Don Juan

Don Juan

Book - 2004
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Satirizes English society as it follows Don Juan from an illicit teenage love affair and subsequent exile to Italy, shipwreck, slavery, exploits in Russia as a favorite of the empress, and a journey to England.
Publisher: London ; New York : Penguin Books, 2004
ISBN: 9780140424522
Branch Call Number: 821.7 B996d 2004
Characteristics: 759 pages ; 20 cm


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Aug 09, 2018

I chose the Penguin edition for commenting, but I read a Heritage Press copy from 1943 and reprinted 1971. The illustrations are by Hugo Steiner-Prag. At first look they seemed a little dull, but they grew on one while reading the poem, and seemed very suitable for this sort of crazy work. I'm not sure if anyone is planning on reading this poem, but it is entertaining and well worth your time. I confess I read it because I am working on a screenplay about Byron's daughter, Allegra, born to Mary Shelley's step-sister, Clare Clairmont. I assumed "Don Juan" would be a story of a heroic playboy, someone to match Byron's reputation, but it is anything but that. He wrote this over a period of years, and died before it was finished. Byron self-admittedly had no structure or goal in sight in a story filled with stops and turns. He must have read Sterne's "Tristram Shandy" , which has the same erratic flow, or lack of one. The skipping around actually feels postmodern and ahead of its time, but his constant asides touch on the social, political, and literary world of the time. It is a funny satire, but he has serious political concerns concerning the need for freedom. His comments on slavery and race relations are pertinent today: "You have freed the blacks -- now pray shut up the whites." He calls making love "a curious way ... of clothing souls in clay." Of course a true Romantic, his real love and deity is Nature:
"My altars are the mountains and the ocean,
Earth, air, stars,--all that springs from the great Whole.
Who hath produced, and will receive the soul."
Though the poem is frank and often hilarious about sex, the poem is also ethereal: "There's music in all things, if men had ears: earth is but an echo of the spheres." I should say something about the rhyme - little 8-line stanzas with rhymes, not so fashionable in poetry for a while now. However, as shown by spoken word and rap artists who resuscitated it,
rhyme is a way to cleverly show off a skill with words and wit.
So I loved the rhyme - please don't have a fit.
Don Juan's main love is a woman of color, and all of the women he is involved with are women of great strengths. I think you will enjoy this if you have fun, read parts out loud, and find a nicely illustrated edition.


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