The Romantic hero is a literary archetype referring to a character that rejects established norms and conventions, has been rejected by society, and has themselves at the center of their own existence. The Romantic hero is often the protagonist in a literary work, and the primary focus is on the character's thoughts rather than their 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 their actions, and self-criticism, often leading to philanthropy, which stops the character from ending romantically.
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, him or herself victimised by the hero's 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:
It was the year 1809 and Byron had already defined the myth that was to survive him to become one of the most reproduced tropes in our culture: the Romantic hero. Through the Romantic hero that Childe Harold embodies, Byron will attempt to recover from the sufferings of exile.
Both Marlowe and Flanagan are knightly heroes in their way. The emblematic image of the knight--romantic hero if there ever was one--appears on page one of Chandler's first novel about Marlowe, The Big Sleep. The author refers to him in "The Simple Art of Murder" in a famous passage that evokes the image of a modern knight errant: "[D]own these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. . . . The story is his adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure" (Chandler, Later 992).
Indeed, René has been identified as the text that created and popularised the superior but melancholic romantic hero suffering from profound disillusionment.
In 1774 he published his first major work, the self-revelatory novel The Sorrows of Young Werther, in which he created the prototype of the Romantic hero, and instigated a European fashion.