Irena Curic dr. sc. Janja Ciglar-Zanic, red. prof. English Romanticism 08 January 2013 The Byronic Hero and Russian Romanticism Introduction George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, or simply Lord Byron, was a British poet of Scottish descent who is today considered to be the most influential British poet of the Romantic period (Catherine B. O’Neill calls him “the best-known nineteenth-century British poet outside England”).
His adventourous character and wild but appealing works made him famous throughout Europe. He died in Greece during the country’s war of Independence and became a legend. He was only 36 when he died but his influence was massive. His works, mostly Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and Don Juan, but also Mazeppa, the Corsair and the Prisoner of Chillon were read among the intelectual elite of the whole Europe and many poets and intelectuals became inspired to write their own works in style of Byron.
It was the idea of national identity, so popular in the 19th century, that Byron supported during his life, and the fact that he wrote about the exotic lands and their pains under the tyranny of the oppressors that made him especially popular in moulding of the new nations and their identities in southern and eastern Europe (Hocutt: “Byron’s influence as individual and author seemed always to have greater impact outside of England than within his prudish homeland.
While imitators and admirers of Byron the individual and author could be found throughout Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Turkey, and Russia, little more than harsh criticism for his works and exile for his lifestyle emanated from his sometimes beloved, sometimes criticized native Britain, even after his death. “). Apart from his political influence, he was just as appealing to the youth who saw his quests and deeds as an impetus to rebel. In the eyes of his time, Byron was primarily looked upon as an outlaw, an immoral man. He had an affair with his stepsister and was openly sceptic of religion and political institutions.
His works were filled with descriptions of decandence and abomination. His demonic heroes with weak moral compass became iconic for the writers who would be influenced by Byron. Catherine B. O’Neill wrote: Childe Harold took the world by storm because of many features that we now think of as characteristic of Romantic poetry: the subjective experience of the natural world, the high degree of identification between the author and the hero, the motif of a journey that is simulatneously literal and psychological, and, primarily, the isolated hero’s mysterious disenchantment and heartache.
The Byronic hero had become a specific literary type of hero who very much resembles the writer alone. It is usually a young male (although there are female examples) who is constantly bored and unsatisfied. His spleen drives him to a constant search for new sensations, which rarely give him pleasure. He prefers solitude to the company of others and feels much more connected to nature than to people: Now Harold finds himself at lenght alone, And bade to Christian tongues a long adieu; Now he adventur’d on a shore unknown, Which all admire, but many dread to view:
His breast was arm’d `gainst fate, his wants were few; Peril he sought not, but ne’er shrank to meet, The scene was savage, but the scene was new; This made the ceaseless toil of travel sweet, Beat back keen winter’s blast, and welcom’d summer’s heat. He finds particular characteristics of savageness to be more truthfull than society of his day which he finds corrupt and dishonest: The royal vices of our age demand A keener weapon, and a mightier hand. He takes great pleasure in satirizing contemporary events and social currents: Prepare for rhyme-I`ll publish, right or wrong: Fools are my theme, let Satire be my song.
It is no secret that Byron shaped his demonic hero on his own character and his own experiences. The real background of his poems makes his scenes and adventures seem more vivid and close to the reader. So it is no wonder that his straightforward style and his hatred of censorship met with such international adoration. Byron in Russia When Byron’s works conquered Europe, his influence very quickly reached Russia where his works, especially Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, inspired two of the greatest Russian Romantic writers – Alexander Pushkin and Mikhail Lermontov. When his work came to Russia, it became an instant hit among Russian authors.
Even the very young authors, who would later shape the Russian realism, like Turgenev, read and admired Byron’s work. Daniel Hocutt writes that “Most Russian writers viewed Byron’s work in one of two ways: late sentimentalists admired his “vivid” and “tender” sensitivity; later Romantics emphasized their hero’s “bleak colouring” and “rebellious passions” “. Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin was the first Russian author to publicly praise Byron and openly imitate his style. Eugene Onegin: the first Russian Byronic hero? Alexander Pushkin was the first authentic Russian Romantic poet and the leader of the National Romantic movement.
He appreciated Byron and used the motive of the Byronic hero in his best known work Eugene Onegin. “Pushkin imitated high Byronism in his narrative poems and lyrics written in Southern Russia between 1820 and 1824… Readers compared Pushkin’s and Byron’s lives, focusing on sexual scandal, exile, and advocacy for Greek and other nationalist movements. Pushkin briefly encouraged such comparisons, announcing in 1822 that his new poem-in-progress, Eugene Onegin, was in spirit of Don Juan, but he quickly backtracked when his satire suffered from comparison to Byron’s. Eugene Onegin, the protagonist of the work, is a young man who suffers from the typical Romantic boredom, the spleen. The work begins when Eugene grows bored of St. Petersburg (city, the very place of corruption) and wants to run away from his life there. He has even grown tired of women and has given up his books. After death of his uncle, he goes away to the countryside. There he meets a young woman Tatyana who falls in love with him. However, being a cold Romantic outsider, Eugene politely turns her down only to fall in love with her in the end of the story.
But then it is her turn to turn him down because she has a husband and does not want to compromise her pride and reputation. Although Pushkin tried to make his main character resemble a Byronic hero (Eugene even has a picture of Byron on his shelf), when he gave him the power to confess his feelings and change his nature, he moved away from the original, thus creating a specific type of a Russian Romantic hero: a hero with pretensions to change his miserable destiny. A true Byronic hero would carry on with his fate, without trying to change it and would most certainly continue running away from his emotions.
Byronic Hero of our Time Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov was killed in a gun duel, much like his predecessor Pushkin, at an early age of 27. It is interesting that they both had their main characters fight duels in their books. Of course, Onegin and Pechorin both managed to save their lives. Mikhail Lermontov had a much more complicated relationship with his British idol. First, he admitted resemblance to Byron in his poem Don’t think me worthy of pity and then stated that he is not Byron but a true Russian poet in his poem No, I’m not Byron:
No, I’m not Byron; I am, yet, Another choice for the sacred dole, Like him – a persecuted soul, But only of the Russian set. I early start and end the whole, And will not win the future days; Like in an ocean, in my soul, A cargo of lost hopes stays. Who, oh, my ocean severe, Could read all secrets in your scroll? Who’ll tell the people my idea? I’m God or no one at all! However, he is the Russian author who managed to come the closest to the original idea of a Byronic hero through the character of Pechorin in his work Hero of our Time.
Although he made a whole list of Byronic references, such as doctor Verner having a limp, or Princess Mary reading Byron among other authors, it is the protagonist, Grigory Alexandrovich Pechorin that captures our imagination from the first page. He suffers from spleen, enjoys danger and seduction of beautiful women. He does not do it purely for the fun, which we can clearly see from his journal, but is afraid of commitment and therefore runs away from his feelings.
He chooses to stay unhappy in order to keep his freedom: ” I’d make any sacrifice but this–twenty times I can stake my life, even my honor, but my freedom I’ll never sell. Why do I prize it so much? What do I find in it? What am I aiming at? What have I to expect from the future? Nothing, absolutely nothing. It’s some innate fear, an inexplicable foreboding . . . ” Conclusion Russia of the early 19th century was a gloomy and turbulent place. It was a time of growing nationalist ideas and revolutionary thoughts, a time of lord Byron’s literary influence. Byron’s struggles and support for national and regional independence movements influenced Decembrists and other revolutionaries in the 1820s. One such revolutionary was Alexander Pushkin, most famous of the Russian Romantic poets, who was exiled to his mother’s estate as a result of his involvement in and support of the 1825 uprising. Pushkin’s impact on Russian Romanticism cannot be minimized, particularly as it relates to Mikhail Lermontov, the last famous Russian Romantic writer…
Voraciously reading Byron’s poetry and prose in the original, in translation, and in loose interpretation, these Russian writers dedicated themselves for over a decade to write as Byron wrote and to live as Byron lived. ” Both Pushkin and Lermontov thoroughly read and enjoyed Byron’s work and each of them by being a bit of Byronic heroes themselves, helped to shape a new type of a Russian Romantic hero. Works Cited Byron, George Gordon Byron, Baron. The Major Works. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986. Print ——————————————– [ 1 ].
O’Neill, Katherine B. : Keats-Shelley Journal [ 2 ]. Hocutt, Daniel: Bazarov’s Byronic Roots [ 3 ]. O’Neill, Katherine B. : Keats-Shelley Journal [ 4 ]. Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto II, p. 65 [ 5 ]. English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, p. 2 [ 6 ]. English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, p. 2 [ 7 ]. Hocutt, Daniel: Bazarov’s Byronic Roots [ 8 ]. O’Neill, Katherine B. : Keats-Shelley Journal [ 9 ]. http://www. poetryloverspage. com/poets/lermontov/no_im_not_byron. html [ 10 ]. http://www. eldritchpress. org/myl/hero. htm [ 11 ]. Hocutt, Daniel: Bazarov’s Byronic Roots