Byronic Daria
by Hannah Edlen

        Daria Morgendorffer, teen misfit and star of the animated MTV series, Daria, explains in her dead-pan voice that "the world is [her] oyster...but [she] just [can not] seem to get it open." The sarcastic icon has quite the entourage of viewers who relate to her cynicism and loner-lifestyle, while others dismiss her as a typical sulking teenaged recluse. Perhaps this means that she has "much to love and hate," as Lord Byron would describe one of his Byronic heroes. In fact, Daria retains many qualities of Lord Byron's signature characters, such as self-seclusion, talent, a unique appearance and idealism, but she also manages to maintain a long lasting friendship and an unwaveringly calm core, which are aspects not typically found in a Byronic hero.
        Daria is, for the most part, a solitary and alienated figure, symbolizing two major themes of the Romantic Movement and Lord Byron's work: the desire to commit oneself fully to their thoughts and feelings, and the resistance to conforming to a corrupt society. Daria is not interested in socializing primarily because she is self-sufficient. She has an incredible intellect and prefers to spend most of her time reading books by an endless list of authors who wrote books with powerful moral messages, including: George Orwell, Dante, Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, Mary Shelley, and Jack Kerouac. Daria reflects on these works and compares them to her own system of moral beliefs. She is so focused on her intellectual pursuits that she finds extracurricular activities, mainly sports and student council, to be frivolous and pointless. She thinks they are anything but gratifying because they focus on the more inconsequential non-academic aspects of high school, like cheering for the football team or raising money to buy a goal post in honor of the school's star quarterback. Consequently, Daria remains a non-joiner, claiming that she is not lazy or antisocial but actually "cheering a meeting of the rusting quietly club."
        Another reason why Daria sees little importance in social functions is that she has one loyal friend to count on, making her slightly different than the completely introverted Byronic hero. Her friend, Jane Lane, also has Daria's cynicism, sharp wit, and outcast social status. The two of them enjoy routinely exchanging their sardonic observations of their classmates over pizza at Pizza King or while watching their favorite show, "Sick Sad World." The basis of their friendship is sharing the same misanthropic view of life. Their camaraderie is unusual in the fact that it is uncommon for people of the Byronic nature to ever meet and socialize with each other, but their bond is surprisingly strong for they value it as a rare and fortunate phenomenon.
        Daria, besides being content with her limited social engagement, puts up a formidable front, which is common for Byronic characters to have for it is "something to hate" or be weary of. Her sarcastic comments, more than anything else, put a rift between her and the rest of society. In the episode The Invitiation, the head cheerleader, Brittany, offers to help Daria with something in repayment for the help Daria somewhat reluctantly gave her. Daria responds that she "could teach [her] how to twirl hair around her little finger and look vacant." Most people, including Brittany, don't understand Daria's sense of humor, but those who do distance themselves from her. Mack and Jodie, two honor roll students, appreciate Daria's intellect, but they never really go out of their way to socialize with her. Of course, Daria doesn't seem to mind the fact that her hostility cause her to be unpopular, for she still has Jane and plenty of extra time to read and write.
        Daria's appearance is further reason why she is not a very inviting person, for her otherwise attractive looks are purposely hidden. Everyday she conceals herself in a black pleated skirt, big black boots, a brown shirt, and an unremarkable green field jacket. Her thick glasses, which help her to "see things that other people [can not]," obscure her half-lit eyes. She always keeps the corners of her mouth down and never in a smile, save the occasional smirk. With such a bland appearance, she is almost never stopped in the hallway by a student who wishes to talk with her. Daria tells Jane that popular people think that "all unpopular people look alike anyway." Jane facetiously responds by putting on Daria's glasses and imitating her, but decides that it doesn't work because her own "face is too expressive." With all of her efforts, Daria does an effective job at blending herself into the background, alienating herself almost completely.
        In addition to her self-seclusion, Daria's idealistic beliefs make her seem reminiscent of Lord Byron and his heroic characters. Daria strongly disapproves of superficiality. She shuns her younger sister, Quinn and the "fashion club" that she is the vice president of, because it promotes vanity and an extremely narrow range of interest: fashion. Daria avoids being vain and superficial like her sister at all costs. Besides the show having the budget to animate Daria in one outfit only, she wears the same clothes everyday to make it seems like she doesn't care about her appearance. Daria is also highly opposed to materialism, for she will never enter the mall on her own free will to buy something frivolous like a brand new pair of fashionable boots.
        Most importantly, however, Daria has a strong hatred of oppression, though, unlike a Byronic hero, she sometimes does not feel like putting up a fight. She has spoken out against the school principle, Ms. Li, and her attempts to take the payment $50,000 from a soft drink company in exchange for pushing their products with her students. Typically, however, Daria prefers to quietly endure Ms. Li's ridiculous rules and financial schemes, because it does not seem to worth the hassle of challenging a woman who is so fixated on making money. The fact that Daria can allow herself to calmly put up with a wicked person like Ms. Li sets her apart from the realm of typical Byronic heroes. Deep down, however, Daria is very passionate about her romantic beliefs.
        Daria has ended a surprisingly successful run on MTV after her fifth season, so she no longer graces the television sets of her faithful followers. She currently attends Raft College in Boston, and with Jane attending nearby Boston Fine Arts College, fans of the show can only imagine the inevitable fun they are having dining at a new pizza joint and comparing notes on their corrupt professors or bothersome classmates. Daria will always remain an inspiration to those teenagers who strive for "defiant individualism" and criticize the paltriness of modern society. She is a modern day Byronic hero who has managed to endure the rigors of high school while being "too smart and too sensitive to live in a world like [hers] at a time like this."