The Byron Journal

‘If you would like to see the whole proceedings’: Criminal Conversation in Byron’s Don Juan Canto I

The Byron Journal (2019), 47, (2), 139–152.

Abstract

In his insightful monograph on Don Juan, Bernard Beatty emphasises the discursive nature of the poem which ‘invokes such diverse categories as epic, comedy, satire, romance, burlesque and novel’.1 However, one category missed off Beatty’s list is that of matrimonial litigation discourses, an extremely popular subgenre in Georgian print culture. Almost every Canto in Don Juan has at least one allusion to the legal proceedings and the published trial narratives which ‘form a sad climax to romantic homages’ (DJ, XII, 65) in Regency England. In this article I discuss the presence and purpose of these legal discourses, considering how Byron manipulates ‘the delicacies of the law’ into an extended frame of reference for the consummation and exposure of Juan and Julia’s adulterous affair. In this episode, he offers one of the most sustained fictional treatments of matrimonial litigation in English literature, exploring the power of the publicised adultery trial to shape popular mental landscapes.

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Paterson-Morgan, Emily