Metamorphoses of Don Juan’s Women - Early Parity to Late Modern Pathology

Author: Davies, Ann
While many scholars have approached Don Juan in terms of myth, this study argues for the understanding of Don Juan as a discourse of gender relations, changing over time. Using examples from the plays by Tirso de Molina, Molière, Mozart, Zorrila, Shaw and Frisch, it argues that Don Juan’s entire identity as a male individual is constructed around women, but that over time – reflecting a growing sense of crisis in the male individual – the women appear more and more pathological in their desire for Don Juan. In contrast with early modern works where women fend for themselves in a positive manner, the heroines of later Don Juan works actively prey on the individual male. This book argues that these changes in approach to the female characters, and, in tandem, the developing identity of the male protagonist, suggest Don Juan as dischronic discourse rather than myth. Don Juan is not the eternal seducer, but one of a variety of discourses through which gender relations are negotiated. This book will interest not only Don Juan scholars but also scholars and students of European literature, theatre and gender discourses in literature and culture.


“This book, then, takes as its starting point not one don Juan, but many. It argues that the meaning of the don Juan phenomenon lies just as much in the differences between the various don Juans as in their contribution to a modern myth. It considers not so much what don Juan is, but what don Juan becomes —his shift from the carefree libertine to the angst-ridden philosopher. Later authors —in this book the focus is on Kierkegaard and Hoffman, Zorrilla, Shaw and Frisch— clearly felt a need to break away from the earlier models of Tirso, Mozart and Molière: the question is why. Ann Davies responds to this challenge by positing that the changes in the don Juan figure reveal an increasing anxiety over masculine identity. In this struggle over don Juan’s identity as a male individual, the women play a crucial role … This book refuses to take don Juan’s word for it that all women are secretly desperate to be seduced, and that their protests of wronged virtue act merely as a respectable cover for their reprehensible sexual desire. It does argue, though, that the women are the key to understanding don Juan’s own identity, so that it is time we looked past don Juan at the women themselves. Thus the focus of the study lies with individual female characters as much as with don Juan. It reveals that, far from simply wielding malicious power over them, don Juan depends on these women for his very identity. And the profound shifts in don Juan literature manifest themselves clearly in the different portrayals of don Juan’s relationships with his women. Never do the women merely reflect his identity back, but rather, they shape it —and this moulding of his identity becomes, by the twentieth century, pathological manipulation. This will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with recent critiques of Victorian literature and art from a feminist perspective (Elaine Showalter and Bram Dijkstra come to mind), but don Juan’s participation in the nineteenth-century fear of women as pathological creatures has gone hitherto unremarked. Here the author redresses the balance … This book does not supersede previous histories of don Juan, but reminds us that history is not the mere passing of time, during which the don Juan works pile up one on top of another.” – (From the Commendatory Preface) B.W. Ife, Cervantes Professor of Spanish, King’s College London

“[This work] is well focused and carried out with exemplary efficiency … [and is] concise and coherent. The argument developed in this book is original, distinctive and well structured, taking an interesting and productive approach to a topic that has already received a daunting amount of critical attention. While recognizing the centrality of the figure of Don Juan in all the versions discussed, Davies casts him a new and revealing light through her emphasis on his female antagonists and exploration of sexual identity, voyeurism, punishment and male fear of women’s sexuality. The detailed readings of six variations on the Don Juan story convincingly show that these versions bring out crucial features of historical change in gender relations while providing some fresh insights into well-know texts and a cogent defense of the importance of the original Burlador.” – Dr. Michael Thompson, University of Durham

“I offer my wholehearted support for the publication of Ann Davies’ book on the Don Juan theme … [it is] an outstanding piece of work … We have here a coherent account of some of the key appearances of this figure in Western Art, and Ann Davies’s survey has the added advantage of ranging across national boundaries. But what is especially attractive about her study is its focus on the Don Juan theme as a way of opening up questions of masculinity that bear on contemporary issues as well as on historical contexts. Masculinity is still very much a complex and uncharted world, and Ann Davies’ resort to contemporary theory to account for its more problematic areas – taking in psychoanalysis, gender theory and mush else – results in a fascinating contribution to this debate.” – Professor Peter Evans, University of London

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements, Preface
1. Introduction: Heterosexual relations as a vehicle of change,Sex and gender as historical phenomena, Don Juan: discourse or myth?,The question of selectivity
2. The search for identity: The earlier works,The later plays
3. The early plays: Noblewomen, Peasant women, ‘Hysterical’ women
4. The Romantic era: Kierkegaard and Hoffmann: nineteenth-century attitudes, Zorrilla and doña Inés
5. The twentieth-century plays: Shaw, Frisch
6. The male characters: Figures of authority: kings and fathers, The servant, The Octavio figure, Fear and hatred of women
7. Punishment: The need for punishment, Affirmation of the community and suppression of the individual, Zorrilla’s pantheon, Twentieth-century notions of punishment
8. Conclusion and coda: a reappraisal of Tirso de Molina, Coda: Tirso de Molina and the characterization of women