Lord Byron as the Byronic Template
Lord Byron had a tenuous pauper to prince upbringing, and gradually became a self-made man. The title he inherited from his great uncle helped him in this endeavor, while his abandonment by his father and his strained relationship with his mother did little to support him. In his wandering nature, he took after his father who was a womanizer and his paternal grandfather who sailed the world. His life had mythical qualities which paralleled to his protagonist Manfred, the original Byronic Hero. In works like Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and Don Juan, one can see Lord Byron breathing his own experiences into his protagonists.
Byron was a traveller, a revolutionary political figure, a poet, and a sexually promiscuous man. He was, in a sense, a larger-than-life celebrity of his time. People did not always approve of his actions, and they certainly created scandal within English society. Byron both fed this image and the rumors about himself, but eventually found himself feeling constrained by the preexisting perceptions of him. Because of these constraints, Byron eventually left England for good. Through all of it, though, he was a wildly successful and prolific writer. There are many parallels in his life to the Greek hero, from his own travels in Troy and his imitation of Leander in swimming the Hellespont to his memorialization as a Greek national hero after his death. By the time he died, Byron had found redemption in domestic life and his devotion to the cause of Greek independence. As Tennyson’s words upon Byron’s death, “Byron is dead,” reflect, Byron was his own entity, he spoke for himself.
Perhaps his most autobiographical work is his dramatic poem, Manfred. The character of Manfred is racked by a heavy guilt, which is never made explicit to the reader. The character of Astarte is named after an incestuous pagan goddess, whom most readers interpreted to represent his half-sister Augusta Leigh, whom Byron had an incestuous affair with. This affair was the cause for his separation from his wife Annabella. Ultimately, Manfred chooses death over submission to any religious entity. This self-inflicted damnation is one of the chief characteristics of the Byronic Hero. We see this same thread in Byron’s own life, as he chose to leave the society that did not accept him, rather than conform to it. It’s easy to draw a connection between Manfred’s titular character and Byron himself, and ultimately Manfred is considered a confessional piece.
The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 5th Ed. David Damrosch & Kevin J. H. Dettmar. New York: Pearson, 2012. pp 711-748. Print.