Byronic heroes; or, I am not Napoleon.
When I was in college, I could do lip service to the idea of a Byronic hero, you know, the romantically flawed man, the fallen angel, Milton’s Satan. But frankly I could have cared less. What did any of this have to do with me? I could never be a Byronic hero; I only liked to read things that had to do with me personally. I wrote Byron off as boring. Yesterday, I was flipping through Childe Harold in my old Norton Anthology and saw the notes I had written in the margins when I was nineteen years old. Apparently, I was aware that Byron identified with Napoleon. I had some interesting thoughts about the Romantics and nature. But none of it stuck; none of it mattered. As you know, I still found him boring. I’ve never entertained ambitions of world domination. But then I read about Byron’s carriage. He had it copied from Napoleon’s war carriage. Then he went on a tour of Waterloo so he could see where Napoleon surrendered. And suddenly I was more interested. Byron was fascinated by Napoleon’s disgrace — his fall. Having just endured an embarrassing divorce and ostracism from London society after being lionized for so many years, Byron could identify. And this I understand. I am no Napoleon. No Byron. But I am fascinated by enormous failure. By shame. I am not sure why. But I know I am not alone, since just this morning the BBC spent a long time on Conrad Black and Lindsay Lohan.