The University of Toronto at Scarborough

ENGB02Y: English Literature: Historical Survey (SpringTerm)

Instructor: Melba Cuddy-Keane

The Byronic Hero

As the Norton editors point out, "The character of Manfred is the author's supreme representation of the Byronic hero" (514). You'll find an excellent description of the particular character of the Byronic hero in the middle paragraph on page 480. In many ways, you'll see that the qualities that mark this type of hero represent the antithesis of traditional heroism: this hero is not the leader of his people or a representative of his country. He is instead the "archrebel" and it's his rebellious energy, his moody self-isolation, that is the source--to use a phrase from Coleridge--of his "savage grandeur."

Coleridge used these words, however, before Manfred had come into being. In the same year that Byron began to write Manfred (1816), Coleridge published The Statesman's Manual, or The Bible the Best Guide to Political Skill and Foresight. In this work, Coleridge warned against the appeal of the rebellious Romantic hero who functions as a law unto himself--a figure Coleridge identified with Milton's Satan (Norton 400). Coleridge, as a philosophical conservative, perceived the danger of giving power to men who could subdue every other consideration to their own ambition. (Compare the fate of the man who forgets his connection with others in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.")

The radical poet William Blake, however, celebrated the rebellious energy of Satan, turning Satan's revolt around to see it as the creative force of human Desire breaking free from its deadening suppression by Reason. In fact, Blake claimed, Milton--though he couldn't admit it--really sided with Desire and knew subconsciously that Satan was the true hero of Paradise Lost: "The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devil's party without knowing it" (Norton 56).

Go to the W.W.Norton site on The Satanic and Byronic Hero.

These notes are intended for the use of students in a lecture course; for any other use, please acknowledge this site.

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