Don Juan By Lord Byron Summary and Analysis Canto XIII

Summary

Among the friends made by Don Juan are Lord Henry Amundeville and his wife Lady Adeline. Lady Adeline is highborn, wealthy in her own right, and beautiful. She is

The fair most fatal Juan ever met,
Although she was not evil nor meant ill;
But Destiny and Passion spread the net
(Fate is a good excuse for our own will),
And caught them . . . (St. 12)

She is chaste, enjoys a good reputation, and gets along well with her husband. She is polite to all; she has a calm patrician polish in her manner that checks rash enthusiasm. But she is not indifferent; like a volcano, she has heat within.

Her husband, Lord Henry, is reserved, cautious, proud, and discerning when it comes to judging people. He is a great debater in the House of Lords and thinks of himself as being well informed politically. He is a patriot and at the same time knows how to provide for himself.

Like all members of the aristocracy, the Amundevilles have a town residence and a country house. At the end of the winter season they leave London for their country mansion, Norman Abbey, the "Gothic Babel of a thousand years" (St. 50). Norman Abbey was once a monastery. Only one wall of the original Gothic church remains. Norman Abbey lies in a valley, above which are woodlands full of game. There is a lake in front of the mansion. In the court there is a Gothic fountain. Inside, there are "Huge halls, long galleries, spacious chambers" (St. 67), in which hang portraits of eminent Amundevilles as well as works by Titian, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, and other famous painters.

When September comes the Amundevilles invite to Norman Abbey for the hunting season a large group of friends and acquaintances, among them the Countess Crabby, Lady Scilly, Miss O'Tabby, the Duke of Dash, General Fireface, Sir Henry Silvercup, and Don Juan.

The great event of the day is dinner. Until that event comes the guests are left to themselves to fight off boredom as best they can. The young and middle-aged men engage in hunting and shooting, and the elderly spend their time turning over books in the library, walking in the gardens, reading the paper, or horseback riding. The women take walks, ride, read, write letters, sing, or practice the latest dance.

Analysis

Juan has no part in Canto XIII; he is mentioned only by name and in connection with Lady Adeline. Byron hints that an affair will develop between them (St. 12). In Canto XIII Byron gives the reader the setting for the affair hinted at and at the same time satirizes the English upper classes. The canto falls into five well defined parts, two of which are detailed characterizations of Lord Henry and Lady Adeline. Lady Adeline has been called the most complex character created by Byron up to this point in his literary career. The claim is well justified. The characterization of Lady Adeline alone would make the canto one of the best in the poem.

The third part of the canto, the description of Norman Abbey, to which Byron devotes seventeen stanzas, is a loving and nostalgic description of his own baronial home, Newstead Abbey, which he had sold in 1818, having decided at that time that he would never again live in England. The description of Norman Abbey fits Newstead Abbey, even down to the statue of the Virgin and Child in a niche of the facade which is the sole remnant of the medieval abbey church. The facade with its "grand arch," which was once a stained glass window, and the Blessed Virgin in her niche are still parts of Newstead Abbey.

The characterizations which form the fourth part of the canto are caricatures in the tradition of Restoration and eighteenth-century satire. Byron even mentions Congreve, the best of the Restoration comic dramatists, and he alludes to Fielding, the greatest of the eighteenth-century satirical novelists, in the canto. Byron's caricatures compare favorably with those of his models in brevity and pungency.

The last part of the canto wittily and cleverly describes the day's activities of the Amundevilles' guests and the difficulties they experience in getting through a day in the country.

Canto XIII, although it is devoid of narrative, is rich in good characterization and for that reason alone is one of the best cantos in Don Juan. The admirable structure of the canto reduces a large mass of varied material to an ordered sequence that makes the canto a pleasure to read. Digression is kept to a minimum. We must accept digression in Don Juan because it is an essential part of Byron's design, but random thoughts, though given a witty and striking form, are of less interest than good narrative and memorable characters.

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