He’s Back! Or at Least He’s Coming Back! He’s on Order! (And if you don’t care about him, there’s a novel you can read.)
September 7, 2013 by Reader's Connection
I’m speaking of Don Juan, and this is specifically the Don Juan created by the poet Lord Byron (1788-1824), so you have to pronounce “Juan” with a hard J, and make it rhyme with “new one.”
This epic parody has been available at the library as a downloadable e-book, and as a section of the big hardback
Poetical Works, but now he’s coming back in a paperback that you can read at the table, or on the bus, or in bed.
This is my idea of great beach reading. I just finished the third of this epic’s twelve cantos.
The breeze off Lake Michigan tickled my gristle as the teenaged Juan, who is having a fling with a married woman who isn’t a teenager, has cosmic thoughts.
Lambro has a beautiful daughter named Haidée, and of course she and Juan fall in love. At the close of Canto III, Lambro has returned to the island. He and Juan haven’t met, and the reader is left wondering how the pirate will react to Juan’s presence.
Why am I doing this? Byron has always meant less to me than Wordsworth or Coleridge, two fellow Romantic Era Poets upon whom Byron pours contempt in these pages. So why am I reading this crazy epic now?
Because it’s opulent and funny. Because I’ve never given Byron a chance: he is such a companionable storyteller and, as poet Paul Muldoon has said, he can be serious without being solemn. Because the creation of this epic was such a feat. And because I love the rambling narrator whom I mentioned, forever digressing about politics or morals or lousy poets, and then stumbling back to the story.
Yeah, right. You probably know by now whether you want to read Don Juan. If you don’t, then maybe you ought to give Byron’s novel The Evening Land a try.
Only recently did we learn of the existence of this novel. Byron’s daughter Ada–who never met the poet–wanted to keep her mother from destroying the book. Lucky for us, Ada was a math whiz and proto-computer-geek, and she translated the whole thing into numerical code. The code was recently discovered and turned back into an English novel by two young women, Thea & Alexandra, and Alexandra’s father, a Byron expert and sex criminal.
The novel is fabulous. There’s a murder mystery, a zombie, identity confusion, mating difficulties, and lots of travel. Ada, who was ill at the time, supplied notes.
If you’re embarrassed because you didn’t know any of this, don’t sweat it. Modern-day novelist John Crowley made the whole thing up. His book Lord Byron’s Novel: The Evening Land contains the Byronic novel, Ada’s notes, and e-mails among the discoverers and decoders. Byron’s daughter really was a computer whiz, before there were computers. She understood the possibilities. And Lord Byron really did behave in remarkable ways. But the rest is Crowley’s fiction.
I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve quoted Harold Bloom in this blog: “Lord Byron’s Novel: The Evening Land is an extraordinary confluence of High Romanticism and our Information Era.”
So: Epic poem or novel with e-mails? Which Byronic experience appeals to you? I’m doing both.