Précis of Cantos I and II of Don Juan

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?

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