The Romantic era in literature had nothing in common with the "romance" paperbacks you see today featuring men with rippling muscles embracing women in scantily clad outfits, and the Romantic hero wasn't much like Fabio. While Romantic literature had plenty of love stories, the genre was focused on a rejection of convention in favor of independence and personal expression. The Romantic hero, sometimes called a Byronic hero, was usually the protagonist of these stories and embodied all the ideals of the genre.
Rejection of Authority
One of the strongest traits of the Romantic hero is that he rejects authority in all forms, including social codes of conduct, religious belief and moral conditioning. Instead, the hero develops his own rules for morality and personal behavior. For example, Heathcliff in "Wuthering Heights" rejects the social expectations that he will grow up a poor servant and instead goes out to make his own fortune. He doesn't believe that his poverty makes him unfit as a match for Catherine, nor does he view her marriage to another man as an impediment to their union. He operates by his own moral code, as do other Romantic heroes.
Introversion and Isolation
The Romantic hero is intensely introspective, spending much time contemplating his own truth. That quality, combined with his rejection of social norms, also leads to a deep sense of isolation. Being disconnected from others could lead to a sense of cynicism or even hatred of people in general, as in the case of Heathcliff. However, this is not always the case. For example, Mr. Darcy in "Pride and Prejudice" is an introspective man who feels isolated, but he does not harbor bitterness or disdain for others in general.
Feeling of Wanderlust
The rejection of social norms and the quest for greater self-knowledge go hand in hand with a feeling of wanderlust for the Romantic hero. Many heroes have to leave home on a quest of self-discovery, which is often -- but not always -- depicted in the story. Instead, the journey may be marked by a period of the hero's absence in the story. Many heroes also seek solace in nature during their travels, such as Captain Ahab in "Moby Dick" or Claggart in "Billy Budd." This impulse was aligned with Romantic literature's view of nature as the source of real truth, independent of religious or social teaching.
Haunted by the Past
The Romantic hero is often haunted by some aspect of his past. He may be haunted by some secret, as Rochester is in "Jane Eyre," or by some tragedy, like Mr. Darcy in "Pride and Prejudice." In many cases, he is haunted by a forbidden love, as is Heathcliff, who cannot be with Catherine -- first because she is above his social status and later because she is married to another man. The torment the hero feels over this past may deepen his rejection of society and his sense of isolation.
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