Don Juan is a somewhat-scathing, exceedingly witty, epic social commentary that was told by a revolutionary mind with great skill and reverence for the crafting of words. In Lord Byron’s cantos of this poem, I see “social networking” centuries before its time with Byron’s ‘asides’ about his contemporaries. And his protagonist, young unfortunate Don Jewan, is tossed about haphazardly from country to country by the strangest events, narrating a dissection of every society he comes upon… which, unfortunately, we read only a fraction of what Lord Byron was planning for the character before the poet’s untimely death, leaving the poem unfinished, and yet still one of the best writings ever put to paper.
So, so witty and so hilarious. I suppose ‘cheeky’ would be the best term to describe this epic poem. Byron is a favourite of mine, and to me, this is an unparalleled piece of literature. It amazes me how Byron can simultaneously be charming and irreverent in this satire of the infamous ladykiller of the same name.
Byron actually flips the script on his hero (whose name is to be pronounced ‘jew-an’ in this work). Instead of being the romantic conquistador of legend, this Juan is actually the one who is susceptible to seduction.
There is also a fair amount of digression on Byron’s part, as he regularly pauses the bildungsroman of the title character to ruthlessly slander First Generation Romantics such as Southey and Wordsworth. These wanderings do make the piece drag on at times, but it becomes second nature after a while to sort of skim over these sections and get back to the juicy stuff. When on form, “Don Juan” is a brilliant satire which features many of Byron’s personal philosophies, perhaps none more telling than this: “Let us have wine and women, mirth and laughter- sermons and soda water the day after.”