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Lord Byron, Don Juan

c.1819 - 1824

Lord Byron, Don Juan

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  • Intro

    Famously described as ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’, the poet Lord Byron caused a sensation when he published the first instalments of Don Juan in 1819. A long satirical poem, divided into sections called ‘cantos’, Don Juan is based on the legend of the famous womaniser. However, Byron’s Don Juan is not the seducer, but the seduced. From his origins in Seville, Don Juan travels across Europe, facing shipwreck, starvation and slavery, and succumbing to the charms of numerous women on the way. The poem is written in ottava rima, a rhyming pattern used in Italian comic verse, and contains a number of lengthy and provocative digressions in which Byron insults his fellow poets and comments upon social conditions in England. Don Juan runs to over 16,000 lines, and was uncompleted on Byron’s death in 1824. Harold Bloom and Lionel Trilling describe it as both ‘unfinished and unfinishable … it would have gone on as long as Byron did.’

     

    Stanza 221, the penultimate stanza in the poem’s first canto, is an example of Byron in characteristically mischievous mode in a direct address to the reader, taking his leave and promising not to try the reader’s patience. This technique of ‘breaking the frame’ of the text can be seen as prefiguring later developments in narrative as writers experiment with their authorial role and direct the reader’s response.

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