The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Prokosch’s Byron is a driven man, one who confides that “I kept searching for a deeper purpose,’ a spiritual call,’ a dedication.’ ” For a while he hopes to find fulfillment in his dedication to the cause of the Italian revolutionaries in their struggle against Austria. Yet he quickly understands that he is destined to a fruitless search for peace and that he is an exile whose “political ardour had a hollow ring to it.” His aspirations in his mission to Greece are futile right from the beginning, as he seems aware; the final mustering of energies expended in a spiritual void.

Toward the last he writes ruefully of the end of the “beautiful Byron,” a death that leaves only the “perverse and destructive and tortured Byron.” He describes himself as a “wayward” animal, both “childishly happy and childishly gloomy, childishly affectionate and childishly venomous.” In short, his motives are “transparent” because he is simply “a man who follows his instincts.” He returns to this self-analysis several days later, cataloging his qualities and explaining, “Every virtue contains its vice and every vice its own virtue.” He takes comfort in his conclusion that ultimately the great virtue is “animal integrity,” a complete acceptance and fulfillment of one’s animal self. He accepts Shelley’s judgment of him as “a shame-faced Manichean.” Immediately before he goes to Greece, however, he confides that he has no “definite or identifiable character” and that he is drawn to Greece...

(The entire section is 626 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

George Gordon, Lord Byron

George Gordon, Lord Byron, the flamboyant British poet. In this novelistic account, Byron becomes a haunted man searching for a deeper purpose, a “spiritual call,” or “a dedication.” Byron sees himself in these fictional notebooks as “beautiful,” as “perverse and destructive and tortured,” and as “childishly happy and childishly gloomy, childishly affectionate and childishly venomous.” He lives by instinct and is forever being caught up in emotional messes and sensual debauchery. The impulse to political action that leads to his death in Missolonghi is part of his fruitless search to escape spiritual sloth. He concludes that he has no “definite or identifiable character” and that his political careering in Greece springs from his need “to discover the other creature, if there really is another, who is hiding within me.” The Byron of this novel is a true Byronic hero.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley, another British Romantic poet and a friend of Byron. A humorless prig, Shelley is given to “little bursts of a warbling ecstasy.” Despite what he perceives as Shelley’s “absurdity,” Byron appreciates the “sudden tenderness” that Shelley often reveals and senses in him the “presence of purity.”

Countess Teresa Guiccioli

Countess Teresa Guiccioli, Byron’s mistress. The beautiful Teresa, married to an...

(The entire section is 448 words.)