Sunday, September 19, 2010


"Don Juan is outstanding among the English longer poems for the great gallery of women characters which it exhibits, here the only possible comparison is with Shake­speare in his total oeuvre. Each is minutely and sympa­thetically displayed and discriminated with great adroit­ness. The element of autobiography enters strongly into Byron's presentation : he is remembering his wife as he paints portrait of Donna Inez, and the Spanish girls of the Pilgrimage form the models for his detailed study of Donna Julia in Canto—I. while the Haidee of Cantos II and III draws on his recollections of the Maid of Athens and mys­terious 'Leila' of Giaour. Gulbeyaz and Dudu in Canto VI come straight from his Turkish days, while Aurora and Adeline in the final canto belong to the years of fame in London." (Bernard Blackstone).

Donna Inez and Donna Julia
Donna Inez, is a compound of Byron's mother and wife, with some features derived from Lady Caroline Lamb and Clair Clairmont. So too. Donua Julia unites aspects of Teresa, of Augusta, of Lady Frances Wedderburn Webster, and of 'Leila.' According to Bernard Blackstone. "we have in the Inez-Julia nexus a curious re-enactment of the Lility-Eve myth, with Juan-Jose-Alfonso as the primeval Adam 'lingering near his garden' (Clxxx) in baffled cavalierserven-tism on his women. Other echoes/Inhabit the garden" Donna Inez is 'a learned lady' famed/For every branch of every Science known....Her favourite Science was the mathematical. An all-in-all-sufficient self-director. In short, she was a walking calculation (I. x-xvi): traits more masculine than feminine. Don Jose, on the other hand, is 'a mortal of the careless kind…a man/Oft in the wrong. and never on his guard" (xix-xxi). who is reputed to keep a mistress or two, and thus gives his wife the excuse for an inveterate campaign against him:
...she had a devil of a spirit.
And sometimes mixed up fancies with realities
And let few opportunities escape
Of getting her liege into a scrape
(I-  xx).
Like Annabella. Donna Inez calls on lawyers and physicians 'to prove her lord was mad' failing in this, 'She next decided he was only bad' (xxvii). and is starting pro­ceedings for divorce when Don Jose obligingly dies (xxxii).
Juan the only child of this ill-assorted pair is very like his father in temperament—spirited, careless, generous, handsome:
'As six. I said, he was a charming child.
At twelve he was a fine, but quiet boy; Although in infancy a little wilde,
They tamed him down amongst them : to destroy His natural spirit not in vain they toiled
At least it seemed so         
a i)
They' are of course the women, who have taken Juan's education in hand after his father's death, and the posse of priests and School-masters with which Donna Inez sur­rounds him. Beside Donna Inez there is Donna Julia :
Amongst her numerous acquaintance, all
Selected for discretion and devotion There was the Donna Julia, whom to call
Pretty were to give a feeble notion Of many charms in her as natural
As sweetness to the flower, or salt to Ocean.
(I.   IV;
The last line leads us cunningly from the artifice of 'acquaintance. all/Selected for discretion and devotion' (Donna Julia's public face) into the dangerous tracts of 'nature . the nature of a flower's sweetness and the ocean's salt. Byron is here setting up complexities which are to accompany Juan's progress throughout the poem. Julia's "Oriental eye' bespeaks her Moorish origin. Even Inez is not so monodic as she seems. There is the suggestion (Ixvi) that she had sinned with Don Alfonso before Julia's mar­riage.
Juan and Julia fall inevitably in love and the comic-erotic action of the poem is set vigorously in motion. The rest of Canto-1 is devoted to this pretty piece of adultery. But we see that Juan is not a gay philanderer or sexual athelete. Far from being the exploiter of feminine weak­ness, young Juan is the victim of the various women who cross his path. It is Julia who seduces Juan. Juan's sexual awakening at the age of sixteen, and Julia's growing at­traction towards him. her struggles with her own conscience, and final capitulation—all this is drawn with great skill and verve, and the final scene, where Don Alfonso bursts into Julia's bed-room and Juan's presence is ultimately discovered, is richly comic.
This initial bed-room scene is a perfect paradigm of Juan's progress from one impasse to another in his futile gestures towards freedom. Juan is bundled from the bed. his first refuge, into the closet, his second. His position is consistently undignified, and, indeed, humiliating. 'I want a hero…' so Byron began his poem; if. in reading that first stanza, we have taken 'want' in its sense of "wish for', we may now. looking back, accept it rather in the sense of 'lack', 'haven't got" and realize that this is a lack which Byron has no intention of supplying.
Juan's only garment is torn off in the scuffle with Alfonso and he flees naked through the night to his moth­er's house, leaving confusion and disaster behind him. The sequel over which Byron passes with lighting speed which however does not exclude a dig at British Scandalmon-gering—
The pleasant scandal which arose next day.
The nine days' wonder which was brought to light And how Alfonso sued for a divorce
Were in the English Newspapers of course.
(I, clxxxviii)
—ends with Julia entering a convent and Juan packed overseas "by the advice of some old ladies' (cxc). The famous letter which Julia writes from her convent cell is rich in ambiguities. Among the most quoted lines in Byron are, "Man's love is of mean's life a thing apart. "Tis woman's
whole existence     " (cxciv) and the quotation is usually
made' with a compassionate sight for poor woman.
The situation is close to that of The Tempest. The Christian atmosphere modulating guilt, prayer and forgive­ness, of Shakespeare's final masterpiece has been often noted : it is here too in Don Juan, but with unshakespearean undertones of irony. Juan, who is Everyman, is also the crucified Christ. The transition from Old Testament ima­gery—the Ark. the dove, the rainbow—to New Testament is subtly made through a pair of Pieta-like images : the first, while Juan is still in the embrace of the grim mother, (cii) : 'the skeletons of that gaunt crew' brings Michaelan-gelo's Christ irresistibly to mind. This design is now reproduced at the entrance of the cave. When Juan recovers consciousness, he see 'A lovely female face of seventeen' :
'Twas bending close o'er his. and the small mouth Seemed almost prying into his for breath
(II. cxiii)
Haidee—'the maid, or whatsoe'ver/She was'—feeds him. watching him like a mother (c/viii). In his sleep he lies 'Hushed as the babe upon its mother's breast (cxlviii): the next stanza brings in a reference to 'the sweet por­traits of the Virgin Mary, and a much later stanza culmi­nates the irony with an adaptation from Sappho (III. cvii).
"Throughout the Haidee idyll. Juan is consistently presented as a child. In swimming to shore, 'he buoyed his boyish limbs:' in the cave he 'slept like a top' (a childhood phrase), "like an infant' (cvi, cxxxiv. cxliii); there is. in short, a return to boyhood for Juan, what may be called a regression to the central point of the fruit's segment. Haidee too is presented as very young but there is in her the mysterious essence of feminine wisdom which is, in one of its aspects, guile, and in the deepest recesses of its be­ing, storge. a force "madly blind'.'' (Bernard Blackstone).
The love of Juan and Haidee is both innocent and guilty. It is innocent in its naturalness, its self-giving; but it is guilty in that it partakes of the primal guilt, the origi­nal sin. the Fall. Byron and Blake stand out amongst the Romantics in their profound conviction of this primal flaw in the nature of man.
The Haidee episode abounds in cave scenes, curiously-linked to dreams and nightmares. The sea beats and washes around the caves, which are at once natural and non-natural, a Fall architecture of ruined world :
As thus they wandered forth, and hand in hand,
ovp;: the shining pebbles and the shells Gliding along the smooth and hardened sand
And in the worn and wild receptacles Worked by the storms, yet worked as it were planned
In hollow^ halls, with sparry roofs and cells They turned to rest: and. each clasped by an arm.
Yielded to the deep Twilight's purple charm.
(II. cxx. iv)
The Haixlee dream begins when Juan wakes out of the exposure of his shipwreck nightmare into the cosy protection of "the lady of the cave.' He is here "sea-treas­ure,' her 'ocean-wreck.' The phrases carry a number of suggestions, in particular, of smuggling and "wrecking." Juan is salvage: is he also perhaps the fated victim of the kind of moth-to-candle attraction, which the Cornish sea­board villagers exercised with lamp and beacon to draw the storm-tost ship on to their murderous coasts? In this reading, the witch or vampire aspect of Haidee—'the maid,
or whatsoe'ver she was      the small mouth            her eyes/were
black as death.'
Forth from its raven fringe the full glance flies.
Ne'er with such force the swiftest arrow flew: Tis as the snake late coiled, who pours his length.
And hurls at once his venom and his strength
(II. cxiii—cxvii)
takes on an added dimension of menace, as though the beacon guilt-innocence in Haidee has called to the corre­sponding innocence-guilt of Juan across the waste of wa­ters. Certainly Juan is stowed in the cave as contraband.
"The coastguard turn up in the shape of Lambro. The name means 'shining.' and his coming throws a fierce light on the whole dream situation. Ironically he is himself a smuggle!' and slave-dealer, plying among the islands for merchandise to sell to the Turks. This is a Byronic existen­tial complication : he arrives on the scene just as the fam­ily poet, himself a sad trimmer.' sings the famous "Isles of Greece' song. We are in a world not of make believe but of hedging of provisional commitments and rhetorical decla­rations in which a love so childlike as that of Juan and Haidee has no chance to survive. Their world is a dream world precisely because it is the natural world. In the realm of artifice which has been man's habitat since the Fall, there is no room for simple passion or childlike trust.'' (Bernard Blackstone).
Turkish Characters
"Gulbeyaz. and Dudu are conceived of as genuine individuals in a way in which -Julia. Alfonso, and Inez, are not. for the Turkish characters are dramatized by the in­teractions of their personalities with the requirements of their special positions" (Kai'l Kroeber). In the Turkish Court what amuses and intrigues us is the incongruity between the personal inclination of the characters and the public attitudes they are required to play. A description of the Sultana. Gulbeyaz is given by Buba in Canto V :
"Bride of the sun and sister of the Moon ('Twas thus he spake) 'and Empress of the Earth: Vvbose frown would put the spheres all out of tune. Whose smile makes all the planets dance with mirth, Your slave brings tidings—he hopes not too soon— Which your sublime attention may be worth. The sun himself has sent me like a ray To hint that he is coming up this way.'
She is imperious before she asks Juan. "Christian, cast thou love?" and vindictive after her frustration. Dudu has been portrayed as shy and accommodating.
After the Turkish War in Cantos VII and VIII, Juan is despatched to 'the Royal Harlot of Russia.' Catherine's desire for sex is insatiable. She loved all the things "save her lord, who was gone to his place." What she adored most was the "lamented Lanskoi. who was such/A lover as had cost her many a tear/And yet but made a middling Greanadier.'
Byron lashes at Catherine's love for war and shed­ding blood when he writes :
"Great joy was hers, or rather joys. The first Was a ta'en city—thirty thousand slain. Glory and triumph o'er her aspect burst. As an East Indian sunrise on the main
These quenched a moment her ambition's" thirst So Arab deserts drink in summer's rain In Vain! As fall the dews on quenchless sands Blood only serves to wash Ambition's hands."
English  Characters
"The comic confusions of appearance and reality are much more intricate and provocative in the English scenes. We understand Gulbeyaz. But, we wonder with Juan, to what degree is Adeline real? Is Aurora Raby a girl of spir­itual intensity or only a frigid prude?" (Karl Kroeber)
The difference between Tom Jones and Blifil is essen­tially defined by the fact that Blifit is socially acceptable (because legitimate) but is in personality a bastard, whereas Tom. legally a bastard, is personally acceptable and attrac­tive. The dramatic difference between Adeline and Aurora Raby does not consist merely in their different personali­ties on their different social positions. They are distinguished by the different relations the personality of each bears to the demands of her particular situation. Nor is this solely a distinction of sincerity, of genuineness, or of good na­ture. The mere complex personality of Adeline would be falsified if she adopted the attitude of scornful superiority to the values of her society which characterizes Aurora. Conversely, Aurora's coyness and her lack of responsibili­ties, would become a pose were she to assume a position in society equivalent to Adeline's. Aurora. Byron is careful to point out. resembles Haidee. but
...the difference in them Was such as lies between a flower and a gem.
Aurora, like Adeline, is 'artificial' rather than 'natu­ral'. What Haidee is she appears to be: her charm lies in her impulsive directness. Aurora's charm resides in the mystery which surrounds her personality. In her own way Aurora is as puzzling as Adeline, whose courtesy and for­mal good manners appear to conceal a passionate and jealous nature. We are led to suspect the Aurora's lack of vitality disguise ardent, if more spiritualized, emotions.
And then follows the admirable portrait of the frolicsome Dutchess of Fitz-Fulke. Byron uses her for the Supernatural machinery which is essential for a true epic.
How different is Byron's one woman character from the other is well-defined by John Jump : "Juan's five lovers are clearly distinguished from one another. Julia is senti­mental and self-deluding. Haidee simple and affectionate. Dudu shy and accommodating. Catherine insatiable, and the Duchess frolicsome. The unsuccessful lover. Gulbeyz. is imperious before, and vindictive after her frustration."

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