, as she points out, is most often a “he.”   She also states how people do not typically desire to emulate his behavior that he actually desires to be like them.  This desire to be more “human-like,” is referred to as the “rehumanizing” of the hero, or by a force near him, to give him, an admirable quality of the ordinary human’s virtues, values and experiences.  As one can see the Byronic Hero is still alive and well.  The characteristics of the hero are primarily still intact, and presently authors and directors have tapped into the sensitive side this character, which has been there in the undertones, but is more widely recognized on the screen. 

Through careful analysis of the specific characters, Stein then places them in two categories, the “leader-hero” and the “angst-ridden loner hero.”   The “leader-hero,” pursues justice outside of the law through explosive violence.  She then uses the specific examples of Clint Eastwood Westerns, The Crow films, and the Terminator films.  The “angst-ridden loner hero,” views his powers as a burden and longs for human existence.  The examples used here are Anne Rice’s vampire novels and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman novels.  She then goes into detail, and examines the hero that embodies both sets of characteristics from the two categories as an example: the character, “Q” the omnipotent alien from Star Trek: the Next Generation.

She does not over look the women, although it is not until recent years that there has been a Byronic heroine.   In her book, Stein examines the two female characters, Sarah Connor, from Terminator movies, and Ellen Ripley, from the Alien movies.  Both women assume Byronic qualities, they are fighting the oppression of gender bias’ in society, while also defending their cause, life, and humanity from unwanted invaders.  Stein then moves her analysis into the more current Byronic heroine, the bold vampire champion of Angel, a television show.  She takes the reader through a modernized version of the Byronic hero, and the evolution of the character of 2 centuries. 

The second article to look at is from a website.  It contains the commentary of some of the creators of the characters she discusses and what they feel about her work.  This site has a couple of great quotes that a reader could feel really enhance the books appeal, without too much of an advertising angle. 

v     David Greenwalt, co-creator of Angel:

                  “Entertaining work sheds new light on the dark hero’s journey from nineteenth-century literature to twenty-first-century pop culture mythology.”

                  “Shows us that heroes don’t die, they morph right along with the culture they serve.”

v     Gary Hoppenstand, president of the Popular Culture Association and author of The Gothic World of Anne Rice

“Byronic hero’s influence on a brood of his contemporary descendants,

including gunslingers, cyborgs, vampires, and neo-Gothic comic book characters.”

“combine high culture with popular culture and then directs the reader to a

superior discussion of these sources.”

v     Mary Pharr, coeditor of The Blood Is the Life and editor of Fantastic Odysseys

explores the development of the provocative paradox that is the Byronic

hero from nineteenth-century poetry to twenty-first-century media.”

                        “Hers is an engaging and gracefully written argument, certain to make readers ponder the links between High Romanticism and popular culture.”     

v     Sherrie Inness, author of Tough Girls: Women Warriors and Wonder Women in Popular Culture

“Mapping the development of a pervasive and popular figure over the

 span of two centuries”

                        “The prose is elegant, graceful, and succinct, and the central argument is lively and engaging.”

v     David Lavery, coeditor of Fighting the Forces: What's at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

“Stein’s wide-ranging, observant, accessible study offers much of interest to scholars and fans of both high and low culture and helps to bridge the chasm between them in the process.”

It is through these comments that the appreciation for Steins research is seen.  She has not only shown the world that the Byronic hero is still alive and well, but it is also seen that she is not the only one who feels the influence of the Byronic Hero.

Are there other examples of the Byronic Hero in film?????

            Stein barely scraped the tip of the iceberg in her list of Byronic heroes in film, fiction, and television.  In fact, there is no way that one could list them all without leaving some out, and boring a reader to death, but there are a couple of more recent and popular heroes that need to be stated.


On this site one can pull up any movie to see the description of plot.  If a reader so

chooses they could go to this site, and type in any of the movie titles listed below, and see for them selves if the character fits the description.

v     Gabriel Van Helsing, Van Helsing

v     Captain Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean

v     Professor Snape, Harry Potter’s

v     Bruce Wayne, Batman

v     William Wallace, Brave heart

v     Shrek, Shrek’s

v     Ranger, The Stephanie Plum series

v     Lucivar, Saetan, and Daemon, The Black Jewels Trilogy and Dreams Made Flesh

v     Any character, X-men

v     Hell boy, Hellboy

v     John Smith, Mr. and Mrs. Smith

v     Corbin Dallas, The Fifth Element

v     The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

In the 21st century the Byronic hero is still alive and well.  The Byronic hero is probably more popular than ever, due to the power of television, movies, and the internet.  One cannot forget where the Byronic hero began, literature, and it is still very much alive there as well.  There are only three books listed above, but one must consider that a movie, was once a screenplay before it is a movie, and most screenplays come from books, so that makes the Byronic hero more influential than ever.  

One change that the Byronic hero has made during its morph into television and movies, is the ending of their plot.  In the initial form of the Byronic hero, he did not have the happily ever after ending, but in the 20th and 21st centuries the ending of the Byronic hero is a bit more settled.  In some versions he finds a mate, or the resolve to the driving force behind their secretive live.  Audiences and readers do like to see a realistic and mysterious character, but in the 21st century, people tend to need the hero to have a good ending.  This need is not so much to meet the heroes need for happiness, but to appease the audience.  They need to know that there are happy endings out there for all people.  People get through the rough patches in their lives by knowing that eventually everything will be better, and that happiness will come, so when they see a movie and they relate to the problems presented, they want to know that there is a happy ending to it all.  This is the way that the Byronic Hero has had to change through the time and cultural changes.  Another evolution of the Byronic Hero is gender.  After women fought for equality, and won, they decided that women would be equal in all aspects, and that included in the heroic aspect as well. 

No More He-Man Woman Hater!!!!


*The Evolution of the Byronic Heroine in America!!!


  1. Brooks, Mary. The Emergence of the Byronic Heroine. April 2005.



In Mary Brooks essay, The Emergence of the Byronic Heroine, she discusses the

evolution of the female version of the Byronic hero.  In her paper she give a list of writers, characters and movies that have a Byronic heroine in them.

v     Margaret Fuller

v     William Gibson’s, Cyberpunk

v     William Gibson’s, Mona Lisa Overdrive

v     Sara Paretsky, V.I. Warshawski

v     Max, Dark Angel

v     Sydney, Alias

v     Irina, Alias

v     Ellen Ripley, Aliens series

v     The Bride,  Kill Bill I &II

It is through these characters that Brooks is able to display the way women have had to change how the Byronic hero is viewed, to make it work as a Byronic Heroine. 

            The Byronic Heroine is seeking liberation from socially imposed constraints of gender.  She is not fighting against the male world, which tends to be a misconstrued concept, but is fighting for specific issues, just as the Byronic hero does, but she is also having to battle the notion that “a woman can’t do it” in the process.  The oppression she faces gives her strength to anything she needs to do.  The Byronic Heroines attitude towards life separates her from society because of her fierce determination to never compromise, but this determination takes a toll on her social and emotional life.  She is willing to defend her opinions no matter what the consequence. 

            The idea that the emotionally dark characters must be males is thrown out of the window!  The strong and focused females are a more recent development, but the sex appeal will often out weigh their story.  This concept is the “Femme Fatale,” which is when the woman uses her sexuality to lure a man into a bad situation.  This is a simply one dimensional character who is dark, and outside the norms of society, but whose overall agenda was simply that she wished to use those skills at her disposal to reach her selfish ends. That is not to say that the sexuality of the Byronic heroine is not important, simply that it is secondary to her motives. She then goes through the multiple motifs and endings of the Byronic Heroines.  Some are motivated by revenge, some survival, and some as obligation.  Some reach their ends through death, completing a mission, or by just walking away. 

            The Byronic heroine is no different than the Byronic hero, her dark past separates her from society, and her amazing abilities will enable her to accomplish all that she sets out to do.  The appeal that the Byronic Heroes and Heroines have to the reader and audience is the fact that they are voicing opinions, that perhaps, the audience is to afraid to voice for themselves.  This is why they are so popular, and will never go out of style

            The second site that is listed is the same movie and book site from the above list of Byronic heroes.  It is to show a couple of movies and books that the Byronic heroine is seen and to show that the Byronic heroines popularity of steadily growing.


v     Lara Croft, Tomb Raider

v     Nikita, La femme Nikita

v     Surreal, The Black Jewels Trilogy, & Dreams Made Flesh

v     Xena, Xena: The Warrior Princess

v     Domino Harvey, Domino

v     Jane Smith, Mr. and Mrs. Smith

v     Le-lo, The Fifth Element

Again, this is just a few of the Byronic heroines that are out there, and to emphasis the fact that they are steadily growing and that the Byronic hero is an immortal character. 

Is the Classic Hero still out there?????

  1. Lucas, Christopher. Byronic Heroes, Yesterday and Today. November 2003.

Yes, the classic hero is still out there doing the right thing, and bringing justice to

all .  He is still flying around in his brightly colored suit, perfect hair, and has a big grin on his face.  He typically does not have a sketchy background, and is always leaving happy endings for all around.  Lucas’s essay is arguing the same thing that this paper is arguing in reguards to the Byronic heroes presence in present culture, but of course with a different spin.  The main point in bringing his paper in as a resource is the way he looked at the classic hero; the western version of superhero, the good cowboy in white with the bad cowboy in black, Superman flying around doing good deeds, to protect earth, etc.  In this paper, the difference is that these characters are still in the American culture, but presently they are looked at as enjoyment verses salvation.  These heroes do not feel as realistic as the Byronic heroes.  Relating to them is practically impossible, but as a reader or viewer, it seems more realistic that the Byronic hero is like someone they know, or themselves. 

            The American audience wants to rely on the hero they are looking at, and it takes a lot of faith to believe that a man from outer space will come to earth, as a baby and grown up to protect them.  It is not saying that this form of hero is bad, it is still great and very fun, but people tend to see through him.  So, the American audience is now adding more realistic features to that type of hero.  Look at the move the Incredibles, they have the classic superhero idea and past, but are now given a more realistic lifestyle, and troubles.  People want to relate to characters, and this is why they turn to the Byronic Hero and Heroine. 


            Americans still like the idea of some one saving them, but they want to know that the person is life-like.  To be able to relate to a character is important to the American public.  They don’t want to know that there are things out there they can’t do or achieve.  In America all things are possible, or that is one of the dreams, and to know that they could make a difference in the world would be amazing.  People come to America with hopes of something better.  Their journey is typically not an easy one, and once they are in America everyone and everything is a mystery.  So to Americans the Byronic hero is more realistic and relatable, while the classic hero is overdone, boring, and doesn’t motivate them.  The classic hero is pretty one dimensional, so its extinction is not a difficult task, but the complexities of the Byronic hero are so versatile, that this character is ever lasting. 

            Americans love the Byronic hero and heroine, so they are here to stay--get used to it!