The Romantic hero is a literary archetype referring to a character that rejects established norms and conventions, has been rejected by society, and has the self as the center of his or her own existence. The Romantic hero is often the protagonist in the literary work and there is a primary focus on the character's thoughts rather than his or her actions. Literary critic Northrop Frye noted that the Romantic hero is often "placed outside the structure of civilization and therefore represents the force of physical nature, amoral or ruthless, yet with a sense of power, and often leadership, that society has impoverished itself by rejecting". Other characteristics of the romantic hero include introspection, the triumph of the individual over the "restraints of theological and social conventions", wanderlust, melancholy, misanthropy, alienation, and isolation. However, another common trait of the Romantic hero is regret for his actions, and self-criticism, often leading to philanthropy, which stops the character from ending romantically. An example of this trait is Edmond Dantès in The Count of Monte Cristo.
Usually estranged from his more grounded, realist biological family and leading a rural, solitary life, the Romantic hero may nevertheless have a long-suffering love interest, herself victimised by his rebellious tendencies, with their fates intertwined for decades, sometimes from their youths to their deaths. (See Tatyana Larina, Elizabeth Bennet, Eugenie Grandet et al.)
The Romantic hero first began appearing in literature during the Romantic period, in works by such authors as Byron, Keats, Goethe and Pushkin, and is seen in part as a response to the French Revolution. As Napoleon, the "living model of a hero", became a disappointment to many, the typical notion of the hero as upholding social order began to be challenged. Classic literary examples of the romantic hero include Werther from Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther, Gwynplaine from Hugo's The Man who Laughs, the title character in Pushkin's Onegin, Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, the main character in the epic poem "Don Juan" by Lord Byron, Chateaubriand's René, Tolstoy's Andrei Bolkonsky from War and Peace, Cooper's "Hawkeye" (Natty Bumppo) from The Leatherstocking Tales, and Raymond Chandler's Phillip Marlowe from his seven novels about the Los Angeles detective.
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- Furst, Lilian R. (Spring 1976). "The romantic hero, or is he an anti-hero?". Studies in the Literary Imagination 9 (1): 53–67.