Augusta as Astarte, Byron as Byronic hero
The guilt-ridden hero invented in Lord Byron’s Manfred was not mere fiction with vague undertones of an incestuous relationship, but rather an extension of Lord Byron himself. Byron’s allusion to a pagan goddess achieved by naming the hero’s love interest Astarte was a rather direct clue to events in his own life. Lord Byron’s incestuous relationship with his half-sister Augusta directly influenced his writing of Manfred.
Suspicions of an incestuous relationship between Manfred and Astarte are initiated in the poem in Act 2 lines 26-7:
“When we were in our youth, and had one heart,
And loved each other as we should not love,”(723)
This is the beginning of several vague references to Manfred’s guilt in this love relationship. A more direct clue to the familial relationship between Manfred and his lover occurs in lines 106-7:
“She was like me in lineaments- her eyes,
her hair, her features, all, to the very tone
Even of her voice, they said were like to mine;”(727).
These verses say that Manfred and Astarte are very alike both in physical appearance and even in their voices. At first glance it gives an idea of Astarte as the perfect soulmate for Manfred, but a more thoughtful interpretation reveals that their shared qualities are in fact genetic. These lines from Manfred among other less-obvious innuendoes in the poem point to a suspicious of incest held by many of Byron’s contemporaries and readership (709). Actual evidence of Lord Byron’s sexual relationship with his half-sister Augusta can be found in his writings to her while he was in Venice:
“we may have been very wrong-but I repent of nothing except that cursed marriage- & your refusing to continue to love me as you had loved me… it is heart-breaking to think of our long Separation- and I am sure more than punishment enough for all our sins”(205)
Byron thinks incest to be wrong, and he feels his punishment in life via separation from his sister is enough to recompense for his sins without the need for humble apology. Byron’s revealed hubris in this letter connects him to the Byronic hero of Manfred, who admits his guilt but does not ask for forgiveness, but rather death.
Eisler, Benita. Byron Child of Passion Fool of Fame. New York: Random House, Inc., 1999. 205. Print.
Manning, Peter, Susan Wolfson, David Damrosch, and Kevin Dettmar, ed. The Longman Anthology of British Literature: The Romantics and Their Contemporaries. 5th. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc, 2012. 709-723. Print.