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The Romantic Rebel and the Byronic Hero

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1 The Romantic Rebel and the Byronic Hero

2 The Marriage of Heaven and Hell Title Page

3 Themes in Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
Blake uses the terms of conventional morality (Heaven/Hell; Angel/Devil; Good/Evil) and then reverses their moral polarity. He speaks in ‘the voice of the devil,” a strategy that is meant to be provocative. 2. But Blake defines “good” and “evil” quite differently from the way we normally use the terms. He identifies “good” with reason and “evil” with energy, both of which are valuable and necessary.

4 3. Finally, Blake connects energy with liberating vision
3. Finally, Blake connects energy with liberating vision. It is through the energy of creativity and imagination that human senses can be cleansed and perceive the infinite: “To see the world in a grain of sand And Heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand And eternity in an hour.” Blake, “Auguries of Innocence”

5 Examples Martin Luther King is now regarded as an American hero, but during the civil rights movement, many saw his tactics as disruptive of order. Blake would have seen King as a “devil” of energy, a rebel working against bad laws for a higher good. French Revolution seen as evil by its opponents, but Blake sees it as an explosion of revolutionary energy with the potential to bring about universal human liberation.



8 Holy Thursday In the Innocence version, the “wise guardians of the poor” are “angels” in Blake’s sense of the term; they uphold the status quo and are “good” by conventional standards. But the Experience version sees them differently – as oppressors who coerce the charity children. The entire ritual can be seen as a shame.


10 Don’t be fooled by Blake’s terms…
By using words like “Heaven” and “Hell,” Blake is calling attention to conventional moral attitudes which he wants to question and overturn. He is on the side of energy in terms of politics (liberty), art (originality) and human relations (a rejection of sexual repression).

11 Proverbs You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.
People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. The early bird catches the worm. A stitch in time saves nine. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Lie down with dogs and you’ll get up with fleas. All is not gold that glitters.

12 The First Seven Proverbs of Hell
In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy. Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead. The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. Prudence is a rich, ugly old maid courted by Incapacity. He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence. The cut worm forgives the plow. Dip him in the river who loves water.

13 Byron’s Manfred and the Byronic Hero
Lord Byron in Albanian dress.

14 Byron’s Life Byron’s father “Mad Jack” Byron abandoned his mother, Catherine Gordon after running through her fortune. She took her son back to her home in Aberdeen, Scotland. He was ten years old when he inherited the title of Lord Byron and the ancestral Bryon home, Newstead Abbey near Nottingham.

15 George Gordon, 6th Lord Byron

16 Catherine Gordon

17 Newstead Abbey around 1880

18 Photograph of Newstead Abbey Today

19 Childhood and Education
Byron received sexual advances from his nurse, Mary Gray, when he was about eleven. He was educated at Harrow, where he compensated for his club foot by excelling at sports like boxing, swimming and cricket. At Trinity College in Cambridge, he lived extravagantly (he kept a trained bear) and got into debt, which plagued him all his life. He also formed a passionate attachment to a choir boy at Cambridge.

20 Trinity College, Cambridge

21 Byron at Age 19

22 Byron as International Celebrity
After his graduation, Byron traveled in Portugal, Spain, Gibraltar, Malta, Albania and Greece, places that were at the margins of Europe at that time, with his friend John Cam Hobhouse (1809 – 1811). During this time he wrote the first two cantos of the poem that would make him an international celebrity, Childe Harold’s Pilgriamage.

23 Lord Byron Reposing in the House of a Fisherman after Having Swum the Hellespont
Sir William Allan

24 Turner’s Painting “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage,” 1823

25 Man About Town: The Best-Selling Author and His Affairs, 1811 - 1814
The identification of the dashing writer with his protagonist proved irresistible to his readers and attracted many women. Byron had infamous affairs with Lady Caroline Lamb (who wrote a novel, Glenarvon, with a villain closely based on Byron); Lady Oxford; Mary Godwin Shelley’s step-sister, Claire Clairmont; and most notoriously, his half-sister Augusta Leigh.

26 Cartoon of Byron as a Man About Town

27 Lady Caroline Lamb and Lord Byron

28 Augusta Leigh, Byron’s Half Sister

29 Claire Clairmont, Mary Shelley’s Step-Sister

30 Marriage to Annabella Milbanke, 1815
Byron tried to escape from the complications of his many affairs and from his mounting debt by marrying a wealthy heiress, Lady Annabella Milbanke in January, 1815. She was an intellectual with a particular gift for mathematics. Their daughter, Ada, was born in December 1815. The marriage was a disaster; the couple separated in 1816.

31 Annabella Milbanke Married Byron in 1815

32 Ada Byron, Interestingly, their daughter, who never saw her famous father, wrote what has been called the first computer program. She worked with Charles Babbage, who invented an early computing machine. A software program developed by the U.S. Defense Department was named “Ada” in her honor in 1979.

33 Ada Byron, Lady Lovelace

34 Lord Byron’s Novel: The Evening Land by John Crowley
Byron’s “novel” uses a number of themes from his life and from his work in a wild gothic story. Crowley’s novel intertwines three narrative strands – s (in the present) from a woman to her lover and her estranged father; Ada Bryon’s diary; and a text in code that turns out to be The Evening Land, an undiscovered novel by Bryon.

35 Byron in Exile Byron left England for good in 1816 driven away by scandal and debt. He lived in Geneva, where he first met Shelley, and later in Venice. He went to Pisa, where the Shelleys settled in 1819. Byron worked actively for Greek independence from Turkey, and died in Greece (1824) while training troops he paid to equip from his own funds. He is still a national hero in Greece.

36 The Byron Café in Messolonghi, Greece

37 Statue of Byron in Athens
Byron Touched by the Muse

38 Welcome of Lord Byron at Messolgi
Theodoros Vrisakis, 1861

39 The Byronic Hero Sees himself as apart from ordinary people, a being of superior intellect and strength of will (like Manfred). Bears his terrible suffering (in his case, guilt) and rejects any power that would make him bend a knee. Accepts nobody’s judgment or condemnation of him, only his own.  Insists on his ambition and his identity; he seeks to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield, as Tennyson puts it in his poem “Ulysses.”

40 The Byronic Hero’s defiant stance was influenced by Milton’s Satan…
Satan Summoning his Legions

41 And by the defiant Prometheus…
Byron wrote a poem about Prometheus, making the titan a type of the Romantic Rebel. Despite his suffering, Prometheus refuses to give in to Jupiter. He bears his suffering with great courage and without Complaint. Byron offers him as a model – even against overwhelming odds we can remain defiant. The stance itself becomes a victory.

42 And by the titanic figure of Napoleon

43 Brooding Portrait of Lord Byron
Theodore Gericault

44 Characteristics of the Byronic Hero
Gloomy and solitary (Manfred alone at midnight raising spirits) Powerful intellect and will (Manfred commands spirits and expresses his superiority to others) Burdened by guilt (Manfred is crushed by guilt over Astarte’s death; strong implication of incest) Defiant (Manfred refuses to bend to anyone or anything)

45 Byron’s Manfred: a Summary
The play opens with Manfred brooding at midnight. He has gained great power through long nights of study and labor, but he is crushed by guilt. He calls up spirits who represent various aspects of nature and asks for oblivion – total loss of consciousness – but they cannot grant that. They imply that his spirit will outlive death. One of the spirits takes the form of his beloved, whom we later learn is Astarte, probably his sister. Manfred falls senseless.

46 Manfred’s Study

47 Manfred climbs high into the alps, where he attempts suicide, but is prevented by a chamois hunter. Manfred admires the hunter’s simple, decent life, but rejects the idea that he would exchange places. Though he suffers, he asserts, with great pride, that he can bear this suffering. We see his strange combination of complaint and defiance, a theme of the play.

48 Manfred on the Jungfrau

49 Compare Dore’s Image of Satan Struggling to Climb out of Hell

50 Manfred and the Chamois Hunter
Gustav Dore, 1853

51 “Hold, madman! – though aweary of thy life, Stain not our pure vales with they guilty blood –”
Ford Maddox Brown, begun 1840

52 Manfred calls up the Witch of the Alps, who asks to hear his story
Manfred calls up the Witch of the Alps, who asks to hear his story. He tells her that from his youth on he felt separate from and superior to all others except Astarte, his soul mate and female double. The implication is that she was his sister and that his great sin was incest. He implies that he had something to do with her death. The Witch offers to help if he promises to serve her. Manfred angrily refuses and she disappears.

53 Manfred and the Witch of the Alps

54 Manfred and the Alpine Witch
John Martin, 1837

55 Manfred descends into the underworld to confront Arimanes, the principle of evil. Various evil spirits demand that he bow before Arimanes, but Manfred refuses, defying them all. Arimanes, Impressed, grants his request to speak with Astarte. Her spirit appears but only calls his name and foretells his death. She ignores his request for forgiveness and he is convulsed in agony. The spirits ridicule his human weakness, until he uses his great will to recover. They grudgingly admit that he would have made a powerful spirit.

56 Manfred and the Phantom of Astarte

57 The abbot visits Manfred in his castle, seeking to offer the comforts of Christianity – prayer, repentance and absolution. Manfred is defiant and rejects the abbot’s attempts, saying: “I disdained to mingle with/A herd, though to be a leader – and of wolves./The lion is alone and so am I.” Manfred again asserts his solitary and superior nature. The abbot follows him to see if there is any chance to help Manfred gain redemption. He is witness to the final scene.

58 In the last scene, a spirits come to summon Manfred to hell, be he defiantly refuses:
“…I stand/upon my strength – I do defy – deny – /Spurn back, and scorn ye! –” Manfred knows he is dying and does not fear death, but he will not submit to the spirits, just as he refused to submit to the Witch of the Alps or to Arimanes. He will judge and condemn himself rather than submit to any external power. This act of defiance is central to the Romantic Rebel.


60 Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony – Fourth Movement
Henry Fuseli, The Rosicrucian Cavern (1804)

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