Don Juan first appeared in London bookstores on 15 July, 1819 in a high-quality quarto-format containing Cantos I and II. The book displayed neither the author’s name nor the publisher’s. But the identity of both was an open secret. The publisher, John Murray, had been teasing the forthcoming publication for a fortnight with advertisements in the London papers.
I am offering the annotated and narrated edition of Cantos I & II (please download using the buttons below the cover-page image) as a 200th anniversary celebration of the event that launched the greatest comic poem in english and Byron’s mature poetic career.
I hope the annotations, illustrations and narration will make the jibes and jokes of 1819 just as lively today as they were then. I hope they will add, too, some of the perspective that two centuries of criticism and appreciation have given us on Byron’s innovations and art.
This edition is not, of course, a handsome leather-bound quarto book but an “e‑book” (PDF) that you can read on a computer, your tablet or even on your phone. You can also print the pages (A4 size for best results). There are some details here on the content of the book. You’ll find some samples of my narration here.
My narration of the two cantos is contained in two MP3s that you can download separately from the text. The audio and text are linked by timing marks in the text. I am certain Byron meant his poem to be read aloud; so the audio is not, in my view, second-class access to his brilliant comedic performance.
There are hundreds of hours of work in this file and the audio, as well as studio costs for the recordings. It is, of course, a labor of love; so I am rewarded by my enjoyment of Don Juan. But I am encouraged by your enjoyment. Please let me know in comments; please Tweet your reactions and criticisms to @madbaddangerous.
If you would like to share your pleasure in Byron’s poetry, plays and letters please consider joining a local Byron society. I owe a debt to the Byron Society of the UK and to their Director, Emily Paterson-Morgan (@EPatersonMorgan), for kindly allowing me to post some articles related to this project on the Society’s website.