More Byron Bits

Allow me to offer you anoth­er bare­ly rel­e­vant image to illus­trate the lat­est in my series of short talks on Byron’s Don Juan. This one is a poster for the 1948 Errol Fly­nn swash­buck­ler, The Adven­tures of Don Juan. After all, Byron made a habit of using irrel­e­van­cies in his great poem. Who am I to dis­sent?

The film is a tech­ni­col­or mis-mash of Robin Hood, The Three Mus­ke­teers, and an implau­si­ble cos­tume-dra­ma of the Aragonese court in which good-old Errol — although near­ing the end of his screen career — con­firms once again that he’s good in tights, has refined well-round­ed vow­els and a great fenc­ing style.

He also gets to tongue-twist, even­tu­al­ly, with the gor­geous Vive­ca Lind­fors who plays the wid­owed Queen Some­one-or-oth­er: in her first big role look­ing for all the world like Ingrid Bergman with per­haps even more fire when scorn­ful.

In Byron Bits No. 5, I try to make amends for start­ing this series of talks at the wrong end of the poem. Just as Byron insists that he is the most order­ly of drama­tists and — despite all the evi­dence to the con­trary — has a deep respect for the dra­mat­ic uni­ties of Aris­to­tle, so I will fol­low his lead in being order­ly. I avoid dis­con­ti­nu­ity by mov­ing back­ward from the end of Don Juan to the ante-penul­ti­mate vers­es, so as not to con­fuse any­one who has not yet read that far into the poem.

So, in BB5 titled “… And Before That?” I dis­cuss what hap­pened in the lead-up to Don Juan’s mid­night grop­ing with the Ghost of New­stead Abbey. Although it’s dif­fi­cult to treat the nar­ra­tive in Don Juan seri­ous­ly — the sto­ry was nev­er the point, of course — Byron has laid the ground in the final Can­tos for some tor­rid sex­u­al ten­sion among his play­ers of the kind that, I assume, house par­ties were famous for.

Juan’s young and pret­ty host­ess, Lady Ade­line Amundev­ille who, we sus­pect, is a bit bored with her mar­riage, is plot­ting a romance for Juan; so she tells her­self. But, like Don­na Julia in Can­to I, Ade­line seems to be delud­ing her­self. She is like­ly much more inter­est­ed in a romance with Juan. I mean ‘romance’ euphemisti­cal­ly, of course.

Juan up to now has been, as usu­al, a charm­ing guest: a strik­ing young ‘Russ­ian’ diplo­mat who some­what out­shines the fox-and-hounds set with their grace­less eques­tri­an style that com­pris­es most of the par­ty. Of course, he has been his qui­et, pas­sive self; hard­ly notic­ing the atten­tion direct­ed to him. But, he is begin­ning to be intrigued by one woman, exact­ly his age, catholic (like him), stu­dious, bright but qui­et: a dark jew­el named Auro­ra Raby. Ade­line is appar­ent­ly jeal­ous.

Now read on… (as they say). Or, rather, lis­ten if you pre­fer.

BB5 “… And Before That?”

To make up for this gos­sipy episode, Byron Bits the Sixth takes a more crit­i­cal, even queru­lous, approach to the poem.

Sure, Don Juan has a lot of pret­ty slick verse and clever provo­ca­tions. And it’s shock­ing­ly fun­ny in parts. But what’s the point? Did Byron have a point in Don Juan? Or did he just go on because he couldn’t stop?

Byron keeps insist­ing that his poem is strict­ly for his own amuse­ment and, pos­si­bly, use­ful as a moral fable for the cor­rec­tion of error and the instruc­tion of youth.

Obvi­ous­ly no read­er believes him. Nor does he believe that him­self. So what is the real point of Don Juan?

Of course, in BB6 (below), I tell you what I think is the point of Don Juan. But before you lis­ten, why not take a minute to con­sid­er what you think the poem is for. Is it for any­thing? Might enter­tain­ment real­ly be its pur­pose, as Byron insists?

Per­haps. But if that were so, why did he risk so much — a split with his first-rate, patient, gen­er­ous Tory pub­lish­er who had paid him well for all of his pro­duc­tions for more than a decade and who con­tin­ued to sup­port him in exile — over an enter­tain­ment?

Might there not be some oth­er point?

BB6 “The point of Don Juan”

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