The Byronic hero is everywhere. From the autonomous assassin in recent instalments of the James Bond franchise to the stylish vampires that proliferate in popular fiction and on screen, this figure has captured the imagination of generations of readers and viewers.3 The first Byronic hero, and a blueprint for the rest, became an overnight sensation in March 1812, when Cantos I and II of Lord Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage were published and sold out within three days.4 Successive poems showcasing a spiritually isolated superman secured the literary fame and longevity of this Romantic poet and the legendary figure that bears his name. The Byronic hero remains, some 200 years after Byron became a bestselling poet, ‘an unprecedented cultural phenomenon’.5 His presence persists, for instance, in the immensely successful Twilight and Fifty Shades series, fantasy romances that reinscribe our fascination with a damaged and damaging anti-hero — a seductive outsider who is superior in suffering, sinfulness, subversions, and perversions — as encountered by an inexperienced, yet curious, young woman.6 That girlish innocence can triumph over manly experience through the redemptive power of love constitutes the staple ingredient in countless Regency romances and Mills and Boon novels. This gendered formula for fiction appears in the following ‘tip sheet’ for writing mass-market contemporary romance: ‘The hero is 8 to 12 years older than the heroine.


Romantic Period Ambivalent Sexuality Woman Writer Female Author Romantic Poet 
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  1. 1.
    Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Stanzas on the Death of Lord Byron, ll. 29–30, 34, in Aurora Leigh and Other Poems, ed. by John Robert Glorney Bolton and Julia Bolton Holloway (London: Penguin, 1995). Subsequent line references will be given in the text.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Of this defining moment, Byron famously proclaimed, ‘I awoke one morning and found myself famous’. Byron’s celebrity has been the subject of recent studies, including Ghislaine McDayter, Byromania and the Birth of Celebrity Culture (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2009), andGoogle Scholar
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    Twilight is a series of four vampire fantasy novels, written by Stephenie Meyer, and published between 2005 and 2008. Film versions of the novels, The Twilight Saga, were released between 2008 and 2012. The Fifty Shades trilogy, written by E. L. James, was published in 2011–12, with a film version of the first novel released in 2015. The Byronic hero is not only evident in contemporary fan fiction. A Byronic subtext emerges in J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace (1999), the Booker Prize winning novel about racial politics in South Africa, for instance. See Jonathan Gross, ‘“I have a penchant for black”: Race and Orphic Dismemberment in Byron’s The Deformed Transformed and J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace’, in Byron and the Politics of Freedom and Terror, ed. by Matthew J. A. Green and Piya Pal-Lapinski (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2011), pp. 167–81.Google Scholar
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© Sarah Wootton 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah Wootton
    • 1
  1. 1.Durham UniversityUK

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