Versions of the Byronic Hero

Lady Caroline Lamb: From Glenarvon

Lamb wrote Glenarvon to repay Byron for the callous way in which he had ended their love affair. It is at once a kiss-and-tell novel, a wildly fictionalized history of the Irish Rebellion of 1798, and a Gothic romance (complete with ghosts, ruins, and rumors of strange rites that involve the drinking of human blood). In this passage, Lamb’s protagonist, Calantha, meets Ruthven Glenarvon, revolutionary and libertine, who in part by means of love letters that Lamb models on Byron’s own letters to her, will eventually lead this married woman to disgrace and ruin.

Never did the hand of the sculptor, in the full power of his art, produce a form and face more finely wrought, so full of soul, so ever-varying in expression.  Was it possible to behold him unmoved?  Oh! was it in woman's nature to hear him, and not to cherish every word he uttered?  And, having heard him, was it in the human heart ever again to forget those accents, which awakened every interest, and quieted every apprehension?  The day, the hour, that very moment of time was marked and destined.  It was Glenarvon—it was that spirit of evil whom she beheld; and her soul trembled within her, and felt its danger.

Calantha was struck suddenly, forcibly struck; yet the impression made upon her, was not in Glenarvon's favour.  The eye of the rattle-snake, it has been said, once fixed upon its victim, overpowers it with terror and alarm: the bird, thus charmed dares not attempt its escape; it sings its last sweet lay; flutters its little pinions in the air, then falls like a shot before its destroyer, unable to fly from his fascination.  Calantha bowed, therefore with the rest, pierced to the heart at once by the maddening power that destroys alike the high and low; but she liked not the wily turn of his eye, the contemptuous sneer of his curling lip, the soft passionless tones of his voice;—it was not nature, or if it was nature, not that to which she had been accustomed;—not the open, artless expression of a guileless heart.

—From Glenarvon (1816)


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