Byronic Hair and the New Period-Drama Heroes

It took me a while during the holiday season, but I did watch Bridgerton on Netflix. This new drama under the Shondaland banner basis itself on Julia Quinn’s series of novels, beginning with ‘The Duke and I.” I haven’t read them as someone not heavily into regency,aside from the odd trip to the novels of Georgette Heyer, the originator of the fake relationship trope from what I can see, and the grand dame herself Jane Austen.

When you think Jane Austen, you think of Pride and Prejudice, when you think of Pride and Prejudice, it’s the 1995 miniseries introducing Colin Firth and his wet, white shirt. Bridgerton features four brothers, three of marriageable age. The actors look like they came from a secret facility to produce another Colin Firth, not a drama school:

(Left to Right)
Benedict, Anthony, and Colin Bridgeton
Played by Luke Thompson, Jonathan Bailey, & Luke Newton

I had to double and triple check the names because they have two-TWO!-Lukes like I didn’t have memorize a clutch of Chrises, more than a trio of Toms, and a bunch of Dicks, I mean, a lot of Richards. The show itself feature tension! Intrigue! Twists! Julie Andrews as the voice of Lady Whistledown, whose publication even has Queen Charlotte keeping an eye on to umask who’s behind the exposé in each issue.

When the fun, sexy, frolics came to a close in season 1, people looked for other things to watch like Bridgerton. There’s Pride and Prejudice of course, both versions, 1995 and 2005 (Now I think this mysterious research facility decided to throw in a dash of Matthew MacFadyen in the man mix for these three.) Sedition with Theo James pops up, especially with its diverse cast much like Bridgerton as well. The show also features a hero, Simo, Duke of Hastings, looking the Byronic hero with dashing looks (check), arrogance (check), emotional moodiness (check), past trauma (Holy cow! CHECK!) (The last part unveils throughout the whole show, including it’s impact on the main romantic pairing.) While the Brothers Bridgerton has elements of the Byronic hero, let’s shorten it to BH, especially Anthony, it’s Simon, and actor Regé-Jean Page making ladies swoon faster than you can say ‘Look back at me.’

No surprise North and South with Richard Armitage will now get another look from some viewers needing more period drama to tie them over. If you do both Pride and Prejudices, you have to do North and South. The first time I saw it, I thought Darcy had competition in the broody boys club. The main reason I talked about the Byronic hero part, and I may have stretched it, was coming across an article nearly ten years ago while playing around with EBSCO at the beginning of my library career. I put ‘Armitage, Richard’ limiting to ‘People’ and out popped a gem written by Sarah Wootton titled ‘The Changing Faces of the Byronic Hero in Middlemarch and North and South.’

Wotton’s article seeks to establish 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 (2012). I had to reach back, way back, to whether this was ever mentioned during the 2nd or 3rd time we Wuthering Heights or any literature, written in the 19th century, featuring a broody, misunderstood hero. Nope. Alright then.

I started reading reading wondering how a bloke from Huncote fit with this academic article. The first half establishes the Bryonic hero, Gaskel and Eliot as women writers within the Victorian canon. Bascially, the usually stuff I ran into as an undergrad in English. Then around page 32 of the article, GOLD!

The initial portrait of Thornton as a hard, cruel master is re-emphasised at the end of the first episode when we are taken back into the mill; once again, the focus is on his dark profile, but now there is no suggestion of romance in either the work or the master.

Sarah Wotton, The Changing Faces of the Byronic Hero in Middlemarch and North and South, page 32

Let’s be serious for a moment. John Thorton made the most HORRIBLE first impression, I mean, the worse meet-cute in my personal history of watching such encounters. He’s getting established as not just rough, but violent, cares nothing except for the production of his mill, and the classic scene represents a dark lord of a worker’s hell. All that comes from Margaret’s point of view as we hear the voice over, fading from one scene her falling asleep after writing midway through a letter, to the music swelling and the authoritarian strut among the falling cotton in the mill, with only the profile suggesting the dark lord of worker hell opinion given by Margaret.

(Do you know how difficult it was to write the above paragraph knowing people will go ‘yeah, but Richard Armitage’ and me laughing because internally I was also ‘yeah, but Richard Armitage.’ However, he went all in for whatever that scene called for in that moment and it makes me lovemore as a person passionate about his craft. End of aside.)

The article as a whole does a great job of screen adaptations of Gaskell and Eliot’s novels. Eliot of course is George Eliot and the novel is Middlemarch, with actor Rufus Sewell taking on the other examination of Byronic heroes and masculinity. The whole thing made me wish to go back and take a lit course and write about this topic. (Also, yes, indulge the fangirl for a good grade.) First off, learning about the ‘Byronic hero’ would me fun and also reading stuff like this:

Yet although Thornton’s lack of pretension and absence of guilt mark significant departures from the customary Byronic traits, there are many significant parallels. His physical prowess, dark hair and pale, marble features are directly descended from portraits of Byron and illustrations of his protagonists; even more notable are the ‘flaming eyes’ (N&S 313)

Sarah Wotton, The Changing Faces of the Byronic Hero in Middlemarch and North and South, 31-32

When I first read the part I highlighted in bold, I remembered mumbling ‘knew it’ during a quiet night at the library. This was early, right after watching Robin Hood and wondering where this guy has been hiding. One of the first things I noticed, besides the profile, was how he was built like the Greek statues seen during a 2015 exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Whever I hear about the idiots who called his nose ‘concorde’ or bullied him at school, I offer this response:

For the fangirls that will grow out of Bridgerton for these guys, I stand back from a distance and let people enjoy what they want to enjoy. The real break out will be Regé-Jean Page thanks to his role as Simon, someone who enjoys good fistacuffs just like Thornton. Period dramas are undergoing a shift, a much needed shift, and if there’s a chance, however remote, for Armitage to wear another cravat, there’s a role as a Featherington heir yet to be cast for season 2. If the look on Polly Walker’s face is anything to go by, it would be fun to see the trademark smirk among the pastels of Bridgerton. I can see it now as Lady Whistledown narrates ‘The Featherington women are about to enter a hell, making them wish to be a guest at the most boring ball during the season.’

4 thoughts on “Byronic Hair and the New Period-Drama Heroes

  1. I remember learning back at the beginning of my Armitagemania that there had allegedly been people who turned N&S off after the mill scene — saying that it was way off from how Gaskell saw the character.

    So did you see Sanditon? So many of my RL friends watched and loved it and I finally saw it a few weeks ago via PBS. Theo James is not particularly floppy haired. To me the one who looks most like a Byronic hero in that piece is Sir Edward (who is not at all a hero but definitely has the edginess down).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s on my list and I have a ways to see it. I might do a PBS add to my prime subscription and drop it. It’s ironic two Castlevania actors have done the Byronic hero thing.

      I read N&S the novel and noticed the differences but it happens. I think people liked this version of Sandition and I have seen debate after debate with Austen novels. I see another one and I am like ‘Yeah, no.”


      1. I’ll be interested to read what you think. I found it very entertaining, and sort of like a distillation of everything Austen-y, especially in the first three episodes (and by then, of course, you want to know how it ends). I don’t have an issue with “adult” adaptations of these things, although I can see in the case of Regency romance that one reason readers choose that genre is that it’s not sexy, so it’s maybe counter-intuitive.

        My default position is pretty much “the book is better than the film” — I very rarely don’t have that reaction — so I have tended to be very uninterested in debates about Austen adaptations. I liked 1995 P&P but I still think the book was better and I am not sure I’ve seen any of the other adaptations. I think Austen would not be thrilled by this adaptation of Sanditon but hey, centuries later we’re still consuming her stories, so hopefully she would be happy about that. With N&S I just felt like the book / series were very different things. The book was very much about the resolution of opposites in the relatively new industrializing English world, and the attraction of the series for me was about how Thornton dealt with his problems. I enjoyed them both.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. oh, and I totally get why the fans want another series of Sanditon. For about two days after I saw the last episode I was unsettled. I kept thinking there must be another episode when there wasn’t. I even checked once!

    Liked by 1 person

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