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Byron is hard to classify by any standard. In so many ways, he epitomized the central enigmas of romanticism, opposites that could never be reconciled:

1. heterosexual and bisexual and homosexual?

2. fascinated with his accomplishments, as a writer and athletically, but tortured with a horrible self-image.

3. Romantic and Neoclassicist in form and thought.

4. deformed physically but very handsome:

5. wanted to be loved but rejected suitors.

6. his relationship with his half-sister.

7. a gentle heart but capable of cruelty.

8. the term BYRONIC HERO comes from his name, and your project will involve its nature.


Coleridge, Biographia Literaria

Plato, Statesman

Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism

Marchand, L. (ed.). Lord Byron-Selected Letters and Journals. Harvard University Press, 1982

McConnell, Frank. (ed.). Byron's Poetry; A Norton Critical Edition. N.Y.: W.W Norton and Co., 1978

Pastva, Sr. Loretta. Great Religions of the World. Winona, Mi.: St. Mary's Press, 1999.

Sperry, Stewart. Byron and the Meaning of Manfred. Criticism. XVI (Summer, 1974), pp. 189-202

Trueblood, Paul. Lord Byron. (Twayne's English authors series). G.K. Hall and Co., 1977.

Untermeyer, Louis. Lives of the Poets. N.Y. : Simon and Schuster, 1959.


Recall the introductory material on Romanticism; here we will focus on what has been called NEGATIVE Romanticism. Paradoxically Romanticism actualizes the best that man has achieved--the democratic spirit was born from Romanticism, but so was the holocaust. Byron is the microcosm; his heart was "made for softness," but he tormented Anabella, and seemed to enjoy a life style that he knew would scandalize his contemporaries.


Click here for an excellent Byron site and do the following:

    1. read the life of Byron focusing on: (A)...his relationship with his parents--especially his mother, the physical deformity, his mother's reaction to it, his sexual experiences when young and older, his marriage, and the circumstances of his death.(B)..the secret sin? (C) ...the BYRONIC HERO and Byron?
    2. examine the letters on this page and the above site
    3. read the following poems:


Manfred (full text).  There are discussion questions for the play and information on Byron's life. Click here to find that resource.

To study Manfred is perhaps to experience a different "theatrical" mode; sometimes referenced as a 'closet drama,' the play is more a dramatization of the consciousness of the protagonist than a performance for the stage. Think of each character as a psycho-moral aspect of the Byronic hero. To assist with our tour of the Byronic hero's psyche, the following references will prove beneficial:

Reference: Platonic and neo-Platonic philosophy:

Reference: Existentialism:

Reference: Romantic Period Aesthetics:

Reference: Zoroastrianism:

Reference: Faustus:


(See: Marchand, L. (ed.). Lord Byron-Selected Letters and Journals. Harvard University Press, 1982. The following extracts from that book follow:)

1804--to Byron's half sister

I seize this interval of my amiable mother's absence this afternoon, again to inform you, or rather to desire to be informed by you, of what is going on. For my own part, I can send nothing to amuse you, except a repetition of my complaints against my tormentor, whose diabolical disposition (pardon me for staining my paper with so harsh a word) seems to increase with age, and to acquire new force with time. The more I see of her the more my dislike augments; nor can I so entirely conquer the appearance of it, as to prevent her from perceiving my opinion; this so far from calming the Gale, blows it into a hurricane with threatened to destroy everything, till exhausted by its own violence, it is lulled into a sullen torpor which, after a short period, it again roused into fresh and revived frenzy, to me most terrible, and to every other spectator astonishing. She then declares that she plainly sees I hate her...No captive...Prisoner of war ever looked forward to their emancipation, that due to my escape from this maternal bondage, and this accursed place, which is the region to dullness itself, and more stupid than the banks of Lethe, though it possesses contrary qualities to the river of oblivion, as the detested scenes I now witnessed, make me regret the happier ones already passed, and wish their restoration.

1808--on religion

I once thought myself a philosopher, and talked nonsense with great decorum: I defied pain and preached up equanimity. For some time this did very well, for no one was in plain for me by my friends, and none lost their patience but my hearers. At last, a fall from my horse convinced me bodily suffering was an evil: and the worst of an argument oversets my maxims and my temper...In morality I prefer Confucius to the Ten Commandments, and Socrates to St. Paul. In religion I favor the Catholic emancipation, but do not acknowledge the Pope, and I have refused to take the sacrament, because I do not think eating bread or drinking wine from the hand of an earthly vicar will make me an inheritor of heaven. I hold virtue, in general, or the virtues severally, to be only in the disposition, each feeling, not a principle. I believe truth the prime attribute of the Deity, and death an eternal sleep, at least of the body.

1809--from Lisbon (optimistic tone)

I am very happy here, because I love oranges, and talk bad Latin to the monks, who understand it, as it is like their own---and I go into society (with my pocket pistols), and I swim...and I ride on an ass or mule, and swears Portuguese, and have got a diarrhea and bites from a mosquito. But what of that? Comfort must not be expected by folks that go a pleasuring...But, in sober sadness, any thing is better than England, and I am infinitely amused with my pilgrimage as far as it has gone.

1809--from Turkey (politics and interest in Turkey)

I found that Ali Pasha was with his army...he had heard that an Englishman of rank was in his dominions and had left provide a house and supply me with every kind of necessary gratis, and , though I have been allowed to make presents to the slaves, I have not been permitted to pay for a single article of household consumption...The next day, I was introduced to Ali Pasha. I was dressed in a full suit of staff uniform, with a very large magnificent saber...he said I was a man of noble birth, because I had small ears, curling hair, and little white hands, and expressed himself pleased with my appearance and garb. He told me to consider him as a father whilst I was in Turkey, and said he looked on me as his son. Indeed, he treated me like a child, sending me almonds and sugared sherbet...He begged me to visit him often and at night, when he was at leisure...His highness is sixty years old, very fat, and not tall, but with a fine face, light blue eyes, and a white beard, his manner is very kind, and at the same time he possesses that dignity which I find universal among the Turks...he is a remorseless tyrant, guilty of the most horrible crimes, very brave, and...a good general.

1811--on eternity

I will have nothing to do with...immortality; we are miserable enough in this life, without the absurdity of speculating upon another. If men are to live why die at all? and if they die, why disturb the sound sleep that "knows no waking?" As to revealed religion, Christ came to save man; but a good pagan will go to heaven, and a bad Nazarene to hell.

1814--romantic involvement

I am going to be married...Miss Milbanke is the lady...she has talents and excellent qualities, and you will not deny her judgment after having refused six suitors and taken me...I need not say that nothing will give me greater pleasure. I must of course reform thoroughly; and seriously, if I can contribute to her happiness, I shall secure my own. She is so good a person, that--that--in short, I wish I was a better.


Miss Milbanke is the good-natured person who has undertaken me, and, of course, I am very much in love, and as silly as all single gentleman must be in that sentimental situation.

1815--on Wordsworth

I give him credit for a promise which is unfulfilled. I still think his capacity warrants all you [Hunt] say of it only, but that his performance since Lyrical Ballads are miserably inadequate to the ability which lurks within him...who can understand him?

1816--private journal entry concerning his half-sister

...they sang a song which you love Augusta, because I love it--and I love, because you love do not know how I should have liked this, were you with me.

1817--Byron on his future

...If I live ten years longer, you will see, however, that it is not over with me--I don't mean in literature for that is nothing; and it may seem odd enough to say I do not think it is my vocation. But you will see that I shall do something--that "like the cosmology or creation of the world, will puzzle the philosophers of all ages." But I doubt whether my constitution will hold out. I have, at intervals, exorcised it most devilishly.

1817--literary theory

With regard to poetry in general, I am convinced that more I think of it, that all of us [the Romantic school] are all in the wrong. We are upon a wrong poetical system...not worth a damn. I am the more confirmed in this by having lately gone over some of the classics, particularly Pope...I was really astonished and mortified at the ineffable distance in point of sense, harmony, effect and even imagination, passion and invention.

1818--on a possible influence for Manfred

I never read and do not know that I saw the Faustus of Marlowe. I heard [a translation of]...some scenes of Goethe's Faust...which is all I know of the history of that magical person.

1819--to his half - sister Augusta

...I do not like at all this pain in your side, and always think of your mother's constitution. You must always be to me the first consideration in the world...You need not fear about me. I am much altered and should be little trouble to you, nor would I give you more of my company than you like...I confess after three and a half--and such years [the relationship with his half-sister has speculated incest] ... it would be a relief to me to see you again. And if it would be so to you I will come to you...I will do whatever you like in everything.

1821--on Shelley's poetry--reaction to an unfavorable review of Shelley's poetry.

I recollect the effect on me of the Edinburgh on my first poem. It was rage and resistance, and redress--but not despondency nor despair. I grant that those are not amiable feelings, but in this world of bustle and broil, and especially in the career of writing, a man should calculate upon his powers of resistance before he goes into the arena...You know my opinion of your own of power. You want me to undertake a great poem--I have not the inclination and the power. As I grow older, the indifference--not to life, for we love it by instinct--but to the stimuli of life, increases.

1822--on Manfred

With respect of "Religion", can I never convince you that I have no such opinions as the characters in that drama., which seems to have frightened everybody? Yet they are noting to the expressions in Goethe's Faust, and not a wit more bold than those of Milton's Satan. My idea of a character may run away with me: like all imaginative men, I of course, embody myself with the character while I draw it, but not a moment after the pen is off the paper. I am no enemy to religion, but the contrary. As a proof, I am educating my natural daughter a strict Catholic in a convent. For I think people can never halve enough of religion, if they are to have any. I incline, myself, very much to the Catholic doctrines, but if I am to write a drama, I must make my characters speak as I conceive them likely to argue. As to poor Shelley...the least selfish and mildest of men...with his speculative opinions I have nothing in common, nor desire to have. The truth is you live near the store of society where you are unavoidably influenced by its heat and vapours.


Tomorrow is my birthday...and I go to by bed with a heaviness of heart at having lived so long [33 years] and to so little purpose, Temperance and exercise, which I have practiced at times, and for a long time together vigorously and violently, made little or no difference. Violent passions did--when under their influence--it is odd, but I was agitated, but not in depressed spirits. Wine and spirits make me sullen and savage to ferocity, silent, however, and retiring, and not quarrelsome, if not spoken to. Swimming also raises my spirits--but in general they are low and get daily lower. That is hopeless...The proof of this is, that when I must game or drink, or be in motion of some kind, or I was miserable. At present I can mope in quietness; and like being alone better than company--except the lady's whom I serve...I have been considering what can be the reason why I always wake, at a certain hour in the morning, and always in very bad spirits--I may say in actual despair and despondency...People have wondered at the melancholy which runs through my writings. Others have wondered at my personal gaiety, but I recollect once, after an hour, in which I had been sincerely and particularly happy and rather brilliant in company, my wife, replying to me when I said (upon her remarking my high spirits) "and yet, Bell, [AnnaBelle Millbank], I have called and mis-called Melancholy you must have seen how falsely frequently." No, B. She answered, it is not so; at heart you hare the most melancholy of mankind, and often when apparently happiest." If I could explain the real causes which have contributed to increase this perhaps natural temperament of mine, this melancholy--nobody would wonder, but this is impossible without doing much mischief. I do not know anything more strange than some of the earlier parts of mine. I have written my memoirs, but omitted all the really consequential and important parts, form deference to the dead, the living, and to those who must be both...I am an excellent swimmer...a dashing rider...sufficient of fence, and not a bad boxer...I had a tinge of dandism in my minority and probably retained enough of it, to conciliate the great ones...I am always must religious upon a sunshiney day, as it there were some association between an internal approach to greater light and purity, and the kindlier of this dark side of our eternal existence. The night is also a religious concern, and even more so have I viewed the moon and stars through a telescope, and was that they were worlds.

A personal evaluation of Byron from a contemporary:

In external appearance, Byron realized that ideal standard with which imagination adorns genius...Nature could do little more than she had done for him, both in outward form and in the inward spirit she had given to animate it. But all these rare gifts to his jaundiced imagination only serve to make his one personal defect [lameness] the more apparent. In his perverse and moody humors, Byron would give vent to his Satanic vein. He said, "I have a conscience, although the world gives me no credit for it; I am now repenting not of the few sins I have committed, but of the many I have not committed. These are things, too, we should not do, if they were not forbidden.

Byron: "You think it is as easy to write poetry as smoke a cigar...Extemporizing verses is nonsense; poetry is a distinct faculty--it won't come when called...I must chew the cud before I write. I have thought over most of my subjects before writing a line."

Knowing and sympathizing with Byron's sensitiveness, his associates avoided prying into the cause of his lameness; so did strangers...It was generally thought his halting gait originated in some defect of the right foot--the right foot was the most distorted, and it had been made worse in his boyhood by vain efforts to set it right. He told me that for several years he wore steel splints, which so wrenched the sinews and tendons of his legs that they increased his lameness, the foot was twisted inwards, only the edge touched the ground, and that leg was shorter than the other...He entered a room with a sort of run, as if he could not stop, then planted his best leg will forward, throwing back his body to keep his balance...In the company of strangers, he would make desperate efforts to conceal his infirmity], but the hectic flush on his face, his swelling veins, and the quivering nerves betrayed him...Disposed to fatten, incapable of taking exercise, what could he do? If he added to his weight, his feet would not have supported him...he was compelled to exist in a state of semi-starvation,

Byron in one of his plays refutes the idea that the Byronic hero = Byron:

I should have been glad to have rendered my personages more perfect and amiable.. in as much as I have been sometimes criticized...for their deeds and qualities than if all had been personal...if I have deviated into the gloomily vanity of drawing from myself, the pictures are probably like, since they are unfavorable, and if not, those who know me are undeceived...I have no particular desire that any but my acquaintances should think the author better than the beings of his imaginings.

This book also contains a biography of Byron.


locate and read a copy of his play called MANFRED, and be able to discuss how its characters illustrate the "Byronic Hero concepts."