The Romantic hero is a literary archetype referring to a character that rejects established norms and conventions, has been rejected by society, and has himself (or herself) as the center of his or her own existence. The Romantic hero is often the protagonist in a literary work, and the primary focus is on the character's thoughts rather than his or her actions.
Literary critic Northrop Frye noted that the Romantic hero is often "placed outside the structure of civilization and therefore represents the force of physical nature, amoral or ruthless, yet with a sense of power, and often leadership, that society has impoverished itself by rejecting". Other characteristics of the Romantic hero include introspection, the triumph of the individual over the "restraints of theological and social conventions", wanderlust, melancholy, misanthropy, alienation, and isolation. However, another common trait of the Romantic hero is regret for his or her actions, and self-criticism, often leading to philanthropy, which stops the character from ending romantically. An example of this trait is Edmond Dantès in The Count of Monte Cristo.
Usually estranged from his more grounded, realist biological family and leading a rural, solitary life, the Romantic hero may nevertheless have a long-suffering love interest, him or herself victimised by the hero's rebellious tendencies, with their fates intertwined for decades, sometimes from their youths to their deaths. (See Tatyana Larina, Elizabeth Bennet, Eugenie Grandet, et al.)
The Romantic hero first began appearing in literature during the Romantic period, in works by such authors as Byron, Keats, Goethe, and Pushkin, and is seen in part as a response to the French Revolution. As Napoleon, the "living model of a hero", became a disappointment to many, the typical notion of the hero as upholding social order began to be challenged.
Classic literary examples of the Romantic hero include:
- Captain Ahab from Herman Melville's novel, Moby-Dick
- The titular character in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
- Andrei Bolkonsky in Leo Tolstoy's novel, War and Peace
- Ponyboy Curtis in S.E. Hinton's novel, The Outsiders
- Edmond Dantès in Alexandre Dumas (père)'s adventure novel, The Count of Monte Cristo
- Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen's novel, Pride and Prejudice
- Victor Frankenstein in Mary Shelley's novel, Frankenstein
- The titular characters in Lord Byron's narrative poems Don Juan and Childe Harold's Pilgrimage
- Gwynplaine in Victor Hugo's novel, The Man Who Laughs
- "Hawkeye" (Natty Bumppo) in James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales pentalogy of historical novels
- Philip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler's seven novels about the Los Angeles detective
- The titular character in Pushkin's novel in verse, Eugene Onegin
- Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel, The Scarlet Letter
- The titular character in François-René Chateaubriand's novella, René
- Werther in Goethe's epistolary, loosely autobiographical novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther
- Faust in Goethe's Faust
- Wilson, James D. (Winter 1972). "Tirso, hat, and Byron: The emergence of Don Juan as romantic hero". The South Central Bulletin. The Johns Hopkins University Press on behalf of The South Central Modern Language Association. 32 (4): 246–248. ISSN 0038-321X. JSTOR i359767.
- Knapp, Bettina L. (April 1986). "Review: The Romantic hero and his heirs in French literature". The French Review. American Association of Teachers of French. 59 (5): 787–788. ISSN 0016-111X. JSTOR i216560.
- Furst, Lilian R. (Spring 1976). "The romantic hero, or is he an anti-hero?". Studies in the Literary Imagination. 9 (1): 53–67.
- "What are examples of a romantic hero?". Reference.com.
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- Kinkaid, Victoria (November 25, 2014). "Why Mr. Darcy is Such an Appealing Romantic Hero". victoriakinkaid.com. Retrieved January 1, 2019.
- "Lord Byron". Gale Contextual Encyclopedia of World Literature. Gale. 2009. Retrieved 6 January 2019.
- Blanch Serrat, Francesca. "Romantic readings: Childe Harold, by Lord Byron". Dove Cottage & the Wordsworth Museum. Retrieved 6 January 2019.
It was the year 1809 and Byron had already defined the myth that was to survive him to become one of the most reproduced tropes in our culture: the Romantic hero. Through the Romantic hero that Childe Harold embodies, Byron will attempt to recover from the sufferings of exile.
- Eco, Umberto (2011). Inventing the Enemy: Essays. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 105–106. ISBN 9780547640976. Retrieved 6 January 2019.
- Salstad, Louise. "Juan Anguera, alias Flanagan: Ironic Hard-boiled Hero". The Looking Glass : New Perspectives on Children's Literature. Retrieved 6 January 2019.
Both Marlowe and Flanagan are knightly heroes in their way. The emblematic image of the knight--romantic hero if there ever was one--appears on page one of Chandler's first novel about Marlowe, The Big Sleep. The author refers to him in "The Simple Art of Murder" in a famous passage that evokes the image of a modern knight errant: "[D]own these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. . . . The story is his adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure" (Chandler, Later 992).
- Guinness, Gerald (1993). Here and Elsewhere: Essay on Caribbean Literature. Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico. p. 43. ISBN 0847701913. Retrieved 6 January 2019.
- Gerwin, Elisabeth. "François-René, Vicomte de Chateaubriand: René". The Literary Encyclopedia. Retrieved 1 January 2019.
Indeed, René has been identified as the text that created and popularised the superior but melancholic romantic hero suffering from profound disillusionment.
- "Johann Wolfgang von Goethe". Poetry in Translation. Retrieved 1 January 2019.
In 1774 he published his first major work, the self-revelatory novel The Sorrows of Young Werther, in which he created the prototype of the Romantic hero, and instigated a European fashion.
- Fiero, Gloria K. (1998). The Humanistic Tradition, Volume 5. WCB Brown & Benchmark. p. 48. ISBN 9780697340726. Retrieved 6 January 2019.