Don Juan | Study Guide

Lord Byron

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Don Juan | Character Analysis

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Don Juan

Don Juan is a charming, romantic young man whose life rushes from adventure to adventure. Donna Inez raises him in a sheltered home in the hope that he will not become like his womanizing father Don José. This desire is partially achieved in that Juan is not a seducer of women but a man who is habitually seduced. Women fall in love with him easily and he rarely pursues romance. He meets his friend's mother, is washed up on a strange beach, is bought from a slave market, is sent by a Russian general, and becomes an ambassador to the Empress of Russia. These events all bring him into romantic situations. Don José was the aggressive pursuer of women but his son is far more genteel if no less prone to romance. Juan's character has a strong set of moral principles. He refuses to resort to cannibalism, he rescues a young Turkish girl from his fellow soldiers, and he acts politely and intelligently whenever he can. This pleasant attitude endears him to people. He rises up to powerful positions in countries where he barely speaks the language. His appeal is not limited to women as men find him interesting and amicable. Juan's charm allows him to succeed wherever he goes but his firm morals ensure that he acts as correctly as he can wherever he happens to be. Juan is a smart, charming man but almost always a moral man as well. His morals save him from scandal and damnation.

Lady Adeline Amundeville

Lady Adeline Amundeville can appear cold and detached at first but her disconnected demeanor hides a deeply passionate character. She is a frustrated figure who is trapped in a marriage to a nice but passionless man. Lord Henry Amundeville is intelligent and pleasant but he never challenges or excites his wife. Lady Adeline accepts her role as a wife but a churning mass of frustrations resides within her. She turns these frustrations into domestic projects. Lady Adeline is a respected member of the London high society and invites guests into her home on a regular basis. She plays the consummate host and she enjoys an unblemished reputation. Lady Adeline is beautiful, respected, important, and intelligent but she is not happy because she knows that her life could be so much more. The arrival of Don Juan stirs the passions within her that she has tried to hide. Juan has charm and a warmth that Lord Henry does not. He interests her in a way she has not experienced before but she is scared to act on her obsession even though the feeling of attraction is mutual. Lady Adeline transfers the passion she has for Juan into a social project and she tries to find him a wife. She wants to experience Juan's passion vicariously by seeing it through the eyes and actions of a carefully selected woman. Her attempts to arrange a marriage for Juan are an attempt to cope with her own romantic feelings.

Catherine

Catherine the Great is the Empress of Russia and one of the most powerful figures to appear in the poem. She only makes a fleeting appearance but her wealth and power transform Juan's life. She provides him with riches beyond anything he ever expected and the benefit of an official position working for the Russian state. Her role as a benefactor allows Juan to enter English high society with the wealth and status afforded to the most powerful figures. Catherine's role in the story is small but important. Lord Byron does not dwell on her importance as a historical figure and the only concession to the reality of her existence seems to be a tacit admission of her age. Catherine is an elderly woman by the time she meets Juan but she charms him anyway. The narrator notes that her beauty and personality defy her years. Catherine is the best example of a woman who holds power over Juan but who quickly grows fond of him. For all of her wealth and power, the sudden appearance of a young Spanish man in her court is enough of a novelty to make her life interesting. The help she provides to Juan is a demonstration of his ability to show a wily elderly woman a side of life she has never seen before.

Gulbeyaz

Gulbeyaz is one of the many frustrated wives who appear in Don Juan. She is like Donna Julia and Lady Adeline Amundeville in that she is not wholly satisfied with her marriage and seeks to resolve this lack of satisfaction with extra-marital activities. Gulbeyaz is one of four wives and thousands of other women who attend to her husband. She may be the favorite but she is only one among many. Her decision to purchase Juan from the slave market suggests that she wants to enjoy a kind of romance that is entirely her own. She wants Juan all to herself so his time spent in the women's chambers is an affront to her desire to experience unique passion. Gulbeyaz has complicated views of love which struggle to move beyond the physical. She cannot connect with Juan and treats him as the Sultan treats her, as a way to enjoy the pleasure of physical love. The Sultan has the power of life or death over Gulbeyaz and she has the same power over Juan. Gulbeyaz seeks out love and romance but all she manages to achieve is to replicate her own disappointing and unsatisfactory marriage to the Sultan. Her frustration and threats are borne from her desperation to feel real love while her failures stem from the difficult circumstances of her marriage. She cannot truly love Juan because she does not understand how love functions outside the palace walls.

Haidée

Haidée is a caring, sensitive young woman who nurses Don Juan back to health when he washes up on the shore of her island home. She is trapped on the island that is owned by her terrifying pirate father Lambro. His presence means that she cannot express herself or seek out love even though she is a deeply passionate woman. Her only experience of love is the string of men who she has already rejected. The arrival of Juan provides her with the opportunity to be a caring, loving person. He is at her mercy and depends on her. Haidée is the daughter of a powerful man who has been petitioned by other powerful men. She has spent her life at the mercy of others so Juan's arrival is the first time in her life that she is in a position of control. She helps him and enjoys helping him. The experience makes her fall in love. Lambro leaves and is gone so long that Haidée considers him dead. She seizes the chance to become her own person and moves herself and Juan into her father's palace. Once again she wants to place herself in a position of power after a lifetime of powerlessness. This decision proves to be costly. Her father returns and sells Juan into slavery. Lambro's anger is so terrifying that Haidée is mortally wounded. She slowly fades from life due to shock and sadness and her death is also the death of the baby inside her.

The narrator

The narrator of Don Juan is Lord George Byron (1788–1824) who was a real English aristocrat. Byron begins the poem under the guise of an unnamed narrator but soon abandons this pretense. His narration has a unique character all of its own. Byron's arrogance, wit, charisma, personal opinions, and grievances take over the text at numerous points. Certain sections of Don Juan pass by without any mention of the young Spanish man. Instead, Byron satisfies his own amusement by insulting fellow poets, criticizing the British government, or speculating about the nature of love. The story of Don Juan might be about the titular protagonist but Byron the storyteller is just as important a figure. The boastful, witty narrator conveys a sense of character by appealing directly to the audience. Byron makes promises and assurances to the audience which are not always wholly true. His fleeting and mercurial relationship with the truth is evident when he teases the reader's attention by promising a ghost in the next canto only to reveal the ghost to be fake. Byron also lashes out at historical figures such as Lord Castlereagh (1769–1822) who has no connection to the plot. These direct appeals to the audience exist separately from the story of Don Juan and create a subplot in the poem. The travails, opinions, and broken promises of Byron as an unconventional narrator become just as compelling a story as the tale of the young protagonist.

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