There’s something about vampires that draws us in and has for a long time. An undeniable attraction exists between us, their would-be prey, and them, our would-be predators. And the same can be said for the archetype of the Byronic Hero. An archetype that has, in my view, melded with that of the vampire so much that it is nearly impossible to separate.
However, I don’t expect you to take my word on it. I’m not the first and last authority on the subjects in question. So, without further blathering, let’s dig deeper into the topics of vampires and Byronic Heroes.
Everyone seems to know what a vampire is. But, for the sake of this post on the subject, I will define what a vampire is:
Vampire: The reanimated corpse that survives on the blood of the living and hunts the living as prey.
Not quite the Merriam-Webster version of what a vampire is, but a solid working definition nonetheless. Though it does ignore that vampire-like beings have been a part of mythology for thousands of years, going back to demons that stalked the night drinking the blood of or devouring a variety of unsuspecting humans, including newborn babies.
Despiting being around for thousands of years in some form or another, scaring the living daylights out of humans who for most of their existence thought them real, modern vampires do share a number of similar traits:
- They tend to be dead or, in those stories where the writer wants to go a more science-based route, have an extremely slow heartbeat. Dead/undead is far more common, however.
- For some weird reason, they tend to be attractive. This could be seen as a consequence of the fact that a lot of modern vampires tend to be “turned” due to love or a desire for companionship and us humans are social beings, we want people in our lives that we find attractive in some way.
- They consume the blood of the living.
- They, generally, hunt humans.
- They tend not to care about human laws, mores, and the like unless it is somehow of benefit to them.
- They’re immortal more often than not.
- May be isolated and/or a tortured soul.
In short, vampires are no more someone we would want to meet in a dark alley at night than a serial killer whose victimology we happen to fit. Especially if that serial killer is a sociopath or smart psychopath.
On the other hand, we have Byronic Heroes, a character archetype that permeates popular culture in many ways while not being seriously discussed outside of academic circles in most cases. But what is the Byronic Hero?
But what is the Byronic Hero?
The Byronic Hero is named for George Gordon Byron (Jan. 22nd 1788 – Apr. 19th 1824), the sixth Baron Byron, a British poet, politician, and major figure in the Romantic movement. Byron was known for his disregard for societal opinions on a number of subjects and thought to be bisexual by some. Essentially, Byron was the bad-boy of the early 19th century and famous for it.
More than being named for Lord Byron, however, the character and their traits were codified in his writing. Byronic Heroes:
- Are capable of heroic behavior and redemption.
- Tortured by some deep, dark secret in their past that, typically, is something they did or a trauma they experienced.
- Are intelligent, charismatic, and often also very physically attractive to others.
- Are isolated from society in some way, whether it be emotional, physically, or even both.
- Disregard social rank and have little respect for social institutions and mores.
- Are individualistic in nature, commonly with a penchant for self-destructive tendencies.
- Sympathetic despite rejecting what society sees as being virtuous.
- Are moody.
- Have obsessive passions, be they revenge, love, things they enjoy.
- Are easily bored/jaded and arrogant.
- Are cunning and able to adapt.
- Are introspective and self-critical.
Doesn’t sound like a pleasant character, right? And they’re not. They’re not meant to be pleasant, but sympathetic and redeemable instead. Which brings us to the overlap between vampires and Byronic Heroes.
If you’ve made it this far, great! I’m glad you were able to deal with almost seven hundred words of me simply describe the characteristic of these two seemingly disparate things. The monster that appears human and the redeemable monster that is human.
Make no mistake, Byronic Heroes, despite their heroic nature and ability to be redeemed can be viewed as a sort of human monster. And vampires are a classic part of the monster lineup in literature and film. But this section is for the overlap, not more gushing.
So, how are vampires and Byronic Heroes similar?
On the surface, both share an attractiveness, cunning, and ability to adapt to their surroundings in order to better survive. Both also are isolated from society by what/who they are and have little respect for how society operates. But if we go deeper, we find that many vampires, even ones meant to be emotionless such as Anne Rice’s Lestat or Louis tend to be moody, introspective, and capable of great heroics in the service of someone for whom they share an obsessive form of love.
Take, for example, Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He starts out as this adverse character, much like Mr. Darcy in Pride & Prejudice except for being demonstrably evil in nature within the world of the show. However, as we move through Spike’s arc, the brooding person who doesn’t care about anything but the things he cares about… well, doesn’t change exactly. Let’s say that he evolves. From a semi-Byronic character to a full-blown Byronic character.
Spike is ruled by his own moral code that is, in part, fueled by his obsessive need to defeat Buffy, the show’s titular character, and later his love for her. Even going so far as to sacrifice his life to save hers and the entire world in an act of redemption after sexually assaulting her in an earlier season of the show. Keep in mind that I’m not endorsing his actions. Rape and attempted rape are heinous crimes that far too many have experienced in their lives and there can be no excuse, and, in my opinion, no redemption for what Spike did.
However, that he did this heinous thing, was tortured by what he did, and was able to be redeemed in the narrative afterward are all the hallmarks of a Byronic character. Particularly when combined with his street smarts, attractiveness, broodiness, general darkness and other Byronic traits.
A less disturbing use of what I’ve come to think of as the Byronic Vampire may be Louise. His death is caused by Lestat’s need for him, but also by his guilt for feeling responsible for the death of his brother. And later his guilt after feeding on a young girl, when he had previously confined himself to rats and other vermin, which culminates in Lestat turning her in order to keep Louis with him and Louis developing a profound and obsessive, in my opinion, familial love for Claudia, the child who was turned.
Lestat himself is Byronic in his own right, but to explain that would require an entire essay of its own. I hope that this post has helped you to understand vampires as Byronic characters.
You’ve probably notice that I didn’t cover Edward Cullen from Twilight, who is, in fact, a Byronic Hero. I don’t like Twilight and find Edward to be both Byronic and highly abusive in nature. Which may seem weird as I included Spike in this post, but Spike started off as an evil character that did an unforgivable thing and was redeemed. And I feel that the narrative of Twilight, due to being Bella’s point of view, glosses over Edwards Byronic failings.
I like my reprehensible Byronic Vampires to be viewed as such instead of as perfectly normal.
Don’t forget to join me on Wednesday! I’ve got some exciting things planned for February and that is when I will tell you about them.