Byron's Don Juan - No Formal Ending is Needed

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Byron's Don Juan - No Formal Ending is Needed

Lord Byron's chief masterpiece is probably the comic epic Don Juan, which occupied its author from 1818 until nearly the end of his life (Trueblood 14-15). The sheer length of the poem is in itself impressive; its seventeen cantos take Juan through a variety of adventures, including the famous affair with Donna Julia, the sojourn with Haidee, experiences in Turkey and later in Russia as a slave, and finally episodes in England among high society (Boyd 22-30). Remarkably, however, Don Juan as Byron left it is obviously unfinished. Further, the poem was not published in an absolutely complete form until nearly eighty years after Byron's death (Steffan III 562). The unfinished state of Don Juan and the circumstances which led to it inevitably encourage speculation: how would Byron have ended his poem?

The final canto of Don Juan (XVII) is dated May 8, 1823, and was written just before Byron sailed from Italy to help the Greeks fight their revolution (Bostetter 9). Although he occasionally talked of continuing his poem, he wrote no more in the eleven months between his composition of the fourteen stanzas of this canto and his death in April of 1824 (Marchand 1125). The seventeenth canto of Don Juan was found among Byron's personal effects and papers after he died (Marchand 1234).

Meanwhile, in England, Cantos VI to XVI of Don Juan, which Byron had penned in an incredible burst of creative energy from April 1822 to May 1823, had been published by John Hunt in four installments, the last less than a month before its author's death in Greece (Bostetter 8-9). Even within Byron's lifetime, unscrupulous publishers had printed many spurious "continuations" of the poem during breaks i...

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...d Chew passim.

Works Cited

Bostetter, Edward E., Twentieth Century Interpretations of Don Juan. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1969.

Boyd, Elizabeth French, Byron's Don Juan: A Critical Study. NY: Humanities Press, 1958.

Byron (George Gordon, Lord Byron), Don Juan, ed. Leslie A. Marchand. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1958.

Chew, Samuel C., "The Centenary of Don Juan." American Journal of Philology 40: 117-52.

Coleridge, Ernest Hartley, ed., The Poetical Works of Lord Byron. London: John Murray, 1905.

Marchand, Leslie A., Byron: A Biography, Vol. 3. NY: Knopf, 1957.

McGann, Jerome J., Don Juan in Context. Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 1976.

Steffan, Truman Guy, & Willis W. Pratt, eds., Byron's Don Juan: A Variorum Edition. 2nd ed.. 4 vols.. Austin: U of Texas Press, 1971.

Trueblood, Paul G., Lord Byron. NY: Twayne, 1969.

In this essay, the author

  • Analyzes how some scholars still write as if they know nothing of canto xvii or refuse to recognize anything after it as part of don juan.
  • Describes byron, don juan, leslie a. marchand, and george gordon.
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