Lord Byron’s Don Juan: Short Review

In order to grasp the full meaning of Lord Byrons Don Juan, the style, the speaker, the listener, and the literal and underlying meaning of the poem must be analyzed. Don Juan is a mock epic that vividly narrates the exploits of the infamous character of the title. This poem is considered Lord Byrons (a.k.a George Gordon) masterpiece and placed Byron on the list of one of the great poets of the Romantic Period.

Byrons style is different of that of any other nineteenth century poets. In Don Juan, Byron evolves a form that best fits his subject. The style used in Don Juan is personal and subjective, but the themes are universal (Boyd 109). Byron uses language that expresses a full range of emotions which lends to Don Juans amazing tone and tremendous energy. This tone and the energy also come from Byrons complete understanding of the spoken language (Bottrall 108). In his poetry, especially in Don Juan, Lord Byron demonstrates the rhythmic ideals of colloquial English through the devices he employs.

The huddled speed of question and answer, parenthesis, court gossip, innuendo, thrust, and repartee, is breath-taking (Bottrall 109). Byron sticks with a common ABABABCC rhyme scheme throughout Don Juan along with the normal word-order, and yet the rhythms of everyday speech are also introduced and meshed with all of the intricate stanza work. This produces a frantic energy in the poem that alleviates the potency of the story. The way that Lord Byron fits form to subject in Don Juan adds immensely to the enjoyment of the poem an many levels. Don Juan is told from the perspective of the main character, Don Juan. He is a classic Byronic hero, characterized by his moods passion, and dark sexual allure (Keith 87).

Don Juan is considered by most to be autobiographical, though none of the love scenes are strictly so. Byron approaches many subjects through Don Juans exploits and handles them all playfully on the surface, but with an underlying seriousness (Boyd 109). Through his main character, Lord Byron explains the confusion and loss of reputation in his life brought on by love affairs (Boyd 112). He also condemns the hypocrisy of societys and individuals ideals of love and especially marriage. In accordance with his beliefs on these ideals, Byron proceeds to make Juan out to be a hero in every respect of his life except in his relations with women, giving the listener a peephole in which Byron is revealing a bit of himself.

Byron explains or excuses the behavior in his own life by This is how the human being is evolved whom the world ignorantly dubs a Don Juan. Hypocrisy, violence, and vicious self-indulgence in individuals combine with an unnatural civilization to ruin the pristine beauty and purity of the human heart (Boyd 112). In most literature containing references to Don Juan he is portrayed as deceitful and immoral, but in Byrons Don Juan he is shown to be an innocent, beautiful, and charming young man whose way with women leads to many sticky situations. The ingenuity of this poem is the lapses in the story in which Lord Byron has interjected his own reflections on the subject.

In this way Byron both separates himself from Juan and Lord Byron wrote Don Juan in a period of literary history when conservatism ruled. Public tastes were controlled by groups such as the Society for Suppression of Vice, and many writers and publishers feared prosecution for immoral material. In fact the first two cantos of Don Juan were in jeopardy of being edited out of the poem because of their content. In this atmosphere, Byron wrote his most risqu poems in response to and possibly because of the increasing conservatism. Don Juan is a satire of the political and social problems during the Romantic Age and clearly is a release from the prudish, censored works of the time.

It is a direct plea to an audience of readers to discern the truth of his words and statements on life in his mixture of sexual and adventure themes. The literal and underlying meaning of Don Juan are, in instances, both clearly stated and ambiguously interchanged. Though Byrons preoccupation is with all things romantic, he writes of politics, religion, metaphysics, history, and nature. He uses a plethora of themes to reiterate his main theme of Nature vs. Civilization. The best summary of the themes of Don Juan is found at the end of Canto VII , Love – Tempest – Travel – War (Byron 109). Byron wrote a poem with deep literal meaning in the form of a light-hearted, adventuresome, sex-laden tale to attract an audience whose ignorance overrode their ability to grasp the severity of the problems in their lives. In this sense, Lord Byron succeeds in capturing the truth in human nature and was left with a poem that has been enjoyed through the ages.

Byron’s Don Juan

One writer who has not recieved nearly enough credit for his works is George Gordon, who later became known as Lord Byron. This is the man who wrote his own poetical version of Don Juan. Don Juan is a man who is known for being able to arouse the desires of women and to love every one he meets. This Don Juan can be viewed, however, as a loosely disguised biography of Byron. Lord Byron’s father, Captain John, has ancestors that go back as far as the Buruns in the time of William the Conqueror. Back in this time it was very common for people to marry their own cousins.

Captain John was married three times and was considered to be very smooth with the ladies. Byron was born on January 22, 1788 in London, and the following year he and his mother moved to Aberdeen, Scotland. His father soon followed, but it wouldn’t be long before he would disappear to France and end up dying in 1791. It was just as well because his parents never got along very well. In Lord Byron’s early years he experienced poverty, the ill-temper of his mother, and the absence of his father. By 1798 he had inherited the title of 6th Baron Byron and the estate of Newstead Abbey. Once hearing this news, he and his mother quickly removed to England.

All of Byron’s passions developed early. In 1803 he had his first serious and abortive romance with Mary Chaworth. At the age of15 he fell platonically but violently in love with a young distant cousin, Mary Duff (Parker 10). He soon had another affair with a woman named Mary Gray. Soon hereafter he was involved with many liaisons with such women as Lady Caroline Lamb and then Lady Oxford. Then just as Byron was beginning to live his life the way he had always wanted to, his mother dies in 1811. The following year he became immensely fashionable and notorious. By 1813 he had began another affair with his half- sister Augusta. Continuing his search for the woman of his dreams, he marrys Anabella Milbanke in 1815 and has a daughter the same year. The next year Lady Byron leaves him to visit her parents and never returns.

Separation papers are signed and he begins another liaison with Claire Clairmont. The following year(1817), they have a baby named Allegra. Not too long after this he falls in love with yet another woman, named Marianna Segati. His next love happened two years later, Countess Teresa Guiccioli. Many say she was his last love and his first. Byron met Teresa at an evening party. They soon began meeting secretly because she was married to Count Alessandro Guiccioli. She had auburn curls, large lovely eyes, beautifully shaped shoulders and arms, and an abundant bosom. She was completely intrigued by Byron’s beauty. Maybe they both felt that fate brought them together.

It was customary in the code of serventismo for a married woman to have a lover and the husband wasn’t allowed to be jealous. Count Alessandro did know about Teresa and Byron’s love for each other, but never spoke of it (Trueblood 99). After this liaison ended, Byron’s life began to exhale love and devotion in vast quantities. Then his daughter, Allegra, and one of his close friends, Shelley, died in 1822. Two years later Lord Byron himself died. His body was then brought to England and buried in family vault at Hucknall Torkard near Nottingham. At his death he was the most famous poet in Europe and the most notorious sexual adventurer.

Lord Byron was a professional poet. His letters and journals prove his concern to be the best poet around and to be famous was consistently deep and serious. Ambition for power and popularity came first and remained always the principle reason for writing. Byron had a great range of interests and experiences of ideas and emotion than your average man ever did (Boyd 4). Don Juan is, all-in-all, a legendary lover. Familiar with the Don Juan legend, Byron deliberately altered the traditional character and made him the innocent victim of womankind. He experiences love by natural disaster, slavery, war, the court, and the aristocracy.

Its two main epic themes are love and war (Joseph 74). The first two cantos of the poem Byron wrote were published without an author or a publisher. Many thought the poem was novel and powerful, and caused great misgivings for Byron’s publisher. Others hoped for the poem to be discontinued. The first sample of Don Juan got a very mixed reception. Byron’s publisher, Murray, told him the poem was too outrageously shocking and to revise it. He did not listen to Murray. He believed in what he had created and he wanted to continue it.

Don Juan as Byron Introspective

The works of George Gordon, Lord Byron have long been controversial, nearly as controversial as his lifestyle. Gordon Byron was born with a clubfoot and his sensitivity to it haunted his life and his works. Despite being a very handsome child, a fragile self-esteem made Byron extremely sensitive to criticism, of himself or of his poetry and he tended to make enemies rather quickly.

The young Byron was often unhappy and lonely any many of his works seem to be a sort of introspective therapy. Throughout his writings and life history there is much evidence to suggest that his poetry was greatly influenced by his mental instability. In many ways, Byron seems to use his work as an escape from a difficult reality. The lengthy poem Don Juan offers an especially intimate glimpse of Byron’s psyche.In order to understand the depth of Byron’s psychological troubles and their influence on his poetry, it is important to examine Byron’s heritage and his upbringing.

Young George Gordon inherited the title of Lord Byron at the age of six. This him a rank in society and a bit of wealth to go along with it. Byron’s heritage is a colorful one. His paternal line includes the “Wicked Lord”, “Mad Jack and “Foul Weather Jack (Grosskurth 6).” The family propensity for eccentric behavior was acerbated by young George Gordon’s upbringing.When Byron was just three his financially irresponsible father died, leaving the family with a heavy burden of debt.

Byron’s mother then proudly moved from the meager lodging in Aberdeen, Scotland to England. Young Byron fell in love with the ghostly halls and spacious grounds of Newstead Abbey, which had been presented to the Byron’s by Henry VIII, had received little care since. He and his mother lived in the run down estate for a while. While in England he was sent to a “public” school in Nottingham where he was doctored by a quack named Lavender who subjected the boy to a torturous and ineffective treatment for his clubfoot (Bloom 45). During this time, young Byron was left in the care of his nurse May Grey. He was subjected to her drunken tantrums, beatings, neglect, and sexual liberties (Grosskurth 28).

This abuse was not stopped early enough to protect the boy from psychological injury. Byron confesses to his sister that “My passions were developed very early- so early that few would believe me (Grosskurth 40).” Byron also suffered from constant exposure to his mother’s bad temper. Mrs. Byron alternately spoiled her son and abused him, often calling him a “lame brat (Crompton 82).”

Eventually John Hanson, Mrs. Byron’s attorney, rescued him from the unnatural affections of May Grey, the tortures of Lavender and uneven temper of his mother. The effects of his early experiences were to be felt by the poet for many years. “The consequences of these tortured episodes blend into his entire life in the anticipated melancholy that he always experience (Eisler 41).”At seventeen he entered Cambridge University. Determined to overcome his physical handicap, Byron became a good rider, swimmer, boxer, and marksman.

He enjoyed literature but cared little for other subjects. After graduation he embarked on a grand tour that supplied inspiration for many of his later works. Of the many poems in which Byron reveals details from his own experiences, Don Juan offers the most intimate look into the life of the artist.Canto I of Don Juan describes Juan’s mother, Donna Inez as being a woman who look’d a lecture, each eye a sermon (Longman 577).” Donna Inez watched carefully over every detail of her son’s education and Catherine Byron did the same for her son, attempting in her clumsy way to provide Byron with preparation for life as a member of the gentry. “Mrs. Byron became obsessed with making her son perfect and he in turn submitted stoically to various forms of torture (Grosskurth 29).”

Although the description of Donna Inez is often interpreted as being directed at Byron’s ex-wife, much of Inez’s personality is similar to Catherine’s. It is possible that Byron’s opinion of women was formed by his exposure to these two and many of his female characters would bear their mark.In stanza 61 of Canto I Donna Julia is described with a mixture of affection and sarcasm. Bright with intelligence, and fair and smoothher stature tall-I hate a dumpy woman (Longman 586).”

Byron begins with a fairly conventional description of a pretty girl but ends the stanza with what seems to be a truly backhanded compliment.Donna Julia follows the pattern of the idealized heroine. She is portrayed to be pretty, gentle, sweet, the perfect and passive wife. When she interacts with Don Juan, however Donna Julia breaks out of the traditional role by being the older woman who is eager to educate young Juan in the ways of love. Byron thus reverses gender roles and with a sexually mature woman who actively seducing a naive and innocent young man. “Don Juan at sixteen is a pious mamma’s boy, dedicated to heaven by a mother from hell (Eisler 612)”.

This relates directly to Byron as a youth who had been reared by a suffocating mother and prematurely initiated into sexuality by someone the family trusted. His mother unknowingly entrusted her son with a viper when she brought Donna Inez into the family home. While Donna Julia is not as vicious as May Grey, she took equal advantage of the family’s trust.Even more general attributes of this poem and it’s characters reflect details from the author’s own life. Juan is able to survive shipwreck because he could swim. Byron was also known as an exceptionally strong swimmer. Don Juan embarks on a grand adventure that includes travels very similar to Byron’s own. He has a number of sexual conquests during his journey, as did the randy author.

Even the naivete of young Juan is strikingly similar to the shy young George Gordon.In Don Juan, Byron says “I want a hero” and he adopts a one from the past. He alters the legend of Don Juan to fit his own needs because he cannot find a modern hero that fits the bill. Don Juan’s character a direct personification of the poet who has grown older and wiser that his young subject. The author is reflected instead in the many details of the epic drawn from the author’s own experiences. Although Don Juan’s narrator is not purely Byron’s voice, it does seem to speak for him.

The poet expresses himself through his interpretation of the story and by using the voice of the narrator to speak for him. Byron’s narrator is always present in the poem, commenting and showing off, making quite certain that the he is not being ignored. His voice permeates Don Juan and he appears to be reflecting much of his own life in his creation. Perhaps Byron used this enormous poem as a catharsis for his trouble emotions; perhaps this is the reason that Don Juan was never finished. It was extended throughout the remainder of the poet’s life. The poem, like Byron’s psychological healing was never finished.