Byronic Heroes in Nineteenth-Century Women’s Writing and Screen Adaptation


George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron ['Byron contemplating the Coliseum (Colosseum)'] by James Tilbitts Willmore, after William Westall

Byron contemplating the Coliseum (Colosseum), by James Tilbitts Willmore, after William Westall, stipple engraving, circa 1850, NPG D32524. Reproduced under CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0 licence.

From his birth in 1812, through to his reincarnation in the Twilight Saga, the Byronic hero has been a compelling presence in culture for two centuries. A new book by Dr Sarah Wootton looks at the legacy of the Byronic hero in the works of nineteenth-century women writers and the modern adaptation of their books on screen.

Byronic Heroes in Nineteenth-Century Women’s Writing and Screen Adaptation focuses on the fiction of major nineteenth-century women writers – including Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, and George Eliot – and the resurgence of Byronic heroes in film and television versions of their works.

Two hundred years after the publication of the first two cantos of Lord Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812) introduced the Byronic hero to the world, the figure has today become viewed as something of a recycled stereotype. The term ‘Byronic’ is bandied around as a synonym for brooding sexuality. However, in the nineteenth century the likes of Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell and George Eliot sought to revive and reinvent the Byronic in more subtle ways. In so doing they engaged in a dialogue about gender roles, masculinity and genre that resonated with later writers such as Virginia Woolf.

When Colin Firth jumped into the lake at Pemberley, Byromania resurfaced as Darcymania.

When Colin Firth jumped into the lake at Pemberley in the 1995 BBC adaptation, Byromania resurfaced as Darcymania. Photo: BBC.

When Colin Firth’s Darcy emerged from the lake at Pemberley in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, Byromania resurfaced in the form of Darcymania. One concern of Byronic Heroes is whether the pronounced Byronic presence seen in screen adaptations of the last 20 years is evident in the original novels, and how adaptations change our understanding of the earlier works.

Such screen adaptations also renew the fascination with the Byronic in general, and inspire the representation of male protagonists on the screen for years to come, ensuring Byron’s two-hundred-year legacy lives on.

Sarah Wootton’s Byronic Heroes in Nineteenth-Century Women’s Writing and Screen Adaptation is published by Palgrave Macmillan. The introduction is available to read free online.

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