chapter  13
10 Pages

Don Juan Reconsidered: The Haidée Episode *

WithAnne Barton

This chapter offers an illuminating reconsideration of the myth of a lost paradise which has always haunted Lord Byron criticism, and the compelling suggestion. Byron was understandably delighted by the ‘strange coincidence’ which allowed him to hear a woman who had escaped from slavery in Algiers, singing in an opera whose plot is about the escape of an Italian girl from the harem of the Bey of Algiers. The narrator of Don Juan is, of course, constantly interrupting and retarding his own story-line. Allusion was advanced as part of the indeterminacy of Don Juan. Peter Manning argues that Byron’s use of John Milton to attack Robert Southey highlights ‘the historical process by which words acquire meaning’, and that each allusion helps to place Byron in a tradition which is in process. As Byron recognizes ruefully from the start, in itself almost impossible, can only be ephemeral.