Summary and Analysis
After five stanzas on the author's poor opinion of life, Byron provides some more characterization of Don Juan, or at least reinforces what he had already provided. Juan's manner is natural; he makes no attempt to make an impression. There is nothing studied or artificial in his conduct. He is without pretense and his demeanor suggests sincerity. There is gentleness about him that attracts and that wards off suspicion.
There is even a certain aloofness about him. He is serene, accomplished, cheerful, quiet, observant, and self-confident. Such are the personality and character of Don Juan at the age of twenty-one. He is obviously a source of danger to the prudent Lady Adeline, who wouldn't spare a look for an ogling, handsome dandy or a sophisticated seducer. The appearance of virtue in a Don Juan is her chief enemy; she is "no deep judge of character," and she is apt to transfer what is good in her own character to a man she feels attracted to.
'Tis thus the Good will amiably err,
And eke the Wise, as has been often shown.
After his characterization of Don Juan, Byron stops to deliver some apology for what he is doing. He confesses he has no high aim or art:
And never straining hard to versify, I rattle on exactly as I'd talk
With anybody in a ride or walk." (St. 19)
He claims at least
. . . a conversational facility,
Which may round off an hour upon a time. (St. 20)
But he has his pride and independence; he will not court the critics and so writes as he does. If he wanted to please them he would be more comic. But he was born for opposition he cannot help being on the side of the underdog, and he would not have written poetry at all if someone (Henry Brougham in the Edinburgh Review, reviewing Byron's Hours of Idleness, advised the author to abandon poetry) had not told him not to write verse. He also has a difficult task, namely, to give a natural picture of manners that are artificial.
Having explained his poetic manner and task, Byron returns to Adeline, but he soon feels that he must generalize upon the particular. Adeline decides that, if Juan's soul is to be saved, he must marry. That calls for several ironic comments on matchmaking and the ironies of the married state. Adeline suggests several good matches, including Miss Millpond, "smooth as summer's sea," an obvious, sarcastic reference to the Miss Milbanke who become Lady Byron.
One good prospect whom Adeline does not mention, a fact which puzzles Don Juan, is the sixteen-year-old Aurora Raby. She is a Catholic, an orphan, wealthy, noble, pious, and virtuous. Byron contrasts her with Haidée, the product of nature rather than of society:
. . . the difference in them
Was such as lies between a flower and gem. (St. 58)
She is a perfect creature in a generally corrupt society. She has become what she is in spite of that society.
The marriage conference between Adeline and Juan terminates indecisively, brought to an end by the sound of the dinner bell. The dinner menu is described in some detail.
Juan is placed, "by some odd chance," between Aurora and Lady Adeline. Aurora, for some reason that Byron pretends not to know, pays little attention to Juan's gay conversation. Her aloofness causes Juan to exert himself all the more, and he finally succeeds in arousing her interest. Juan "had the art of drawing people out," (St. 82) and, "then he had good looks" (St. 84).
The canto concludes with the author's promise that a ghost will be introduced in the following canto.
In Canto XV narrative interest is maintained by Adeline's determination to get Juan married. Byron does not explain exactly why Adeline wants Juan married, but in his characterization of Adeline he has given enough hints for the reader to draw his own conclusions. Adeline may not even be aware of the reasons herself. She cannot marry Juan herself but she may be able to marry him to one of a carefully selected list of young ladies over whom she could exercise some control and so keep up a special relationship of a kind she would never admit, even to herself. Aurora Raby is not in that list because Adeline knows instinctively that she could exercise no control over Aurora.
In the character of Aurora (Aurora was the Roman goddess of the dawn; the name connotes the freshness and purity of the dawn) Byron creates one of the most interesting of the dramatis personae of Don Juan. Byron gives a touch of pathos to his bright candle lit in a naughty world:
Early in years, and yet more infantine
In figure, she had something of Sublime
In eyes which sadly shone, as Seraphs' shine.
All Youth-but with an aspect beyond Time;
Radiant and grave-as pitying Man's decline;
Mournful-but mournful of another's crime,
She looked as if she sat by Eden's door,
And grieved for those who could return no more. (St. 45)
She is a kind of sad seraph mourning for man's fall, for his irrevocable exclusion from the Garden of Paradise, for the sin that came into the world with the Fall. She is also a figure by which the world in which she moves by birth and position can be judged, she is in such contrast to it. She is the Ideal to its Real:
She gazed upon a World she scarcely knew,
As seeking not to know it; silent, lone,
As grows a flower, thus quietly she grew,
And kept her heart serene within its zone.
There was awe in the homage which she drew;
Her Spirit seemed as seated on a throne
Apart from the surrounding world, and strong
In its own strength-most strange in one so young! (St. 47)
Working together with Byron's mockery, she exposes Regency high society. One may ask whether she is not elevated above all nature. One answer to such a question is that there is the touch of nature in her that makes her susceptible to Juan's charm. The reader may wonder, however, what such a woman, married and a mother, would have done in such a society. Would she have remained aloof by necessity and so without influence, or, being what she was, could she have acted as a leavening force?
In Canto III Byron describes the hundred-dish Oriental dinner menu of Don Juan, Haidée, and their guests in two stanzas (62 and 63). In Canto XV he devotes thirteen stanzas to the Amundeville dinner menu. The menu versified is among the more interesting bits of miscellanea in Don Juan. No doubt Byron felt proud of his little tour de force here.
In devoting the concluding stanzas of the canto to the ghost he is going to introduce, Byron shows that he is not indifferent to the requisites of good narrative. His announcement of the ghost to come and his insistence that the existence of ghosts cannot be cavalierly dismissed, since we know so little about this world and nothing about the next, is a good suspense device.