Rupert Christiansen defines a Byronic hero as “a man proud, moody, cynical, with defiance on his brow, and misery in his heart, a scorner of his kind, implacable in revenge, yet capable of deep and strong affection.”1 In Catherine Hardwicke’s Twilight (2008) Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) is a Byronic hero; however, he breaks the mold of the literary archetype by taking action to control his evil nature.
Edward is capable of scorn and hatred. When he first encounters Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), he looks at her with contempt, and when she walks into biology class, he gives her a fierce look. Bella is anathema to him because her human scent is so powerful it arouses his violent nature. Ironically, detesting her is a defense mechanism to control his violent nature. By hating her, he stays away from her, and she is safe from harm.
Edward is a man of emotional extremes. After several days away from Bella, his anger subsides, and he treats her with kindness. Seeing the stark change in his personality, she tells him, “Your mood swings are giving me whiplash.” Later, his violent nature is revealed when he rescues her from a gang of teenage boys. He wants to “go back there and rip those guys’ heads off.” Edward’s emotions are unstable because of his desire for violence that he struggles to control. He tells Bella that he is “a monster” and “a killer.” Edward also has unstable emotions because of his self-contempt. He hates being a vampire.
Although Edward has the nature of a monster, his love for Bella is stronger than his lust for her blood. Like a drug addict, he compares his desire for her to heroin. He is drawn to her not only because of her powerful scent, but also because he loves her goodness and innocence. She is willing to die to save her mother, and he is willing to die to save her. Edward’s love for Bella helps him control his lust for her blood. When you love someone, you are less likely to cause them harm.
Edward differs from a typical Byronic hero because he is a man of action. According to Peter L. Thorslev Jr., a Byronic hero is marked by an “agonized passiveness.”2 Edward is agonized, but not passive. A vampire since 1918, he overcame his violent nature and no longer kills human beings for their blood. In the climax of the film, he faces his greatest test: to suck vampire venom from Bella’s wrist without killing her. Although he finds it impossible to stop, Carlisle Cullen (Peter Facinelli) tells him to “find the will.” Edward controls his evil nature and saves Bella’s life by using the power of his will.
The author of Twilight, Stephenie Meyer, is a Mormon, and she created a Byronic hero who embodies a Biblical principle: “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.”3 Edward hates his evil nature, which is the first step in controlling it. If a person hates what is evil, they are less likely to do what is evil. Bella is the good that Edward clings to. In loving and protecting her, he regains the humanity that he lost when he became a human monster.
- Rupert Christiansen, Romantic Affinities: Portraits from an Age, 1780-1830 (The Bodley Head Ltd).
- William R. Harvey, “Charles Dickens and the Byronic Hero,” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 24, no. 3 (December 1969): 306, http://www.jstor.org/stable/2932860
- Romans 12:9 (New International Version).