Heroes: Saviours, Traitors and Supermen by Lucy Hughes-Hallett - review by Frances Wilson

Frances Wilson

Rebels With Causes

Heroes: Saviours, Traitors and Supermen


Fourth Estate 604pp £25 order from our bookshop

'I WANT A hero,' writes Byron in the first canto of Don Juan: 'an uncommon want, / When every year and month sends forth a new one.. .' Byron might have become a new one himself had he bled to death in Missolonghi because of battle wounds, rather than leeches. Aristocratic, appositional, misanthropic (and possessed of dash, immense energy, even greater confidence, and an image that lent itself to mass manipulation), he shares some of the heroic properties singled out by Lucy Hughes-Hallett in a book of whose irony and intelligence, lucidity and learning, and languorous, discursive quality the poet would have approved.

The hero is democratically elected and dangerously seductive, granted an authority and inviting an adulation which absolves his worshippers of responsibility, rids them of their rationale, and often costs those who follow him their lives. As Alexandre Dumas wrote of Garibaldi, 'If he were to say to me, "I am

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