Don Juan by Gorge Gordon Byron
English poetry offers us an astonishing variety of plots and scenes. Their impressive scope and sophistication attract the reader’s attention from the first words. It’s possible to find anything in this poetry- it answers even the most demanding taste. In an engaging and accessible style English poems show different events or feelings which the authors are expressing. It depicts many astonishing scenes which help us to develop our imagination and give us an extraordinary basis for further intellectual development.
There are many outstanding English poets whose works have very much attracted my attention but I was the most overwhelmed by Gorge Gordon Byron’s works. His poems all appear masterpieces which strike us by their creative thought and meaning. George Gordon Byron’s epic poem “Don Juan” has a very complicated plot, and there are very many issues which are raised by the poem. In order to get a full grasp of the poem, it’s very important to stop at all the main themes. It’s impossible to narrow the scope of all the issues raised by the poem into a few of them because there are plenty of them.
Even though many investigations of “Don Juan” have been made, we are still incapable of answering what main meaning the poem carries in itself- whether it’s a poem about love and romance, or it’s an attack upon Lake poets against whom Byron was always fighting, or this poem is primarily a social commentary. Some critics argue that this poem may very well be the description of the Fall of the Man, or Byron’s own attempt of self-therapy because some scenes depicted by Byron is Don Juan turn out to have analogy with scenes from Byron’s own life.
Don Juan in many aspects shows Byron’s existentialist views. He goes away from Calvinist philosophical view of things and goes to a much more complex existentialist view which includes studying of a man’s consciousness, his feelings and emotions, among which there is always alienation, anxiety, and angst. However, unlike all the existentialist philosophers who are going to follow Byron in some time, his philosophy in Don Juan is expressed in a different way.
If Sartre, Kierkegaard and other existentialists argue that there is no God because belief for him has died in people’s minds, that people are totally lonely in this cruel world, Byron’s existentialist vision is a theistic one and he is encompassing a compassion for humanity as a greater whole. Byron also deals with themes of alienation and angst which all humans are experiencing but he is not mad at the whole world for that, unlike other existentialists. The poem also deals very much with literature critics of Byron’s times, and through his own creative work Byron does his best to show his attitude to some poets.
Byron’s satire helps him to hit the target of the necessary poets very easily. Don Juan is a “literary manifesto” to Byron’s age in which he “vigorously attacks the literary pretensions” of Romantic poets of his time. According to Jerome J. McGann, “The point of Don Juan is to clarify the nature of poetry in an age where obscurity on the subject, both in theory and practice, was becoming rampant and… developed from the increasing emphasis upon privacy and individual talent in Romantic verse” (McGann, 78).
In the “Dedication” in which Byron provides all the attacks on the Lake poets, he shows lots dissatisfaction by the works of Bob Southey whom he considers very insolent and untalented, unable to create any outstanding works: Bob Southey! You’re a poet–Poet-laureate, And representative of all the race; Although ’tis true that you turn’d out a Tory at Last-yours has lately been a common case; And now, my Epic Renegade! what are ye at? With all the Lakers, in and out of place? A nest of tuneful persons, to my eye Like “four and twenty Blackbirds in a pye… (Byron, “Dedication”) Bob Southey is not the only poet on who Byron performs an attack.
He stands against all the principles on which the Lake poets’ poetry is based and argues that their creative work is useless: I would not imitate the petty thought, Nor coin my self-love to so base a vice, For all the glory your conversion brought, Since gold alone should not have been its price. You have your salary; was’t for that you wrought? And Wordsworth has his place in the Excise. You’re shabby fellows–true–but poets still, And duly seated on the Immortal Hill. (Byron, “Dedication”) One of the reasons of Byron’s attacks upon Lake poets is that his Romantic contemporaries didn’t not give credit to Pope who was Byron’s idol.
This attitude to Pope, according to Byron, showed those poets’ “neglect of the rules of proprietary in verse, a neglect which carried over to the debasement of political and ethical ideas” (Bloom, 1). Byron’s ideal was traditional poetry and was fighting against any imagination which appeared in the poems of romantic Lake poets. He stood against depiction of romantic feelings in the poems and brining imagination into it. The satire turns out a very effective weapon in the hands of Byron because it serves as Byron’s qualifying device for his theme of appearance versus reality, which is the opposite to the outlook Lake poets were expressing.
The idea that things not always appear what they seem is central in Byron’s outlook. This view of reality is shared by Kant, too, who was arguing that things were actually things-in-themselves, and we could see only the reflection of them. Byron agrees in that with Kant and shows in Don Juan that we cannot grasp the true meaning of reality, we don’t know what the things are originally. This outlook which Byron represents gives us an idea that the alleged cynicism in Don Juan is only a facade which is covering a much more important issue.
The idea that Byron’s Don Juan is Byron himself and thus the poem turns out autobiographical, can be proved by some factors. In a letter to his publisher Byron said the following: “The truth is that [the poem] is TOO TRUE”. Byron’s childhood is very similar to the childhood of his character Don Juan. Even the characters in the poem are very similar to some people with whom Byron was connected- Byron’s Father, Captain John Byron turns out Don Jose, while Donna Inez, like Byron’s mother, becomes “repression personified” (Tate, 90-1).
This leads to the conclusion that all the feelings which Byron was depicting in the poem as the feelings of Don Juan, can be considered his own feelings, as well as all the events which were going in the life of Don Juan. We can see Byron himself talking to us through the character of Don Juan. The hero of the poem is introduced in the Canto the First in the following way: I want a hero: an uncommon want, When every year and month sends forth a new one, Till, after cloying the gazettes with cant, The age discovers he is not the true one;
Of such as these I should not care to vaunt, I’ll therefore take our ancient friend Don Juan, We all have seen him, in the pantomime, Sent to the Devil somewhat ere his time. (Byron, ‘‘Dedication”) However, that is how Byron represents himself and what his perception of his own self is. He certainly takes the plot from the pantomime which is claimed to have appeared earlier than Byron wrote his Don Juan. At the same time, the resemblance of characters which we were talking about above is impossible to be argued about.
In Don Juan Byron, according to Tate’s view, “depicts the formative events of his life, his experiences as son and husband, but so thoroughfully rearranged as to raise a private past into a public fiction” (Tate, 94-5). The impulses behind some rearrangement of facts which Byron has in Don Juan are the key to the poem because in such a manner he is doing his best to do 2 things at a time: first of all, show the events from his childhood and marriage, but at the same construct a kind of an ideal, make all the events which happened to him more perfect than they originally were.
Byron is trying to show the events not in the way they were happening in reality but in the way which he would like them to happen. This peculiar approach can be explained very easily- in such a manner Byron is trying to prove to himself that he is the master of his own life, that he can decide what is going to happen in his life and what he doesn’t want in it. Instead of giving the story of Don Juan as a myth about which everybody knows, Byron makes a completely different attempt because his goal is to give a psychological sketch of the effects of environment on character.
If Byron just decided to write a poem simply based in the famous plot which everybody knows, there would be nothing outstanding in that. On the contrary, his poem is a masterpiece because he has managed to show a complicated character which is influenced by outside environment. Don Juan appears to be manipulated by women and his tragedy is that he moves from the figure of one mother to another. Just like Inez was a social and psychological peer for Don Juan, Julia becomes a parental substitute for him.
Julia embodied the hatred of Byron’s mother for her husband, and the hated husband is very willingly replaced by the more easily dominated son. “Alfonso’s relationship with Inez and the chance of his being Juan’s actual father, or at least old enough to substitute as the father symbol in the exclusive ‘only mother’, ‘only son’ affliction, sets up an oedipal configuration between these three characters, which is further complicated by the possibility that Julia is ‘sister-mother to Juan” (Tate, 94-5).
All the complications which happen in Juan’s life, when he is unable to understand what he is doing right and what wrong make him escape from the motherly manipulations of both women. Their attitude to Juan represents an external threat to his sexuality, so the only thing which is left for him to do is escape. The scenes of Canto 1 enable us to make a very important conclusion: in Byron’s poem Don Juan appears as an innocent man despite the traditional vision of Don Juan’s character which is depicted in myths.
If in the other versions of Don Juan plot the general idea about Don Juan is that he is the one causing troubles for women and making their lives miserable, Byron’s Don Juan appears as a different image. He is the victim in the process, not the women depicted. He is the one who suffers and is forced to escape in order to find a happier future.