Poem Summary


Canto I

Don Juan was born in Seville, Spain, the son of Don José, a member of the nobility, and Donna Inez, a woman of considerable learning. Juan's parents did not get along well with each other because Don José was interested in women rather than in knowledge and was unfaithful to Donna Inez. Donna Inez was on the point of suing her husband for divorce when he died of a fever. The education of Juan became the primary interest of his mother. She saw to it that he received a thorough training in the arts and sciences but took great care that he should learn nothing about the basic facts of life.

Among Donna Inez's friends is Donna Julia, the young and beautiful wife of Don Alfonso, a middle-aged man incapable of engaging her affections. When Juan is sixteen, Donna Julia falls in love with the handsome young man and finds opportunities to be in his company. One midsummer evening the two declare their love for each other. In November of that year Don Alfonso comes one night to the bedroom of his wife accompanied by a crowd of his friends. When he enters the room, his wife and her maid are ready for him; the bedclothes have been piled up in a heap on the bed. Don Alfonso and his followers search Donna Julia's suite for a lover but find none. While searching, Don Alfonso becomes the target of a tirade of abuse from his wife. The whole company leaves, crestfallen. Don Alfsonso soon returns to apologize and happens to find a pair of men's shoes in his wife's bedroom. He leaves the room to get his sword. Don Juan, who has been hidden under the heap of bedclothes, prepares to make his escape by a back exit and runs into Don Alfsonso. In the fight that ensues, Juan strikes Alfonso on the nose and makes his escape.

The sequel to these events is that Donna Julia is sent to a convent and Don Alfonso sues for divorce. Donna Inez decides that her son should spend the next four years traveling.

Canto II

Don Juan embarks on a ship bound for Leghorn, Italy, where his family has relatives. Not long after the ship leaves port, a violent storm drives it off its course. In spite of everything the crew can do, the ship finally goes down with most of its passengers. Only as many as can fit in a small cutter and a long-boat are saved. Then the cutter is swamped and the nine men in it drown. The men in the longboat, including Juan and his tutor, are reduced to eating shoe leather. At this point one of the survivors suggests cannibalism as a means of survival. The lot falls on Juan's tutor. The arrival of the boat at an island prevents the sacrifice of a second victim. The boat is driven against a reef and overturns. By this time only Juan and three others are left alive. By clinging to an oar Juan is swept to the shore and manages to crawl up on the beach, where he promptly collapses. The three others perish.

Canto III

When Juan at last opens his eyes, he sees a lovely young face peering into his. It is Haidée, the only daughter of a Greek freebooter who has made the isolated Aegean island his headquarters. Haidée and her maid help the weak and emaciated Juan to a cave, where they gradually nurse him back to health. Haidée does not dare bring Juan into her home, for she knows that her father would sell him as a slave. Inevitably Juan and Haidée fall in love and marry without benefit of clergy. A month after Juan's arrival, Lambro, Haidée's father, takes his fleet on a piratical expedition. Sometime later word is brought back that Lambro has died. Juan and Haidée move into his mansion as man and wife. But the rumor of Lambro's death is false. When he returns to his island port and walks toward his house, he is surprised to see people idling, feasting, and entertaining themselves. He does not make his presence known immediately. At the time of his arrival, Juan and Haidée, attired in gorgeous costumes, are feasting in Lambro's dining hall and being entertained by a minstrel.

Canto IV

After dining, Juan and Haidée take their siesta. Haidée, for the first time, has an ominous nightmare. She dreams that she is in a cave and that Juan lies at her feet, wet and cold and lifeless. While she is gazing on his face, his features slowly change into those of her stern father. She awakes and there before her stands the supposedly dead Lambro. When she arises and shrieks, she awakes Juan. Clinging to him, she tells him that the intruder is her father and beseeches him to beg his forgiveness. She pleads with her father to spare Juan. Lambro quietly commands Juan to surrender the saber he has snatched from the wall. When Juan refuses, Haidée's father draws and cocks his pistol. Haidée saves Juan's life by throwing herself in front of him. Her father replaces his pistol in its holster and blows a whistle. At once twenty of his followers appear and attack Juan, who succeeds in wounding two of them before being twice wounded himself. When Haidée sees Juan cut down, a vein bursts in her body and she collapses. For days she lies in a coma. When she finally regains consciousness, she is apathetic and speechless. The singing of a harpist at last draws from her the response of tears. Then she arises and flies at all those around her as if they were foes. Soon she lapses into apathy again, and after twelve days she dies. Juan has been carried on board one of Lambro's ships, where he finds himself in the company of several other captives. Not long after, he is brought to a slave market in Constantinople.

Canto V

In the slave market Juan and a fellow captive, an Englishman named Johnson, are bought by the eunuch Baba for Gulbeyaz, the fourth wife of the sultan, who has seen Juan being led to the market and who wants him for herself. They are brought to the royal palace, where Juan is dressed in woman's clothes. "Juanna" is then conducted to the sultana's apartment. She commands him to make love to her. But he is still faithful to the memory of Haidée and burst into tears. The sultana throws her arms around him, but Juan disengages himself. At first, the sultana is enraged, but her mood soon changes to tears. Her tears move Juan and he "began to stammer some excuses," but at this point the interview is ended by the announcement that the sultan is coming. The sultan notices Juan among the sultana's women and remarks that it is a pity that a Christian should be so pretty. This remark draws the glances of all to the person of Juan.

Canto VI

Juan is placed in an apartment of the palace where many of the sultan's concubines are quartered, for it is assumed that he is a new member of the sultan's large harem. He is assigned to a pretty girl named Dudji as a companion. During the night the whole harem is awakened by a loud scream from Dudji. She is pressed for an explanation. She has dreamed, she says, that she was walking in a wood in which there was a tree with a golden apple. The golden apple fell at her feet, but when she picked it up to bite into it, a bee flew out and stung her. The eunuch Baba reports the next morning to the sultana that Juan and Dudji shared quarters during the night but says nothing of the dream. When Gulbeyaz hears this, her cheeks become ashen. She commands Baba to bring Juan and Dudji to her.

Canto VII

The setting of Canto VII is Ismail, a Turkish fortress on the Danube, which is being besieged by the Russians. Here arrive, by steps which Byron omits, a party from Constantinople made up of Juan, Johnson, two unidentified Turkish women, and a eunuch. They are brought to General Suwarrow, the ruthless and efficient commander of the Russians. Johnson had served in the Russian army before, and Suwarrow assigns him to his old regiment. Juan he assigns to himself. Johnson requests the general that the Turkish ladies and their attendant be given kind treatment because they have helped himself and Juan escape from Constantinople.

Canto VIII

The final assault on Ismail begins. The Turks resist with valor and before the fortress is captured rivers of blood have been shed. Juan, swept away by a thirst for glory, proves himself to be a soldier of prowess and courage, but at the same time shows his humanitarianism by rescuing a little Turkish orphan girl from a pair of Cossacks who are about to slay her. Juan, now a lieutenant in the Russian army, is selected because of his valor and humanity to carry the news of the victory to the Empress Catherine in Petersburgh. He takes Leila, the young Turkish girl, with him.

Canto IX

The Empress Catherine is so much taken with the appearance of the handsome youthful lieutenant that when he presents her with his dispatch, she does not at once break the seal. When she finally does so, she is filled with joy. She falls in love at first sight with the bearer of the good news. Juan is swept off his feet by the attention he receives from Catherine. She promptly makes him a favorite and showers him with wealth. Because of the position he so quickly gains and because of his gracious demeanor, he becomes the center of attention in the Russian court.

Canto X

Juan soon finds himself quite at home in Petersburgh and "Seduced by Youth and dangerous examples" grows a little dissipated. He lives "in a hurry / Of waste and haste, and glare, and gloss and glitter." He is courted by everyone. For a while all goes well; then he falls sick. The doctors conclude that the climate is too cold for him, and Catherine, much against her wishes, decides to send him on an official mission to England. He leaves Russia for England laden with gifts and honors, taking with him his little orphan Leila.

Canto XI

In England Juan quickly becomes the object of as much attention as he had been in Russia. He is known to have come on an important mission; he is handsome, young, and accomplished; he knows several languages; and "Some rumour also of some strange adventures / Had gone before him, and his wars and loves." He is well received everywhere. He passes his mornings in business, his afternoons in visits, and his evenings in dancing and other forms of entertainment.

Canto XII

One of Juan's first problems to be solved in England is what to do with little Leila. He finally decides to place her in the care of Lady Pinchbeck, who is elderly, virtuous, wise in the ways of the world, and interested in the Turkish orphan.


Diplomatic business often brings Juan in contact with Lord Henry Amundeville, who takes a liking to the young Spaniard, as does his wife, Lady Adeline. Juan is frequently a guest in Lord Henry's mansion in London. When the winter season in London is over, the Amundevilles leave for their country estate, Norman Abbey.

When autumn comes the Amundevilles invite a large number of guests, including Juan, to the abbey. Juan acquits himself well in the country. He proves to be good at fox-hunting, riding, dancing, and all the other activities of country life among the aristocracy. Lady Fitz-Fulke, who is living apart from her husband, begins to take a special interest in him. When Lady Adeline notices this, she resolves to save Juan from Lady Fitz Fulke, who has a reputation for getting involved in intrigues. Lady Adeline has a weakness of her own: Her heart is vacant. She loves her husband, or thinks she does, but that love costs her an effort. She is also of the same age as Juan, namely twenty-one.

Canto XV

Lady Adeline tells Juan that she thinks he ought to get married. Juan makes a polite reply. She names a number of what she considers good matches but fails to mention Aurora Raby, who is rich, noble, young, pretty, sincere, and a Catholic like Juan. This omission makes Juan wonder and he brings the fact to the attention of Adeline. Lady Adeline marvels "what he saw in such a baby / As that prim, silent, cold Aurora Raby?" (Canto XV, St. 49). One evening Juan sits beside Aurora at dinner. She pays no attention to him, a phenomenon which piques him and arouses his interest in her.

Canto XVI

That night Juan, unable to sleep, walks out into a gallery filled with portraits of the eminent or beautiful dead. Much to his astonishment he sees a monk in cowl, robe, and beads. The monk slowly walks by him and disappears. As Juan has heard that the ghost of a monk haunts Norman Abbey, in his fear he assumes that he has seen this very ghost

The next morning Juan is unusually pensive at breakfast Lord Henry remarks that he looks as if he had seen the ghost of the Black Friar. Juan does not admit what he has seen. Adeline then sings the song of the Black Friar, a song she has composed about the ghost of Norman Abbey. The song restores Juan's spirits.

That night Juan is again unable to sleep and again he hears the deliberate footsteps he heard the night before. Suddenly his door flies open. In the doorway stands the friar. Juan's dread turns to anger and he advances toward the ghost. The ghost retreats until it is backed up against a wall. Juan stretches out his arm and touches the solid breast of "her frolic Grace-Fitz-Fulke!"

Canto XVII: (A Fragment of Fourteen Stanzas)

The following morning Juan looks "wan and worn." The Duchess Fitz-Fulke "had a sort of air rebuked — / Seemed pale and shivered . . ." (St. 14).