There are Romanticists whose basic premise, in effect, is that man possesses volition in regard to consciousness, but not to existence, i.e., in regard to his own character and choice of values, but not in regard to the possibility of achieving his goals in the physical world. The distinguishing characteristics of such writers are grand-scale themes and characters, no plots and an overwhelming sense of tragedy, the sense of a “malevolent universe.” The chief exponents of this category were poets. The leading one is Byron, whose name has been attached to this particular, “Byronic,” view of existence: its essence is the belief that man must lead a heroic life and fight for his values even though he is doomed to defeat by a malevolent fate over which he has no control.The problem with this category is (1) the vagueness of its terms, and (2) lack of specific examples. Because of these two issues, it's difficult to determine where this category is applicable. Keep in mind that, initially, Rand claimed that Romanticism could be distinguished from Naturalism through the literary device of a plot. But here we have a type of Romaticism that is plotless. So how does one distinguish Byronic Romanticism from Naturalism?
The Byronic Romantics, Rand tells us, adopt grand-scale themes and characters. Yet so does Shakespeare in his tragedies. Why is Shakespeare not a Byronic Romantic? Rand's attempt to use the issue of volition-orientation to analyze literature again demonstrates the futility of viewing narrative works through this particular prism. Except in extreme cases (e.g., Zola for instance, who is explicit in his determinism), the issue of volition versus determinism is not applicable to literature. Most serious novelists and dramatists seek to create characters and narratives that are believable. Whether their characters are "grand-scale" or not, they are nonetheless drawn in the hope of being compelling and believable manifestations of human nature. And why should any believable representation of human nature be equated with determinism?
Curiously, Rand's equation of "journalistic" descriptions of human beings with "Naturalism" implies that a scrupulously realistic portrayal of human nature supports determinism. Why should this be so? Most likely, Rand would have tried to circumvent this troublesome implication by drawing on her selectivity principle. Yet this merely demonstrates the poverty of Rand's selectivity principle. If you are determined to over-interpret a work of art, you can read anything into it that you like. But in criticism and aesthetics, the purpose is not to over-interpret works of literature, but to appreciate and enjoy them.
When analyzed carefully, most of Rand's aesthetic categories become entirely unconvincing. Under Rand's conceptual schema, there is (generaly speaking) no way really to distinguish between Romantic and Naturalist literature, beyond recourse to Rand's own statements about a handful of specific authors. We know that Dostoevksy and Conrad are Romantics, because Rand said they are. And we know that Shakespeare and Balzac are Naturalists for the same reason. But if Rand had said nothing about these authors, would we have been able to place them "correctly" in her contrived categories? And what about all those authors Rand never mentions? What of Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Dickens, Fielding, Richardson, D. H. Lawrence, George Eliot, Henry James, Mark Twain? English literature is particularly difficult to place in Rand's categories, because it tends to be so moralistic, and moralism implies volition. Yet "grand-scale" characters are not especially pentiful within the confines of the English novel.
In discussing Byronism, Rand is able to provide only one example -- that of Byron himself. She notes that "the chief exponents of this category were poets," yet refuses to name any of these poets other than the aforementioned Byron. This is a typical failing throughout Rand's philosophical writings: a failure to provide specific examples so that her readers could better evaluate her contentions. This failure suggests one of three possibilities:
(1) Rand was not familiar enough with those authors to evaluate them (meaning she hadn't read them)
(2) Those authors don't fit into her categories, so she ignored them
(3) Combination of one and two
If (1) is true, then we have to question whether Rand is even qualified to make aesthetic pronouncements on literature; and if (2) is true, then we have to question the utility of her categorizations (since if they are not applicable to most literature, what good are they?). In any case, Rand's attempt to devise aesthetic categories based on volition through which to evaluate literature are so poorly thought out that it raises suspicions of the whole thing being a ruse by which Rand could justify her personal tastes in serious literature. For, as it turns out, Rand's favorite serious authors and serious novels all turn out to be among the most consistent exemplars of Romanticism!