Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

by Lord George Gordon Byron

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Childe Harold

The principal character in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage is Childe Harold, the narrator and author surrogate (that is, a fictional character based on the author). Childe Harold is the seminal Byronic hero, a form of Romantic hero that is an elevated, moody type of anti-hero.

Childe Harold is a young man who grows weary of his life of wealth and luxury, so he embarks on a solitary journey through Europe to seek adventure and awaken emotions that have gone dormant from years of disillusionment. Though he does find adventure and meet new people everywhere he goes, he remains melancholy. The journey does not solve his struggles of temperament.

It is dark, brooding character traits that tend to define the Byronic hero. Byronic heroes are typically some combination of moody, cynical, cunning, clever, perceptive, mysterious, charismatic, and arrogant. Byronic heroes are often outsiders living on the fringe of their social or environmental surroundings. They are also generally disillusioned with the trappings of society. Byron himself was famously said to be "mad, bad, and dangerous to know" by Lady Caroline Lamb, one of Byron's many romantic conquests.

Cantos 1 and 2 of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage were written in close succession, but cantos 3 and 4 came later. Between cantos 2 and 3, Lord Byron ceased trying to put distance between the character of Childe Harold and himself.

Byron mentions certain other people either as encounters in the course of Childe Harold's travels or as a source of introspection. Some descriptions follow:

Ianthe

This character parallels the real-life Lady Charlotte Harley, the daughter of Lady Oxford. Byron and Lady Oxford sustained an affair, and though Lady Charlotte was only 11 at the time they met, Lord Byron had a questionable attraction to the child.

Inez

Inez is a character addressed directly through an ode in which Childe Harold explains his disillusionment and expresses the hope that no others may become saddled with the knowledge that life is senseless.

Ali Pacha

Ali Pancha is a bandit and warrior Childe Harold meets in Albania.

John Eddleston

Referenced in canto 2, Eddleston was a former schoolmate and paramour from Byron's younger years. Byron remained fond of Eddleston until Eddleston's death.

Ada Byron

Ada was Lord Byron's daughter with his wife Annabella Byron (also invoked). Lord Byron lost his relationship with Ada when his wife left him. Following this, accounts of an incestuous relationship with his half sister Augusta Leigh plagued Byron and eventually led to his exile from England. In canto 3, Byron expresses his grief over missing Ada.

Various historical figures and generals from past battles across Europe are also analyzed in the poem as Childe Harold travels through Europe and visits different battlefields.

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