One of my favourite genres of fiction is that of the Romantic Era. Yet, I do have a thorough dislike of the male characters that inhabit this world. Because of one thing, they all exemplify that most dangerous, monstrous of characters, the ‘Byronic Bad Boy.’ Yes, inspired by that most notorious of Romantic poets, Lord Byron, who, was, as Lady Caroline Lamb, put it, “mad, bad and dangerous to know.”
Indeed, Caroline would have known, because Byron conducted an affair with her, and then discarded her. However, it would seem she had revenge, in the form of the book Glenarvon, which was a thinly veiled fictional account of their affair, with the male character, Lord Glenarvon, bearing a striking resemblance in character and appearance to Byron.
Nevertheless, the problem with Lord Byron was that he was cruel and arrogant, and apparently even had an incestuous relationship with his half-sister. Yet because he was ‘so handsome,’ mesmersing women who came under his spell, it seemed that many forgave him for his numerous sins.
However, it doesn’t end there. Not only was he somewhat of a monster, but he ‘inspired’ a multitude of ‘Byronic Bad Boy,’ characters, the likes of which we are still suffering from today.
Take your pick – Edward Rochester from ‘Jane Eyre‘ – the monstrous man who literally locked up his wife in the attic while Jane, a governess, falls under his spell.
Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester
Then, there’s ‘Heathcliff’ from ‘Wuthering Heights,’ such a horrific brute that it is speculated he is, in fact, a “ghoul, a vampire.” But the female protagonist in the book, Cathy literally starves herself to death for him, as he went off and married her sister-in-law.
Anna Calder-Marshall (as Cathy) Timothy Dalton (as Heathcliff) in the film adaptation of ‘Wuthering Heights’ (1970)
‘Wuthering Heights’ (2009)
And speaking of vampires, the first ever vampire book, ‘The Vampyre,’ was actually written by Lord Byron’s physician, John Polidori, and was inspired by, naturally, Lord Byron himself.
In fact, it was Byron who told his many devoted ‘followers’ at a chateau near Geneva, to write a supernatural story in 1816. Byron had begun writing a vampire story, which he later tossed aside, unfinished, now called ‘Fragment of a Novel.’
Mary Shelley was also in attendance, and proceeded to write ‘Frankenstein.’ However, it was Polidori, who was so inspired by Lord Byron’s idea, that ended up completing the first ever vampire tale, ‘The Vampyre.’
It was originally published as a short story in the magazine, Colburn’s New Monthly Magazine in 1819, and was attributed to Byron, who thoroughly denied he wrote it.
Nevertheless, it is clear this monstrous character of the vampire was based on Byron. The character is a pale, seductive aristocrat, who casts a spell over every woman he meets. But obviously, he’s also a dangerous creature.
It is this Byronic ‘bad boy’ archetype, that has plagued Western culture ever since, exploiting the recesses of many a young girl’s mind, which harbours the ‘romantic literature fantasy’ of the ‘tall, dark, handsome’ brooding man, who obviously has an aggressive, violent streak. And yet he is ‘so handsome,’ he can quite literally get away with murder (or at the very least emotional/physical abuse).