2 April 2014
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall… Who’s the Most Narcissistic Byronic Hero of All?
Heroes embody every good nature and moral characteristics in society when looking at them in a traditional sense. However, George Gordon Byron created a hero that diverges from the typical hero we see today, one that differs so significantly with the hero society is used to seeing that we do not even notice them as such. In Manfred (1816), Byron shows how Manfred’s arduous journey of living with guilt and the limitations of human condition drives him to what he seeks, his own death. In contrast, in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) a young man who “looks as if he was made out of ivory and rose-leaves” (10) continues to look as so as the years go on. As a result, his portrait marks all of his sins, showing all of his suffering and pains while he remains untarnished. While these two authors are from different eras of literature, both explore how the possession of evil can govern their lives. However, whereas Byron illustrates the harmful effects when one is conscious of his evil, Wilde displays how Gray’s naivety and oblivion is what eventually lead to his downfall.
Whether or not the Byronic hero is developed over time or born one right from the start, it is no doubt that they are “characterized by a marked split between his external appearance and his interiority” (Poole). These heroes are not just self-absorbed, suffering beings that mysteriously enamor everyone they pass by, but they deal with a difficult struggle of finding the balance between spiritual self and what people see on the surface. In The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Erwin Goffman discusses his idea of individuals’ expressiveness. Goffman explains, “Expressiveness of the individual (and therefore his capacity to give impressions) appears to involve two radically different kinds of sign activity: the expression that he gives, and the expression that he gives off. The first involves verbal symbols or their substitutes which he uses admittedly and solely to convey the information that he and the others are known to attach to these symbols…The second involves a wide range of action that others can treat as symptomatic of the actor, the expectation being that the action was performed for reasons other than the information conveyed in this way” (1). With these two ways to express one’s self, it adds to how the Byronic hero deals with two sides of themselves. Not only are they expressing themselves through the traditional way of communication, which is verbal language, but they are also conveying another underlying message through actions. Through this binary idea of selves and expressions, it is clear that Dorian Gray and Manfred are prime examples of the Byronic hero.
Two distinct similarities between Dorian Gray and Manfred are their interior versus their exterior as Poole points out. While Dorian Gray has an obsession...