Next time you’re wandering around any Uni Campus take note of this iconic creature: The Byron-fan. They can be found in dingy cafes smoking cigarettes or wondering aimlessly through leafy parks (usually in Autumn for dramatic affect). Their luxurious, literary outfits (which for some reason remind you of the last French Court’s obscene aristocracy) nonchalantly float with the breeze. If female then they’re sighing wistfully, dreamily, over the beautiful poetry their boyfriend might write for them (or they themselves might, if they’re brave enough), and if male then they’re frowning over many inconsequential philosophic dilemmas, for example whether to wear red or white socks with their old-fashioned, brown leather shoes. The women clutch their poetry books and dream of some guy with the poetic genius and sexual allure of the late, great Lord Byron (lets face it, the guy was a babe); and the gentlemen of this group delude themselves that, after last-might’s drunken scribblings, they actually are Byron. The men tend to use this persona for many purposes, the most popular use seems to be the idea of Byron-as-sex-god to justify cheating on their girlfriend. That’s right ladies, the bad-boy image that Byron cultivated in his lifetime has lived on, and now exists in rock stars, Jack Sparrow, motor-bike owners, in short the man that women believe they can change. After all, the Romantic poet was the model for Dracula, the sexist bad-ass that’s after your blood.
The idea of who Byron was (not necessarily who he really was, but who his fans like to imagine he was) pervades so much of our culture that we don’t even notice. Spike or Angel from Buffy are typical examples, super cool but ultimately bad news (bad, soul destroying news in Angel’s case). Ever the libertine, Byron left a string of mistresses, marriages and illegitimate children in his wake, to the extent that he had to leave England permanently in 1816 (alledgedly for having sex with his sister… eww). His attention seeking behavior didn’t help the reckless reputation, and throughout his youth it was understood in decent English society that Byron was ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’. He travelled throughout Europe and exotic places like Greece and Egypt, wooing princesses and swimmming across oceans, all the while his adoring fans were creating the Byronic hero. His poetry (shocking at the time) has been adored by enamored (if not slightly delusional) women since. Besides reciting Don Juan, these women spend hours arguing in cafes that Byron was untamable and wild and free, which all sounds lovely, except when your Byron-boyfriend leaves you for a jaunt in the Alps and several lusty affairs. If you were one of the many women from Byron’s time you would not only be left high and dry, but you’d have a baby to look after and no real job-prospects… doesn’t sound like fun. And for those guys who believe a Byronic-lifestyle sounds great, I suggest (along with condoms) a read of Manfred.
The play begins at midnight in a gothic castle. Our tormented hero summons wordy, but ultimately ineffectual spirits to send him not to death, but to oblivion. The whole play is really one big suicide note, best read at night by candlelight in any castle you come across (preferably one in the Alps, if you can get it). Manfred languishes on mountain tops feeling sorry for himself about a terrible crime he committed. We are never told what the great crime actually is, but as the play goes on it becomes clear: he had sex with his sister, who was then driven to suicide. That’s right, all this melancholy and metaphysical depression and juicy, gothic angst has been caused by sex. For Manfred sex is totally inappropriate, illegal and in the end, soul destroying. He even summons his sisters ghost to beg for forgiveness, but, like the spirits from act one, she cannot help him. After this sex there is no consolation or even the prospect of peace for Manfred. Why would Byron, the enigmatic, exciting, oh-so-bad, worshipper on the alter of sex, write a play where sex causes the main protagonist to try and jump off a cliff? All of a sudden this bad-boy image has a very lonely consequence. Manfred calls up beings from heaven and hell, but none can help him be free of the curse that this incestuous sex has had on him. Incest also brings to mind the idea of loving oneself, and loving oneself too much, a fatal flaw in the Byronic ideal. Self-involvement to the point of blatant selfishness ultimately leads to depression and self-destruction. In the end, Manfred refuses to be taken to hell by the devil and dies on his own terms, turning his back of God, Satan and humanity in an attempt to find oblivion. Manfred is a rebel, and a prototype for the Byronic hero, but ultimately he has sex with his sister he is plagued by suicidal depression because of that sex.
So to all you bejacketed beloved beautiful boys who model their personality on that sexy dead poet, maybe stop and think about the depressing consequences of loving too many, too much. And for those literary ladies, who swoon before all Byron inspired heroes, think about what happens after Edward Cullen stops sucking your blood. Surely for the modern, empowered woman, a possible lover should be someone who doesn’t, like Manfred, derive all his power from taking away yours.
You can read Manfred by Lord Byron on Google Books, isn’t the internet wonderful!