"Don Juan"

Don Juan / Don Giovanni
Public DomainDon Juan / Don Giovanni

Don Juan is a legendary, fictional lover and seducer of women. In Italian his name is Don Giovanni. "Don Juan" is often used as a synonym for “womanizer.” Later in the book (section 10 of Part Five, page 201), the narrator distinguishes between "lyrical" and "epic" womanizers.

The first known written version of the character appears in a Spanish play published about 1630 and titled “The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest” by Tirso de Molina.

Among the best known versions of the story of Don Juan are Molière’s play “Don Juan, or the Feast with the Statue” (1665), Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni” (1787), and Byron’s epic poem “Don Juan” (1821). The story has also inspired works by Pushkin, Kierkegaard, Shaw, and Camus … not to mention songs and albums by Buddy Holly, the Pet Shop Boys, and Joni Mitchell.

At left is a 1912 painting by Max Slevogt of the opera singer Francisco d’Andrade playing Mozart’s Don Giovanni, at the moment when he invites the statue of the dead Commendatore to dinner.

Don Juan is one-half of a dualism embodied by Tomas in this novel. After hearing of Tomas’s death in the country with Tereza, Sabina -- who knew him best as a Don Juan -- decides that Tomas “died as Tristan” (which is to say, romantically faithful to one woman; see Bookmark, page 22), “not as Don Juan.”