The Poem

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1139

When Don Juan is a small boy, his father dies, leaving the boy in the care of his mother, Donna Inez. Donna Inez is a righteous woman who made her husband’s life miserable. She has her son tutored in the arts of fencing, riding, and shooting, and she attempts to...

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When Don Juan is a small boy, his father dies, leaving the boy in the care of his mother, Donna Inez. Donna Inez is a righteous woman who made her husband’s life miserable. She has her son tutored in the arts of fencing, riding, and shooting, and she attempts to rear him in a moral manner. The young Don Juan reads widely in the sermons and lives of the saints, but he does not seem to absorb from his studies the qualities his mother thinks essential.

At sixteen, he is a handsome lad much admired by his mother’s friends. Donna Julia, in particular, often looks pensively at the youth. Donna Julia is just twenty-three and married to a man of fifty. Although she loves her husband, or so she tells herself, she thinks often of young Don Juan. One day, finding herself alone with him, she gives herself to the young man. The young lovers spend long hours together during the summer, and it is not until November that Don Alfonso, her husband, discovers their intrigue. When Don Alfonso finds Don Juan in his wife’s bedroom, he tries to throttle him. Don Juan overcomes Don Alfonso and flees, first to his mother’s home for clothes and money. Then Donna Inez sends him to Cadiz, there to begin a tour of Europe. The good lady prays that the trip will mend his morals.

Before his ship reaches Leghorn, a storm breaks it apart. Don Juan spends many days in a lifeboat without food or water. At last the boat is washed ashore, and Don Juan falls exhausted on the beach and sleeps. When he awakens, he sees bending over him a beautiful girl, who tells him that she is called Haidée and that she is the daughter of the ruler of the island, one of the Cyclades. Her father, Lambro, is a pirate, dealing in jewels and slaves. She knows her father will sell Don Juan to the first trader who comes by, so Haidée hides Don Juan in a cave and sends her maids to wait on him.

When Lambro leaves on another expedition, Haidée takes Don Juan from the cave and they roam together over the island. Haidée gives jewels, fine foods, and wines to Don Juan, for he is the first man she ever knew except for her father and for her servants. Although Don Juan still tries to think of Donna Julia, he cannot resist Haidée. A child of nature and passion, she gives herself to him with complete freedom. Don Juan and Haidée live an idyllic existence until Haidée’s father returns unexpectedly. Don Juan again fights gallantly, but at last he is overcome by the old man’s servants and put aboard a slave ship bound for a distant market. He never sees Haidée again, and he never knows that she dies without giving birth to his child.

The slave ship takes Don Juan to a Turkish market, where he and another prisoner are purchased by a black eunuch and taken to the palace of a sultan. There Don Juan is made to dress as a dancing maiden and present himself to the sultana, the fourth and favorite wife of the sultan. She passed by the slave market and saw Don Juan and wants him for a lover. In order to conceal his sex from the sultan, she forces the disguise on Don Juan. Even at the threat of death, however, Don Juan will not become her lover, for he still yearns for Haidée. His constancy might have wavered if the sultana was not an infidel, for she is young and beautiful.

Eventually Don Juan escapes from the palace and joins the army of Catherine of Russia. The Russians are at war with the sultan from whose palace Don Juan fled. Don Juan is such a valiant soldier that he is sent to St. Petersburg to carry the news of a Russian victory to Empress Catherine. Catherine also casts longing eyes on the handsome stranger, and her approval soon makes Don Juan the toast of her capital. In the midst of his luxury and good fortune, Don Juan grows ill. Hoping that a change of climate will help her favorite, Catherine resolves to send him on a mission to England. When he reaches London he is well received, for he is a polished young man, well versed in fashionable etiquette. His mornings are spent in business, but his afternoons and evenings are devoted to lavish entertainment. He conducts himself with such decorum, however, that he is much sought after by proper young ladies and much advised by older ones. Lady Adeline Amundeville makes him her protégé and advises him freely on affairs of the heart. Another, the duchess of Fitz-Fulke, advises him, too, but her suggestions are of a more personal nature and seem to demand a secluded spot where there is no danger from intruders. As a result of the duchess of Fitz-Fulke’s attentions to Don Juan, Lady Adeline begins to talk to him about selecting a bride from the chaste and suitable young ladies attentive to him.

Don Juan thinks of marriage, but his interest is stirred by a girl not on Lady Adeline’s list. Aurora Raby is a plain young lady, prim, dull, and seemingly unaware of Don Juan’s presence. Her lack of interest serves to spur him on to greater efforts, but a smile is his only reward from the cold maiden.

His attention is diverted from Aurora by the appearance of the ghost of the Black Friar, who once lived in the house of Lady Adeline, where Don Juan is a guest. The ghost is a legendary figure reported to appear before births, deaths, or marriages. To Don Juan, the ghost is an evil omen, and he cannot laugh off the tightness about his heart. Lady Adeline and her husband seem to consider the ghost a great joke. Aurora appears to be a little sympathetic with Don Juan, but the duchess of Fitz-Fulke merely laughs at his discomfiture.

The second time the ghost appears, Don Juan follows it out of the house and into the garden. It seems to float before him, always just out of his reach. Once he thinks he grasped it, but his fingers touch only a cold wall. Then he seizes it firmly and finds that the ghost has a sweet breath and full, red lips. When the monk’s cowl falls back, the duchess of Fitz-Fulke is revealed. On the morning after, Don Juan appears at breakfast wan and tired. Whether he overcame more than the ghost, no one will ever know. The duchess, too, comes down, seeming to have the air of one who was rebuked.

Places Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 361

*Seville

*Seville. City in southwestern Spain. Calling it “a pleasant city,/ Famous for oranges and women,” Byron sets the tone and theme for his treatment of place. The poet is deliberately light-hearted about his legendary hero, pointing out how the provinciality of the city and of his upbringing makes him ignorant of sex and therefore susceptible to the charms of beautiful women. The restrictions of place stimulate the hero to seek a larger world of experience.

Greek island

Greek island. Exiled from Seville, where he has been caught making love to another man’s wife, the hero falls in love with the ruler’s daughter in a setting that resembles an erotic paradise. Because Haidee’s father is away, the lovers are free to indulge themselves—although Don Juan finds himself exiled again when the father returns. The Greek island becomes another example of the world as a place that conspires against lovers.

*Constantinople

*Constantinople. Turkish capital to which Don Juan is taken by sailors who rescue him after he is abandoned at sea. There he becomes a subject of the Ottoman rulers and continues to attract the amorous attentions of noble women. Byron uses Constantinople to place his hero at the crossroads of the Christian and Turkish empires, demonstrating that for all the differences in customs between East and West, his hero’s desire to keep his dignity intact while enjoying himself never slackens. Places threaten to change the hero, but his spirit proves remarkably resistant to the coercions of environment.

*Russia

*Russia. Even after Don Juan is captured by Russians besieging the Turkish city of Ismail and he becomes a lover of Russia’s ruler, Catherine the Great, he remains stubbornly his own person and not merely the plaything of Russia’s great autocrat.

*England

*England. Sent to England as part of a diplomatic entourage, Don Juan becomes a fixture of English society, fending off women who look upon marriage as a career. Byron provides many satirical descriptions of his superficial native land, admirably summing up Don Juan’s journey from “lands and scenes romantic,” where lives are risked for passion, to a “country where ’tis half a fashion.”

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 333

Bloom, Harold. “Don Juan.” In The Visionary Company: A Reading of English Romantic Poetry. Rev. ed. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1990. Explores how Byron’s attempt to straddle the worlds of fallen and reborn humanity places his epic in the same visionary landscape as that of other Romantic poets.

Byron, George Gordon, Lord. Don Juan. Edited by T. G. Steffan. New York: Penguin Books, 1986. Excellent edition of Byron’s epic, derived from Steffan’s four-volume variorum edition. Complete with extensive notes, variants, commentary, and bibliography.

Crane, David. The Kindness of Sisters. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003. A study of Byron’s reputation after death, exploring bitter and conflicting accounts by the wife he divorced and the sister he seduced.

MacCarthy, Fiona. Byron: Life and Legend. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003. A biography that re-examines the life of the poet in the light of MacCarthy’s assertion that Byron was bisexual, a victim of early abuse by his nurse.

McGann, J. J. Don Juan in Context. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976. An analysis of the personal, literary, and historical influences of Byron’s epic. Individual chapters discuss the problems of form, development of language, chronology of composition, and the importance of imagination as a creative and analytical faculty.

Ridenour, G. M. The Style of Don Juan. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1960. Examines the classical theory of styles and its impact on Byron’s paradoxical vision and his involvement in the narrative as speaker. Particular attention is paid to the Fall as a metaphor for the creation of art, nature, sexual identity, and a persona.

Wolfson, Susan. “‘Their She Condition’: Cross-Dressing and the Politics of Gender in Don Juan.” English Literary History 54 (Fall, 1987): 585-617. Argues that categories that historically define “masculine” and “feminine” are often inverted in Don Juan. Dressing young Juan as a slave girl and the Duchess of Fitz-Fulke as the Black Friar are two examples of playful attempts at exposing and challenging the inadequacies of socially constructed gender roles.

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