The Romanticism of Don Juan

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Byron - Question 4
In Don Juan, Byron mocks many of his Romantic contemporaries for their style. According to Byron, poets such as Wordsworth and Southey were overly showy. Thus, Don Juan was a way to poke fun at the romantic tropes these self-interested poets utilized. For instance, Byron uses “romantic” language to describe Donna Julia, saying, “Of many charms in her as natural/As sweetness to the flower or salt to the ocean, Her zone to Venus, or his bow to Cupid” (437-439). But then he gives the parenthetical disclaimer that “…this last simile is trite and stupid” (44). However, while Don Juan is certainly a critique of romanticism, it is romantic in nature due to the fact that it goes against convention, contains a main character that has some elements of the romantic hero, challenges society’s views, and has a self-aware narrator. Romanticism is about going against convention, and Don Juan certainly goes against convention in terms of romanticism and in terms of an epic. One convention that Byron goes against is that of typical gender roles. Many romantic poets stressed the independent man who was in touch with nature and his sexuality. In terms of sexuality, women were typically the ones acted upon. For instance, in Blake’s The Little Girl Lost, a young innocent girl learns about sexuality from the “masculine” lion. However, in Don Juan, this pattern is deviated from in that Juan is not the seducer but instead the seduced. He does not have to attempt any wiles or tricks to bed any of the women he encounters because he is that irresistible. Thus, the women take on the more masculine role of being the “pursuers.” They also take the active role in asserting their authority and independence. For instance Donna Julia, unlike Juan, struggles with her conscience and actually stands up to her husband when he suspects of sleeping with Juan (which she has been doing), saying, “For in silence I have suffered long/ A husband like Alfonso on my side/ Is...
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