Summary and Analysis Canto XVII (Unfinished)



There are three kinds of orphans: (1) the children who have lost their parents; (2) the children who receive no love from their parents; and (3) children who have no brothers or sisters. Of the three the most unfortunate are those who have lost their parents and are wealthy.

People should be tolerant of free discussion of all things, and the author, for one, will be among these.

Whether Juan gave in to the Duchess Fitz-Fulke the night before, or resisted her charms, the author refuses to say. When Juan comes to breakfast he looks wan and worn. The duchess "had a sort of air rebuked — / Seemed pale and shivered" (St. 14). She looked as if she had not slept.


The fourteen stanzas of Canto XVII introduce the question of possible moral development in Juan. He had developed in all other respects. Is he still amoral in matters of love? What went on between Juan and the ghostly Lady Fitz-Fulke? Did virtue or vice prevail in the case of Juan? Stanza 12 makes it clear that a conflict had taken place in Juan's soul. On the morning after, both Juan and the duchess looked tired, as if neither had slept. If virtue did not prevail in Juan's conscience, why should Byron say that the duchess had "a sort of air rebuked"?

Juan yielded to Donna Julia; he yielded to Haidée; he refused Gulbeyaz because she had used the wrong approach, but he was on the point of yielding when the coming of the sultan was announced; and he yielded to Catherine — and in each case the woman had been, so to speak, the aggressor. Has he yielded to the Duchess Fitz-Fulke or has he shown her the error of her wayward ways? If he has yielded, why should the duchess have "a sort of air rebuked"? Moreover, Aurora, by what she is, has shown Juan an ideal of purity and virtue that has not left him unmoved. She stands between him, as it were, and Fitz-Fulke duchesses. The question is a pertinent one but not easily solvable. Byron supplies us with only the single word rebuked to help us arrive at an answer. If it could be shown that Juan had said "no" to the duchess, it would mean that Byron was moving Juan toward an ideal of purity (and sexual immorality is practically the only moral weakness of Don Juan) represented in the flesh by Leila ("For like a day-dawn she was young and pure" — Canto XII, St. 61) and by Aurora, whose name means "day-dawn." Unfortunately, the language of the three last stanzas of Don Juan can be interpreted in two different ways, and when the poem comes to an end the reader is left with a problem that he must solve for himself.