December 5, 2010
The Byronic Hero of Wuthering Heights: Heathcliff or Catherine?
There’s no denying that Emily Bronte’s Heathcliff reflects the definition of the Byronic hero. Does his lover Catherine reflect the same characteristics? Heathcliff is the primary Byronic hero in this novel, but Catherine is not far behind him, containing many of the same qualities as any other Byronic Hero. These qualities are observed at both the beginning and end of her life.
The Byronic hero is named after the Romantic poet Lord Byron. Throughout most of his works, Byron had a tendency to create a character with the same dark, alluring qualities. John E. Jordan discusses this finding in relation to Bronte’s Heathcliff: “[The] Isabella-Heathcliff relationship is a caricature of the romantic damsel and the Byronic hero-Lady Caroline Lamb’s designation of Byron as ‘mad, bad, and dangerous to know’ fits Heathcliff quite well” (14). Clara F. McIntyre voices her opinion on Byron’s heroes and their evidential relationship to Byron’s egotistical characteristics: The Byronic hero was an expression of the author’s personality as he felt it, and he seems to have felt himself more of a moral outlaw, more of a rebel against conventions than he actually was. Byron’s heroes, as truly as Marlowe’s, are in arms against the world. In their egotism, their lust for power, even their love of wandering and adventure, they suggest the spirit of Renaissance. (879) According to McIntyre, Byron thought more of himself than he should have. Could the Byronic hero have been possibly created to poke fun at Byron himself? Many of the qualities included in the description of the average Byronic hero include: mysterious, dangerous, moody and an overall dark aura.
Heathcliff is a very dominant character within the numerous complicated, intricate threads of Wuthering Heights. He’s thrown into this story when Mr. Earnshaw brings him...
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Bronte, Emily. Wuthering Heights. London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2003. Print.
Jordan, John E. “The Ironic Vision of Emily Bronte.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 20.1 (June 1965): 1-18.
McIntyre, Clara F. “The Later Career of the Elizabethan Villain-Hero.” PMLA 40.4 (Dec 1925): 874-880.
Reed, Donna K. “The Discontents of Civilization in Wuthering Heights and Buddenbrooks.” Comparative
Literature 41.3 (Summer 1989): 209-229. Print.
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