You have probably noticed, the closer you are to some event or publication, the harder it is to make a good précis. Canto I and Canto II of Don Juan are each about 14,000 words (plus). I’ve been trying to summarise each in a hundred words or so.
I used to teach a graduate seminar on “research methods” in an economic subject. One of the topics was on writing up the research and, specifically, on writing a good abstract (or précis). I’ve long had a prejudice that a researcher who can’t summarise even the most complex project or paper in a couple of hundred words of plain language doesn’t really understand the project. Even if — especially if — it’s their own work. But it’s much harder than it seems to write a good abstract.
Summarising Don Juan presents a similar challenge for me. I’ve been so close to the first two Cantos — annotating and narrating them for the publication due out in a week or so — that I find it more difficult than I thought to just pick-out the bones of the story.
Here’s what I have, so far, on Canto I
Don Juan is born in Seville to the unwary, philandering, Don José and his ‘learnéd’ wife, Donna Inez. José dies when Juan is young leaving Inez to raise him according to strict principles that leave Juan with no knowledge of anything practical, much less biological. Donna Julia, 23 years old and married to the much older Don Alfonso (a former beau of Inez), falls for the handsome Juan when he is 16 years old. Although she resists the temptation at first, Julia seduces Juan. Don Alfonso, suspecting that his wife may be having an affair, bursts into their bedroom one night, followed by a lawyer and witnesses. Julia and her servant hide Juan under the covers of the bed just in time. Farcical scenes ensue. Finally, Juan is discovered. After a brief struggle with Alfonso, he easily prevails and flees into the night. To dampen scandal, Inez sends Juan off on a sea-voyage ‘to improve his morals’, while Julia withdraws to a nunnery.161 words
… And on Canto II:
The ship on which Juan leaves Spain is wrecked by a storm in the Bay of Lion. The crew, Juan, and his entourage take to a boat. As hunger and thirst take their toll on the marooned sailors, they resolve to kill one of their number and eat him. The lot falls to Juan’s tutor. Only Juan refuses to join in the ghastly feast. Madness and despair grip the survivors. One by one, even in sight of land, they perish or drown. Juan, alone, manages to swim ashore on an Ionian island where he faints, exhausted on the beach. Haidée, the beautiful daughter of the pirate-slaver Lambro, master of the island, discovers Juan. She hides him in a cave and nurses him back to health, teaching him, meanwhile to speak Greek. One night, on the moonlit strand, they consummate their love.142 words
Can you help me with better, briefer, versions?