Childe Harold – general discussion

This is the poem whose publication in the spring of 1812 made Byron an overnight sensation. Our selections include the first parts of Cantos I, and shorter selections from Cantos III and IV.   The BBC biopic  gives only a brief glimpse of Byron’s “professional” life, when he meets other poets at his publisher’s, after the success of Childe Harold. Our next few readings will let us trace that story more closely

CHP  was much illustrated in the 19th century; you’ll recognize the following image, meant to accompany stanza 11 of the first Canto:

The British library has an exhibition on the popularity of Byron illustrations, focusing on this text’s source, the 1833 Byron Gallery:  check it out!

The figure of Child Harold represents the first example of an ongoing confusion between Byron “himself” and the protagonist(s) of Byron’s poetry. This compound figure would eventually be called the “Byronic Hero.” Even if we don’t know the name, we are all familiar with this figure, who still plays a large role in our culture. As an example, the first three Google hits on a search for that term brings up Wikipedia, an academic website, and TVTropes–a perfect example of how widespread this figure has become!

But we’re going back to the root. So let me start with a simple discussion question: what makes the protagonist of Byron’s poem/sequence so appealing?  In your replies, cite evidence from the text!

(If you find him more appalling than appealing, you could argue for that position as well…)

20 Replies to “Childe Harold – general discussion”

  1. I think what makes the protagonist of Bryon’s poem/ sequence so appealing is that even in todays times over 200 years after the poem/ sequence was published people can still relate to him. Like when Lord Bryon says “Ah! may’st thou ever be what thou art, Nor unbeseem the promise of thy spring, As fair in form, as warm yet pure in heart,”. A young adult can relate to this when they are thinking about someone they have a crush on.

    1. Aha! you’re quoting from the prefatory poem, “To Ianthe”–a poem that CAN seem very universal…..but the closer this poem gets to Byron’s biography, the more, well, complicated things get.

      (Eg: imagine giving this lines to someone one had a crush on: one probably wouldn’t include the info that Cochran includes in his footnote, right?)

  2. I find the protagonist in the poem/sequence not only appealing, but also slightly appalling. My appeal comes from the way the protagonist, Childe Harold, is described and the actions he commits. On line 12, Byron describes his protagonist as “warm yet pure in heart”, and on line 14 as “… guileless beyond Hope’s imagining”. These short and simplistic descriptions give us insight into what Childe Harold is like, only 2 stanzas into the poem. The protagonist is pure of heart and genuine and shameless. These traits make him like able and makes the reader want to invest more not only in the plot, but in the life of the character. The actions that make Harold’s character appealing are those relating to his reaction towards not being able to have a woman he desires, the woman whose “smile for which [his] breast might vainly sigh”. Since Harold cannot have her, he takes to the seas in search of change. This is admirable since he did not react in a way that would harm her, instead went away looking to better his life. Yet, this is the point and comparison within the poem that causes me to have appalling feelings for the main character. While Harold did leave in search of bettering his situation, he ends up having only companions of “flatterers” and “parasites” as described in stanza 9. The protagonist that started out so heart-warming and heroic, only ends up becoming someone who relies on alcohol and women. I believe the protagonist to be a representation of Lord Byron, whom I also have appealing and appalling feelings for. Overall, Childe Harold is appealing as a protagonist, yet makes some appalling actions. Yet, that might be what also makes him so appealing because it makes the “Byronic Hero” seem more human and relatable.

  3. I think what makes Byron’s protagonist so appealing is his youthful sense of adventure and drive to change and experience all the world has to offer. This protagonist gives up “his home, his heritage, his lands, The laughing dames in whom he did delight” in search of strange and new sights and experiences (91-92). He gives up basically all he had in the world in search of the new and exciting, which I think is something many wish they could do.

  4. Byron’s protagonist is appealing in his hopeless romanticism, characterized by his personification of nature when he writes of the lake “[wooing him] with its chrystal face” and the brooding image of him on a sailboat, or a cragg surrounded by heaving waters, sailing the undulating waves of fate… and probably looking like Fabio on the cover of a smut novel, wearing a billowy white shirt unbuttoned down to the belly button, long dark hair blowing in the wind. Maybe there’s a lighthouse in the background?

  5. I think Childe Harold appeals to the sense of adventure. I think people feel adventurous just reading Harold’s troubles and decision to leave his “native land”. I also can imagine that when this was first published that it seemed somewhat scandalous, especially to women, which of course made them want to read it more.

  6. I agree with all the comments above about the “sense of adventure” containing the most appealing aspect of Harold’s character, yet I personally was turned against him from the very beginning when the second stanza described him as ” a youth who ne in virtue’s ways did take delight; but spent his days in riot most uncouth.” That set him up as a spoiled brat in my eyes and it was hard for me to admire his bravery in setting out into the unknown.

    1. Ah, yes, the idea of “privilege” rears its head–& the fact that we know of Byron’s wealth (though his early boyhood was spent in genuine poverty) surely partly contributes to your sense of Harold here?

      (To put it differently, Harold, here, is the recognizable ancestor of a certain type of college student, no?)

  7. While I really enjoyed this piece- and definitely understand why it made Byron an “overnight sensation”, it seemed mostly about lust and a “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” kind of message. Several parts in the piece say things like “none did love him…”, “he loved but one… loved one could never be his… happy she! to scape from whose kissHe struggles with perpetual loneliness because of his indulgent lifestyle.

    1. Dang I wasn’t done with my comment, but my point being, he is an “adventurer” of sorts but I think it’s because his selfish ways have caused him to have no true “home”. While he revels in the joys of the flesh & indulgence, he has an inner unrest & isolation.

      1. Jo, the relationship between “inner” and “outer” life does seem important. He travels, adventures, experiences–all to attempt to compensate for some mysterious inner loss. Stanza 8 is the fullest expression of this…

  8. I think that the reason he is so appealing (and are still studying him hundreds of years later) is because he was so intense, but so aloof. So many people in the thread have mentioned adventure, but it is true. Byron brought out the childish freedom in people, especially his lovers. He cracked the mundane society that so many people had become stuck in, and kind of drew people into this moody, whirlwind lifestyle.

  9. I think Childe Harold’s protagonist creates a sense of adventure as well as a sense of freedom. The mention of leaving native land also brings up the conflict between freedom or comfort which can be drawn back to some of the lines seen in Byron’s other works.

    1. What if Lord Byron is overly consumed with the “lifestyle” and is seeking more outside of his everyday life? Searching for something he may or may not be aware he’s missing?

  10. To those of you who’ve not yet responded: please pick an individual post from those who have come before, and put your own perspective into dialog with that person’s post!

    You can agree, disagree: what I’m looking for is for you to further DEVELOP a claim that’s already been made by bringing some evidence of your own…

  11. While there isn’t much evidence for this particularly, I thought perhaps in canto 5 (lines 37-45) Byron may have been referencing his relationship with his sister, Augusta. He mentions that the one he truly loves “could n’er be his,” which may have been a reference to her being married. Later in line 44 Byron says he “spoiled her goodly lands,” which I thought could have been about Medora, the child of Augusta’s he supposedly fathered. Through the whole piece he emphasizes the sinful nature of their relation, while still portraying his beloved as innocent and ‘chaste’, and even in the BBC Biopic, Byron refuses to let any fault of their incest fall on Augusta. I thought the connection was prominent, but doubted there was anything to it, until I saw Childe Harold was written from 1812-1818 and Medora was born in 1814, so I thought it was possible or worth mentioning.

    1. By the time of writing _Childe Harold_ (the first two cantos), Byron had not yet become involved with Augusta: the Medora part of your diagnosis thus is impossible. However, he had met Augusta when he was sixteen; they had corresponded since 1805; your first reference is certainly a possible one…

      The mysteriousness, in any case, is certainly intentional. It might also be purely literary. The trope of “star-crossed love” was famous before “Romeo and Juliet”; of course it would not have survived in literature were their not many real-life obstacles to desired romances!

  12. I should also add that the Wikipedia article on “Augusta Leigh” is at present flagged as…in need of “inline citations.” Anyone who ends up exploring the topic of Byron’s relation to his half-sister has a good opportunity for some Wikipedia authorship here!

  13. I think Byrons Protagonist is appealing because we can essentially get an idea on what it was like for Byon to transition from a young or “immature”(for lack of a better word) boy to manhood . The First Cantos states “Worse than adversity the Childe befell; He felt the fulness of satiety” I took from this quote that as Byron transitioned into “manhood” he began to feel more satisfied.

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