I Want a Hero
She took out a handsome, very expensively bound volume of Don Juan.
“This must have been your purchase,” she said. “The last cantos of Don Juan were published scarcely four years ago. I didn’t know you had a taste for Byron’s work.”
He had wandered to the fireplace. “I don’t. I met him during a trip to Italy. I bought the thing because its author was a wicked fellow and its contents were reputedly indecent.”
“Which is to say, you haven’t read it.” She opened the book and selected a stanza from the first canto. “Wedded she was, some years, and to a man/of fifty, and such husbands are in plenty;/And yet, I think, instead of such a ONE/’T were better to have TWO of five and twenty.'”
from Lord of Scoundrels, by Loretta Chase
In this scene from one of the very best romances written, the heroine, Jessica, does more than introduce her new husband Lord Dain to Byron’s Don Juan, she introduces him to me!
For the most part in college I bypassed the English romantic poets, and entirely missed reading Byron. Looking back I realize that I selected classes based on how I felt about the person teaching. Thus, I wound up spending a whole semester on John Milton’s Paradise Lost, because the professor was a good instructor and a kind, supportive man.
Fast forward a number of years from my college career (well, many) and I am a fly on the wall watching Jessica, Lady Dain, read Byron to her conflicted husband, luring him closer, so that by the fourteenth stanza he was not only sitting by her but “he had arranged himself into an indolent sprawl.”
A few months after reading Lord of Scoundrels for the first time, I came across a 1949 edition of Don Juan in a used bookstore and snapped it up.
“I want a hero,” Byron begins.
How very straightforward. Like Byron, Dear Reader, I want a hero–for a story I’ll be starting next month. Revealing this hero has been hair-pullingly frustrating, which I hope (trying to be optimistic here) means I’ll do a better job with this character.
Proof perhaps that Lord Dain was right about the “wicked fellow” Byron is this fragment found on the back of the poet’s manuscript of Canto I:
I would to heaven that I were so much clay,/As I am blood, bone, marrow, passion, feeling–/Because at least the past were pass’d away/And for the future–(but I write this reeling,/ Having got drunk exceedingly to-day,/ So that I seem to stand upon the ceiling)/I say–the future is a serious matter–/And so–for God’s sake–hock and soda-water!