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Durham University

Department of English Studies

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Publication details for Professor Sarah Wootton

Wootton, S. (2008). 'The Changing Faces of the Byronic Hero in Middlemarch and North and South'. Romanticism 14(1): 25-35.

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

Almost two hundred years after the publication of the first two cantos of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, the Byronic hero remains, as Andrew Elfenbein argues, an ‘unprecedented cultural phenomenon’.1 This essay is not concerned with the more direct descendants of the Byronic hero (Rochester and Heathcliff, for example); rather, I shall be focusing on the less immediately obvious, and in some respects more complex, reincarnations of the Byronic hero in two nineteenth-century novels, George Eliot's Middlemarch and Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South. Establishing previously neglected connections between these authors and the figure of the Byronic hero not only opens new avenues of debate in relation to these novels, but also permits a reassessment of the extent and significance of Byron's influence in the Victorian period. The following questions will be addressed: first, why does a Byronic presence feature so prominently in the work of nineteenth-century women writers; second, what is distinctive about Eliot and Gaskell's respective treatments of this figure; and, third, how is the Byronic hero subsequently reinvented, and to what effect, in modern screen adaptations of their work?

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