Don Juan Summary

Lord Byron

Don Juan

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Don Juan Summary

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Lord Byron’s Don Juan is a satiric poem inspired by the legendary story of Don Juan, the famous womanizer. Byron, however, changes the focus and paints Don Juan as a figure who is easy prey to women’s romantic advances. The poem consists of sixteen cantos although an unfinished seventeenth was in progress at the time of Byron’s death in 1824. When early parts of the poem first appeared, they were popular and, at the same time, branded as immoral by some. The format of the poem is a rhyme scheme of ababab cc in eight-line iambic pentameter with the rhyme pattern falling under the tradition known as ottavarima.

The opening Canto finds Don Juan living in Seville with his parents: Jose, his father, and Donna Inez,his mother. The married Donna Julia, who, at twenty-three, is seven years Don Juan’s senior, falls in love with Juan and begins an affair with him. Julia’s husband, Don Alfonso, is suspicious and bursts into the bedroom where he does not find Juan who is hiding in the bed. Later, Alfonso finds Juan’s shoes and a fight takes place. As a result, Juan is sent by his mother to travel to learn better conduct, while Julia is banished to a nunnery. Juan heads for Cadiz with servants and Pedrillo, his tutor, in tow. Juan has not moved on from his love for Julia. When the ship he is on sinks in a storm and food on its accompanying long boat runs out, the crew draws lots to decide who will be eaten. After eating Juan’s dog, Pedrillo is selected. Those who eat him die from a resulting madness. Juan is the only survivor, and once he gets to land,he is taken in by Haidee and Zoe, her maid. Haidee is the daughter of Lambro, a pirate who makes his living capturing slaves. Although Haidee and Juan cannot understand each other’s language, they fall in love.

Upon returning from a voyage, Lambro and his fellow pirates attack Juan. Juan is sent off on a ship to Constantinople, where he finds himself in a slave market. Meanwhile, a pregnant Haidee dies of a broken heart for the loss of Juan. While in the slave market, Juan is sold to a black eunuch named Baba from the palace who takes him to a chamber. He threatens to castrate Juan if he does not dress as a woman. Juan is later brought to meet Gulbeyaz, the beautiful fourth wife, and the favorite, of the sultan. It turns out that it was she who noticed Juan in the market and had Baba secretly purchase him for her, without regard to the wrath of the sultan that would ensue should she be found out.She offers herself to Juan who rejects her, still being in love with Haidee. She considers having him beheaded but just reacts tearfully to her situation. Shortly, the sultan enters the scene. When the sultan and Gulbeyaz retire for the evening, Juan, in his disguise as a woman, is taken to the crowded seraglio, the women’s quarters in the palace. As the evening unfolds, Juan, calling himself Juanna, is assigned to share a bed with seventeen-year-old Dudu, an attractive young woman who has an unsettling dream during the night. When again Juan is threatened with death due to reactions the next day, he, another man named John, and two women escape and make their way to Ismail, a Turkish fort at the Danube on the Black Sea. A battle is taking place;Suvaroff, a Russian army field marshal, has orders to take Ismail, doing whatever the task requires. Juan and John are prepared to join Suvaroff in battle against the Turks.

The two men are active in the rampage against Ismail, which leads to the deaths of forty thousand Turks. When Juan rescues a Muslim girl of ten from Cossacks who were going to kill her, he decides to adopt her. A hero of war, Juan, along with the young girl, is sent to Saint Petersburg. When Catherine II sees Juan in her court, she immediately desires him. He finds her attention flattering and receives a promotion. Juan continues to take care of the girl he rescued. In time, Juan is taken ill as a result of the Russian climate and is sent to England where conditions are more agreeable. He is given the title special envoy; the move is really just a way for Catherine to have him regain his health and for her to continue lavishing him with gifts. In London, Juan has an altercation with a mugger, whom he shoots. He feels responsible for the man and attempts to care for him, but to no avail; the mugger dies in the street.

Juan begins looking for an acceptable guardian for the orphan from Ismail, Leila. He selects Lady Pinchbeck. Juan meets Lady Adeline Amundeville and Lord Henry Amundeville. Issues of diplomacy bring Juan and Lord Henry together frequently and celebrations take place at the Amundeville home. Juan does well in a fox hunt and continues to win the favor of the women around him, including the flirtatious Duchess Fitz-Fulke, who makes Lady Adeline jealous. Juan also meets and is taken with sixteen-year-old Aurora Raby, who reminds him of Haidee. In bed one night Juan hears a noise in the hall and sees a monk. He cannot decide if it is a ghost or a dream. From his look the next day, Lord Henry assumes Juan has seen the Black Friar. At a banquet following the incident, Aurora and Juan exchange looks. In bed that night, he thinks of her and of the feelings he has suppressed in himself since Haidee. Again he hears footsteps in the hall and finds the Friar wearing a hood. The “ghost” Juan finds out, is the Duchess Fitz-Fulke.