The Byronic Hero in Film, Fiction, and Television

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9780809325863: The Byronic Hero in Film, Fiction, and Television

Tracing the influence of Lord Byron’s Manfred as outcast hero on a pantheon of his contemporary progenies including characters from Pale Rider, Unforgiven, The Terminator, Aliens, The Crow, Sandman, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Angel Atara Stein tempers her academic acumen with the insights of a devoted aficionado in this first comprehensive study of the Romantic hero type and his modern kindred.

 

The Byronic Hero in Film, Fiction, and Television bridges nineteenth- and twentieth-century studies in pursuit of an ambitious, antisocial, arrogant, and aggressively individualistic mode of hero from his inception in Byron’s Manfred, Childe Harold, and Cain, through his incarnations as the protagonists of Westerns, action flicks, space odysseys, vampire novels, neo-Gothic comics, and sci-fi television. Such a hero exhibits supernatural abilities, adherence to a personal moral code, ineptitude at human interaction (muddled even further by self-absorbed egotism), and an ingrained defiance of oppressive authority. He is typically an outlaw, most certainly an outcast or outsider, and more often than not, he is a he. Given his superhuman status, this hero offers no potential for sympathetic identification from his audience. At best, he provides an outlet for vicarious expressions of power and independence. While audiences may not seek to emulate the Byronic hero, Stein notes that he desires to emulate them; recent texts plot to rehumanize” the hero or to voice through him approbation and admiration of ordinary human values and experiences. 

            

Providing thoughtful analyses of her examples, Stein places her Byronic heroes into two camps: the leader-hero who pursues justice outside the law through explosive violence, illustrated in a trio of Clint Eastwood Westerns, the Crow films, and the Terminator films; and the angst-ridden loner hero who views his power as a burden and pines for human existence, represented in Anne Rice’s vampire novels and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novels. She also provides a detailed examination of one manifestation of the Byronic hero who embodies traits of both leader-hero and gloomy egotist: Q, the omnipotent alien from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

            

The Byronic heroine is not wholly absent from our culture, as Stein proves by her inclusion of Terminator’s Sarah Connor and Alien’s Ellen Ripley. Both assume Byronic traits as they war against oppressive institutional authority while also actively seeking liberation from socially imposed constraints of gender. Stein concludes her innovative study with an engaging discussion of pop culture’s most current and complete version of the Byronic hero: the brooding vampiric champion of Angel.

 

Typified by a fiery autonomy, empowered inhumanity, and flamboyant self-realization, the Byronic hero with his many sullen faces has asserted his popular appeal with audiences for over two centuries. Complemented by nine illustrations, Stein’s perceptive reading of his nature and nuances demonstrates that his immortality will not soon wane.

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About the Author:

Atara Stein is a professor of English at California State University, Fullerton. Her articles on the development of the Byronic hero have appeared in Popular Culture Review, Romantic Circles Praxis Series, Genders, and Philological Quarterly.

Review:

Atara Stein’s intelligent and, dare I say, entertaining work sheds new light on the dark hero’s journey from nineteenth-century literature to twenty-first-century pop culture mythology. The Byronic Hero in Film, Fiction, and Television shows us that heroes don’t die, they morph right along with the culture they serve.”

David Greenwalt, co-creator of Angel



Stein deftly argues the importance of the Byronic hero’s influence on a brood of his contemporary descendants, including gunslingers, cyborgs, vampires, and neo-Gothic comic book characters. The Byronic Hero in Film, Fiction, and Television organizes a wide variety of narrative media sources that combine high culture with popular culture and then directs the reader to a superior discussion of these sources. This truly unique book will appeal to those interested in popular culture, film studies, feminist studies, and nineteenth-century literature.”

Gary Hoppenstand, president of the Popular Culture Association and author of The Gothic World of Anne Rice



A lively read designed for both general readers and academics, Stein’s book explores the development of the provocative paradox that is the Byronic hero from nineteenth-century poetry to twenty-first-century media. In her scrutiny of characters ranging from Manfred to the Sandman, from Melmoth to Lestat, from Heathcliff to Angel, Stein suggests that the Byronic hero serves its audience as an emblem of defiance and complacence. Hers is an engaging and gracefully written argument, certain to make readers ponder the links between High Romanticism and popular culture.” Mary Pharr, coeditor of The Blood Is the Life and editor of Fantastic Odysseys

 

Mapping the development of a pervasive and popular figure over the span of two centuries, The Byronic Hero in Film, Fiction, and Television is a cogent and provocative study of nineteenth-century influence on an expanse of popular twentieth-century texts. The prose is elegant, graceful, and succinct, and the central argument is lively and engaging.” Sherrie Inness, author of Tough Girls: Women Warriors and Wonder Women in Popular Culture

 

Stein’s wide-ranging, observant, accessible study offers much of interest to scholars and fans of both high and low culture and helps to bridge the chasm between them in the process.” David Lavery, coeditor of Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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