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This article focuses on the seasickness scene in the second canto of Byron's Don Juan. The scene is analysed through the discourse of sincerity defined by Trilling and Girard. It is argued that in Don Juan sincerity is explored through unmediated responses of the body. This is exemplified in the seasickness scene, where vomiting is understood as Juan's response to Julia's insincere and pretentious love letter.


Byron, Don Juan, nausea, sincerity

The legendary hero of Don Juan is usually connected with such sublime topics as love, freedom and sin; Byron, however, adds to his epic poem themes which other Romantic poets find unpoetical: eating, nausea or vomiting. This article will focus on the seasickness scene in the second canto of Byron's Don Juan. The scene will be analysed through the discourse of sincerity, a topic which enjoyed a heightened concern throughout the Romantic era. In Romantic literature, the concept of sincerity fused with that of authenticity (Sinanan and Milnes 2). Lionel Trilling, however, distinguishes between the two concepts. For him, the word "sincerity" means "the absence of dissimulation or feigning or pretence" (Trilling 13). Authenticity, on the other hand, is used "in reference to human existence" (93). For Trilling, authenticity has "ontological concern" (92). To define authenticity, Trilling evokes Wordsworth's poem Michael: "Michael says nothing; he expresses nothing. […] [H]e and his grief are one" (93). For the cases when being is at stake, as in the case of Michael's "being-in-grief", Trilling employs the term "authenticity" (93). [End Page 163]

The Romantic era's fascination with sincerity and authenticity was, however, complicated with the idea of reproducibility. Byron himself was a good example of the paradoxical nature of the concept of sincerity. From the publication of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage in 1812, Byron stood as a model on which his readers patterned their personalities. The phenomenon of Byronism resulted in the emergence of a large number of Byron imitators and poseurs (Leonard 20). They tried to write poetry, but above all, they adopted some of the notorious features of Byron's personality such as deep gloom, melancholy, aggressive egotism, pride, passion and revolt. Their ideal was a pale, slender, and black-garbed figure. Romanticism, a period that valued authenticity very highly, has ironically generated a vast number of inauthentic human beings. It, nonetheless, shows that authenticity is inseparable from reproducibility. The increasing ubiquity of the pursuit of authenticity in the Romantic era went hand in hand with the desire to develop new strategies of self-representation that attempted to replicate the signs of authenticity and its evanescent quality (Lodge 185).

This article will start with the complicated relationship between authenticity and inauthenticity: it will discuss thinkers who link inauthenticity to society, or, more precisely, to literature. The thinkers range from the pre-Romantic Rousseau to those who came after Romanticism, such as Belinsky or Dostoevsky, revealing in their works Romanticism's pretense and affectation, up to 20th-century thinkers such as Girard, who formulated a concept of inauthenticity based on reading Romantic literature, or Trilling, who researched the evolution of the term sincerity throughout history and culture. The article will further argue that Byron, though he himself has been accused of being inauthentic and a poseur, at least in his Don Juan, attacks and ridicules Romantic hypocrisy. The article wishes to build on literary critics who have associated Byron's explorations of sincerity with performance, that is, in Don Juan, sincerity is explored through unmediated responses of the body (Sinanan and Milnes 20). It will be argued that Byron brings in an embodied version of sincerity, which will be exemplified in the seasickness scene, where vomiting will be understood as Juan's response to Julia's insincere and pretentious love letter. The physiological critique of insincerity is an important strategy for Byron as the word "sincere" was originally applied to bodily fluids (Esterhammer 101). In Don Juan, Byron thus goes back to the original meaning of the word and shows that vomiting is more truthful than Julia's words relying on the symbolic. In the seasickness scene, Julia's pretense collapses in front of Juan's bodily fluids. The use of vomiting in the scene is a way for Byron to fight against lies and insincerity on physiological terms.

The concept of vomiting will be defined by help of Nietzsche's philosophy in which the acts of reading and digesting are united as both of them transform the self according to the other (Weineck 36). Nietzsche thus sees vomiting as an instinct of self-defense. For him, vomiting is a protection and remedy against that which is harmful to the self. Finally, vomiting will be interpreted through Kristeva's language theory which not only enables to see vomiting as part of the semiotic but also to explore the silent grief of Shakespeare's Ophelia, whose suffering, albeit [End Page 164] expelled from the original narrative, resurfaces again in Byron's stanzas and coincides with Juan's vomiting.

The Romantic concepts of sincerity and authenticity are largely indebted to J.J. Rousseau, who tries to explain the relationship between authenticity and inauthenticity by claiming that authenticity is destroyed by society. An eighteen-century aesthetician expresses Rousseau's concern: "Born Originals, how comes it to pass that we die Copies?" (in Trilling 93). Rousseau's answer, expressed in his First Discourse, is that it is due to the arts, by which he means literature. According to Rousseau, literature corrupts the individual by reducing the autonomy of the self (Trilling 63). "The savage lives within himself," Rousseau says in the Second Discourse, "the sociable man knows how to live only in the opinion of others, and it is, so to speak, from their judgement alone that he draws the sentiment of his being" (in Trilling 62). Literature is, thus, basically hostile to one's own existence, making one's personality dependent on the other.

In Russia, Grigoryevich Belinsky, the founder of the Russian school of literary criticism, discusses the impact of literature on readers' lives in one of his essays, concluding that readers model their identities, emotions and desires on literary characters. When Pushkin started to publish his Romantic pieces, and when Byron's poetry was translated in the 1820s, this phenomenon intensified, and, according to Belinsky, people desired to be pale, slender and gloomy (15–16). Belinsky attacks Romantics for not doing anything but discussing, meditating or theorizing. All their lives, they could do with a few thoughts and sentences they have read in books. He criticizes them for being impassionate, false, affected; and the style of the Romantic literature for having pretentious phraseology, for being insincere and fake. He ends his critique by pronouncing that Romanticism lost its way, both in life as well as in literature (10–21).

Later, these thoughts were echoed in the work of his friend, Dostoevsky, in his Notes from the Underground. Dostoevsky's hero is unable to distinguish between the desires and emotions that have originated in him, and those that have come to him out of books. He has adopted a few lines "largely stolen from the poets and novelists" "to all sorts of needs and uses" (94). He can speak only "stiffly, artificially, even bookishly, in fact, [he] could not speak except 'like a book."' (132) and he is "so accustomed to think and imagine everything from books" (149) that he is incapable of any individual reaction.

In 1961, René Girard went back to this line of thought and in his Mensonge romantique et vérité romanesque he formulates a concept of inauthenticity based on literature. Girard sees as inauthentic those desires and emotions that do not originate in the Self, but are imposed on the Self from the Other. The inauthentic Self is incapable of desiring anything that has not been marked by the Other. Whatever the Other has marked verbally, the Self desires; however, whatever the Other has marked in a text is even more powerful. The printed text is endowed with such suggestible powers that the Self will accept the desires and emotions written in it as its own (13–42). In Girard's theory it does not matter if readers read the most debased forms of Romanticism or the major male Romantics; if they model their [End Page 165] identities on a written text, they are inauthentic. And it follows from this conception of inauthenticity that authenticity is defined as following desires originated within the self. According to Girard, there is no difference between Don Quijote or a commercial advertisement. They both make people live according to the other (Girard 41–2).

Thus, on a poetical level, authenticity and sincerity become a trope in which the "concerted effort of a culture or of a segment of a culture to achieve authenticity generates its own conventions, its generalities, its commonplaces" (Trilling 105). As numerous thinkers have shown, sincerity in Romantic poetry is a trope, "a prevailing construct or a far-reaching convention" which is passed off as a genuine feeling (Esterhammer 104). Sincerity does not originate in the self, but it is the society that dictates to the individual to live in no other way but authenticity. "Society requires of us that we present ourselves as being sincere […]. [W]e actually are what we want our community to know we are. In short, we play the role of being ourselves" (Trilling 10–11). Trilling makes an interesting observation that "moral intensity" is heavily attached to the question of authenticity (101). Emma Bovary, who cannot be accused of committing a more serious crime than that of inauthenticity, has been treated in literary criticism with "harsh contempt" (102). Flaubert, nonetheless, said: "Madame Bovary – c'est moi," and Trilling adds: "Madame Bovary is each one of us" (103). We are "all inauthentic" (102). Trilling, however, does not share with the above-mentioned thinkers their disdain for literature. He is persuaded that art "instructs us in our authenticity and adjures us to overcome it" (100). Literature can teach readers "how they are not to be if they really wish to be" (104).

Byron made his own contribution to this discourse on authenticity which Sartre, taking the word from Heidegger, calls the "gabble" (Trilling 105). In Don Juan, the word sincerity occurs in many contexts. Sometimes it is used of characters who are genuinely sincere, and at other times, the word recurs to satirize and mock the Romantic preoccupation with it, which eventually turned into artifice (Esterhammer 110). Byron has been often seen as having the position of an outsider, outside the central projects of Romanticism. Romanticism scholarship tended to see him as an "enemy within." He, however, saw himself as a critic of his own age and culture (McGann 137). In The Romantic Ideology, Jerome McGann took him as an "ally in his exposure of Romantic hypocrisy" (Christensen xiv). Matthew Arnold in 1881 preface to the Poetry of Lord Byron supported Algernon Swinburne's observation that Byron's power lies in "the splendid and imperishable excellence which covers all his offences and outweighs all his defects: the excellence of sincerity and strength" (in Christenson xiii).

Byron's strength as a poet lies in that he is not indifferent about insincerity and pretense. And an important part of his critique of insincerity is that it is physiological. As several scholars have emphasized, Byron's explorations of sincerity are associated with performance. In Don Juan, Byron conceptualizes an embodied version of sincerity, and, thus, examines his characters' sincerity through the unmediated responses of their bodies (Sinanan and Milnes 20). His argumentation [End Page 166] rehabilitates the body, and especially nausea, as another answer to the eternal question of how to represent the truth. His Don Juan uncovers an intimate connection between the body and characters' behavior and the subsequent importance of vomiting as a gateway to sincerity to oneself.

In this article, the act of vomiting in Don Juan will be partly based on the concept of digestion and vomiting derived from Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophy. The theme of digestion pervades "Nietzsche's writings, and like many of Nietzsche's important terms, it metamorphoses, accrues different implications, and serves various functions" (Weineck 35). Through the concept of digestion, Nietzsche clarifies the act of reading. According to him, reading is an activity by which "man unlearns to act" and by which his spontaneity is weakened; it makes him artificial, and changes him to "a mirror" (Weineck 35). Reading might help to articulate one's own feelings and thoughts, but for Nietzsche, a mirror, the traditional trope for self-reflection, is rather a symbol of self-deflection (35). Nietzsche associates reading with digesting because the reading as well as the digesting body is "permeable, unstable, invaded and inhabited by other (parasitic) bodies," thus being constantly transformed by and according to the other (Weineck 36). To keep his spontaneity, instincts and himself alive, Nietzsche therefore proposes to "react as rarely as possible" (Ecce Homo 253); to close himself off, to make "his body impermeable, […] refusing osmosis or Stoffwechsel, the German word for metabolism which means, literally, change of stuff, a transformation of materials" (Weineck 35).

Nietzsche suggests a possibility of a rebirth of the self through nausea. Although he longs for health, Nietzsche, finally, learns to appreciate sickness. He appreciates sickness, because sickness for him is not the problem: to swallow "'Christian love' as well as anti-Semitism, the will to power (to the 'Reich') as well as the gospel of humility, without any digestive complaints" (in Weineck 38, italics mine), that is the problem. Not to vomit, but, on the contrary, to swallow indiscriminately what is on offer, to digest everything without reflection, the inability to reject, the inability to say No – that is a "swine-nature!" (Nietzsche, Zarathustra 154). "One has to know the size of one's stomach," says Nietzsche (Ecce Homo 239), "the biggest stomach, however, is not necessarily the best one" (Weineck 38). And as Weineck reminds us, one "must also know when to throw up what is already inside: Romanticism, Wagner, both anti-Semitism and Christian love, for example, all those overtly sweet stuffs that, if digested, will make you lazy and interfere with your instinct" (38). Vomiting for Nietzsche is an instinct of self-defense: it commands one to say No when Yes would be more beneficial for the other. It is a protection and remedy against that which is harmful to the self. It is a cure for insincerity and inauthenticity

Byron, due to his aberrant eating, also had an intense interest in vomiting. It is a well-known fact that he had the habit of eating alone, probably to gorge in secret, and then perhaps make himself purge. Scholars today have developed the hypothesis that he had bulimia or anorexia: "He took quantities of vinegar to lessen his appetite, dosed himself with Epsom salts, magnesia, and strong laxatives, and [End Page 167] always had the highest spirits when he had emptied himself at one or both ends, that is after the purgatives had acted, or he had vomited" (Baron 1700).

In Don Juan, Byron, similarly to Nietzsche, associates reading with eating. When Byron's narrator asks his readers why they read, the narrator positions the act of reading and drinking next to each other: "I ask in turn/[…] Why drink? Why read?" (DJ 14.11). Their effects are identical; they both deflect people from themselves. Reading, writing, drinking, they all occupy "me to turn back regards/On what I've seen or ponder'd, sad or cheery" (DJ 14. 11).

Byron writes, reads and drinks in order to distance himself from himself. In his "Fragment" to Don Juan, Byron the narrator, due to "[h]aving got drunk exceedingly to-day", is sick. However, as drinking and reading are for Byron identical activities, he might as well change the line; he might be sick not because of drinking, but because he has been reading exceedingly. This article, therefore, sees the "Dedication" as metaphorical vomiting. Byron the narrator is over-drunk, over-read, his head is "reeling," so he seems "to stand upon the ceiling"; he is sick. The "Dedication" that follows is nothing else but his throwing up Romanticism. The narrator is throwing up one major Romantic poet after another: Southey, Coleridge, Wordsworth:

BOB SOUTHEY! You're a poet – Poet laureate,And representative of all the race;        […]And now, my Epic Renegade! what are you at?With all the Lakers, in and out of place?        […]And Coleridge, too,        […]Explaining metaphysics to the nation –I wish he would explain his Explanation.        […]And Wordsworth, in a rather long "Excursion"(I think the quarto holds five hundred pages)Has given a sample from the vasty versionOf his new system to perplex the sages;'T is poetry – at least by his assertion,        […]And he who understands it would be ableTo add a story to the Tower of Babel.


Byron fights against lies and insincerity on physiological terms, and he takes nausea as his ally. In the "Dedication," Byron separates himself from Southey, Wordsworth, Coleridge and their Romantic, false, affective and pretentious phraseology which forged "Europe's spiritual slavery" (McGann, Byron 48); and he does so by vomiting. [End Page 168]

In addition to nausea in "Dedication," another example of vomiting in Don Juan is the seasickness scene at the beginning of the second canto. The scene begins with Juan's farewell to Spain, which may be compared with both Childe Harold's and Byron's own farewells to England. Don Juan's farewell to Spain, according to Marchand, shares "the general mawkishness of other passages in the first canto of Childe Harold" (174):

But when the sun was sinking in the seaHe seized his harp, which he at times could string,And strike, albeit with untaught melody,When deem'd he no strange ear was listening:And now his fingers o'er it he did fling,And tuned his farewell in the dim twilight.        […]ADIEU, adieu! my native shore (CHP 1.13)

Childe Harold's suppressed sentiments are voiced only through his page who, leaving his parents, wife and sons behind, is "sorrowful in mind" (1.13/4). Childe Harold brushes the page's grief aside and laughs at the prospect of fleeing, for his greatest grief is that he leaves no "thing that claims a tear" (1.13/8).

The situation changed radically later in 1816 when England, to use Cochran's metaphor, "expelled" Byron as a disgusting element of its system of socially approved behavior (8). This time Byron had more to mourn – his wife Annabella and his new-born daughter Ada, who he would never see again. Byron often remarked on his separation and the subsequent exile in a flippant tone, but, with both his reputation and marriage destroyed, his wounds took a long time to heal. Although he became acclimatized quickly on the continent, he never stopped following English literary and political affairs and commented on them in a bitter manner which gradually changed into irony (Cochran 8). But in moments of sincerity towards himself, which were rare, Byron "dropped the mask" and acknowledged the injuries he had suffered or inflicted (Eisler 495).

Shortly after the separation, Byron completed and sent to Annabella his draft of a poem expressing his disappointment over the end of their marriage. Scholars regard "Fare Thee Well!" as a "wail of self-pity and sentimental moralizing," but as a cri de coeur, "it breathes an immediacy that is the essence of romanticism; until recently, ink blots on the verso of the manuscript sheets have been taken for tear stains" (Eisler 501). If the poem was an attempt at a reconciliation, it failed. Annabella was not moved: "He knows he has injured me too deeply ever to forgive him" (in Eisler 496). Other readers, Madame de Staël included, however, thought that "any wife reading its appeal must rush back into her husband's arms" (Eisler 502).

In the poem, Byron confides that:

These are words of deepest sorrowThan the wail above the dead; [End Page 169] Both shall live, but every morrowWake us from a widow's bed.        […]But it's done – all words are idle-Words from me are vainer still;        […]Fare thee well! thus disunited,Torn from every nearer tie,Sear'd in heart, and lone, and blighted,More than this I scarce can die.

Byron's wife was unmoved by these lines, for she was very well aware of Byron's skill at manipulating language. The reviewer in the Critical Review agreed with her: "[M]any […] wondered how a man, who shewed he had no heart, could evince such feeling. […] [T]he very excellence of that poem […] was a convincing proof that its author had much more talent than tenderness" (in McGann, Byron 81). As Jerome McGann has shown, "Fare Thee Well!" was, more than an aesthetic object, an event in language to alter the public image after the separation (82).

"Fare Thee Well!" nonetheless displays a difference between the narrator of the poem and that of Childe Harold. Harold's carelessness and lightness of heart disappeared; and, through the emotional death that Byron underwent in the poem, they gave way to feelings of devastating loss and despair. But, the poem suggests, from romantic love one emerges "sadder, but wiser," and so does Byron. In Don Juan, the reader sees the narrator at the top of his form, a light-hearted and playful mood through which melancholy flashes here and there:

No more – no more – Oh! never more, my heart,Canst thou be my sole world, my universe!Once all in all, but now a thing apart,Thou canst not be my blessing or my curse:The illusion's gone for ever, […]

My days of love are over; me no moreThe charms of maid, wife, and still less of widow,Can make the fool of which they made before, –

(DJ 1.215-6)

Byron was "too aware of how rapidly pleasures of the flesh could turn to pain" (Stafford 12), but with age he learnt to laugh at it in his writings: "And the sad truth which hovers o'er my desk/Turns what was once romantic to burlesque" (DJ 4.3).

In his farewell passage in the second canto of Don Juan, Byron turns Romanticism to burlesque by letting Juan experience "nautical existence" (2.12), during which Juan throws up the feelings he has felt for his first love, Julia. Juan and Julia's romantic union was forcefully ended by Juan's mother and Julia's husband; and, to prevent the public scandal from growing bigger, his mother [End Page 170] dispatched him from Spain. To say her last goodbye, the brokenhearted Julia writes a letter to Juan, saying, in short, that she does not regret a thing and that she will never forget him. She confirms her promise by sealing the letter with a sunflower – "Elle vous suit partout" (1.198) – and going to a nunnery. While embarking, Juan is holding her letter tightly; it is, after all, the only testimony of their love with which he has been left. He is overwhelmed by grief, and the narrator legitimizes Juan's emotional turmoil with the following commentary:

But Juan had got many things to leave,His mother, and a mistress, and no wife,So that he had much better cause to grieveThan many persons more advanced in life (2.15)

To further justify Juan's feelings, the narrator compares him to warriors who feel the same "when they go to war" (2.14), and three stanzas later uses glorifying language, intending to present Juan as a dauntless hero at the beginning of his quest. Juan's journey is supposed to be both physical and psychological. The perils which Juan anticipates by evoking his predecessors dying in emotional agony in hostile foreign countries will make him not only physically stronger but also wiser. Juan's future glory, however, must first be compensated for by the current state of distress brought about by parting with his native land:

"Farewell, my Spain! a long farewell!" he cried,"Perhaps I may revisit thee no more,But die, as many an exiled heart hath died,Of its own thirst to see again thy shore:Farewell, where Guadalquiver's waters glide!Farewell, my mother! and, since all is o'er,Farewell, too, dearest Julia! – (here he drewHer letter out again, and read it through.)


Juan's position as the brave hero, so carefully constructed by Byron in the preceding lines, starts to be undermined by the note included in brackets, revealing that Juan resorts to something as feminine as reading. Through reading – or, as Byron suggests, re-reading – of Julia's letter, he seems to imbibe her sentimental words; and, encouraged by her romanticism, he continues in a similar way with highly exalted language. Though weeping, Juan sets out for what is meant to be a well-articulated expression of his love for Julia:

'And oh'! if e'er I should forget, I swear -But that's impossible, and cannot be –Sooner shall this blue ocean melt to air,Sooner shall earth resolve itself to sea,Than I resign thine image, oh, my fair! [End Page 171] Or think of anything, excepting thee;A mind diseased no remedy can physic –(Here the ship gave a lurch, and he grew sea-sick.)


Despite the ship's movements Juan is determined to continue, but the circumstances very quickly escalate:

"Sooner shall heaven kiss earth – (here he fell sicker)Oh, Julia! what is every other woe? –(For God's sake let me have a glass of liquor;Pedro, Battista, help me down below.)Julia, my love! – (you rascal, Pedro, quicker) –Oh, Julia! – (this curst vessel pitches so) –Beloved Julia, hear me still beseeching!"(Here he grew inarticulate with retching.)


On this unsuccessful confession of love the narrator only comments dryly: "No doubt he would have been much more pathetic, / But the sea acted as a strong emetic" (2.21).

In the seasickness scene, the overtly exalted language, sometimes bordering on quasi-eschatological rhetoric ("Sooner shall this blue ocean melt to air, / Sooner shall earth resolve itself to sea") and the finest romantic feelings ("Julia, my love!") intermingle with vomiting. Byron himself realizes how inappropriate and strange a combination it is to interrupt love with the physicality of the body. Though some body parts, such as the heart or veins, have often been romanticized, the rest has been treated with disrespect. The narrator does not see love as a disembodied sentiment but as a form of disease, which, concealing its own physicality, shies away from other illnesses like a cough or a cold:

Against all noble maladies he's bold,But vulgar illnesses don't like to meet,Nor that a sneeze should interrupt his sigh,Nor inflammation redden his blind eye.

But worst of all is nausea, or a painAbout the lower region of the bowels;Love, heroically breathes a vein,Shrinks from the application of hot towels,And purgatives are dangerous to his reign,Sea-sickness death […]


Marchand claims that the seasickness scene is "a typical example of Byron's ironic method of deflating fine sentiment with a Swiftian realism of physical detail" (174). Similarly, Fiona Stafford observes that the passage is a clever dramatic tool to [End Page 172] accelerate rhymes in order to "prompt laughter rather than tears, when love disappears aboard" (12). Byron climaxes the farewell scene in vomiting. The pathos of the love scene must collapse when the irresistible energy of Juan's vomiting interrupts it. His vomiting wipes away illusions and postures and gives way to clarity enabling him to see Julia's love as false. Not love as a fine, sincere feeling is what is really being thrown overboard together with Juan's vomit. The narrator gets sick at Julia's insincerity and the promises she never meant to fulfill. Julia's letter is false through and through. The only truthful thing for which the reader must give her credit is that she, at least, does not bother to end the letter in a conventional "Yours Sincerely."

Julia's letter is a lie. It is not a sincere expression of her feelings but an object of artifice and role-playing. First, her letter is not original. Byron cites a "copy of her Letter" (DJ 1.191), which sheds a light of suspense over the text in a period fascinated with original texts and artefacts. In Romanticism, the test of a text's authenticity lay in "its relation to the hand of the writer from which it originated" (Sinanan and Milnes 5). Julia's letter is removed from the source of meaning and from an authenticating origin. As the origin can no longer be traced, the letter cannot be authenticated or verified. The copy is, thus, worthless.

Second, Julia's name evokes that of Shakespeare's Juliet. Julia promises eternal love to Juan, whereas "all is o'er [f]or [her] on earth" (1.195). Her name does not capture her being; it is just a representation of the qualities we usually associate with Juliet's tragedy. She seals her love letter with a sunflower, which, in fact, is not a real sunflower but a representation of it (Christensen 235). She encloses her letter with a motto written in French: "Elle vous suit partout" (1.198), to subsume her feelings under a foreign catchphrase not even knowing if Juan will understand it. Although Byron gives an extensive overview of Juan's education and the reader knows that he studied "languages, especially the dead" (1.41), it is improbable that French was among them, as Juan's mother made sure he did not read "a page of anything that's loose" (1.40). Julia uses French only because it is a traditional language of love, as she seems to know. She uses it pro forma, without concern for her lover. The letter does not exhibit her love for Juan, but rather, her love for decorative artifice. There is no sincerity or authenticity of feeling in the letter, but a painstaking effort to aestheticize its form. In the act of writing, she distances herself from Juan by hiding herself behind words written by others. Her communication with Juan operates coldly by absence, and the absence is both physical and linguistic. And her love is as unstable as her letter.

As Julia betrayed her husband, she will betray Juan. As Jerome Christensen points out, Julia's love and her promise to follow Juan everywhere is based on the "old-fashioned conceit that everywhere is encompassed by a solar orbit" (234). Her promise is, thus, incredible from the very beginning. Her concept of space is a fiction. In her letter, Julia presents to Juan the world as consisting of lighted places and events, patterned on isomorphic movements, and thus easily reachable and traceable. The world, however, is not a place on which the sun never sets. As Christensen remarks, the "world is the realm where pretenses perish, [End Page 173] correspondences fail, and seals are made to be broken" (235). And as Christenson observes, "Julia knows that" (235). Between the sun and the sunflower there is a chaotic tangle of "turbulent somewheres through which Juan sails, swims, and drifts" (235). The places through which Juan sails are not always lit by sunshine: Julia's love, represented by the sunflower, will therefore be unable to reach him everywhere. The metaphorical connection between the lovers is mercilessly broken by the narrator not long after Juan's departure, when Byron specifies that the day of Juan's shipwreck is a "sunless day" (2.49). On that unfortunate day, Juan is without Julia in a physical as well as linguistic sense, because Julia's presence leaves Juan even in the form of the metaphor. The following night is not any better: "There was no light in heaven but a few stars" (2.51). When the sun finally rises, it is "red and fiery" (2.62), and it does not figure as love anymore; rather, it is an ominous sign of what will follow. On the day the shipwrecked men decide to eat one of their companions, the sun is "burning:"

The seventh day, and no wind – the burning sunBlister'd and scorch'd, and, stagnant on the sea,They lay like carcasses; and hope was none (2.72)

The exhausted men resort to cannibalism, but as they cannot decide which of the crew should be sacrificed, they make lots out of Julia's letter:

At length the lots were torn up, and prepared,But of materials that must shock the Muse –Having no paper, for the want of better,They took by force from Juan Julia's letter.


This is the last stroke to Juan and Julia's love. "Through this act, the material sign for a private heterosexual passion becomes a bond uniting the male survivors of the wreck" (Gigante 129). In her analysis, Denise Gigante brings to the foreground "the gender dynamics latent in canto 2 of Don Juan: once the contractual, heterosexual love letter disappears, the exchange between men can commence" (130).

Julia's letter does not adhere to Romanticism's definition of sincerity. Compared with the diffuse concept of authenticity, sincerity has more specific criteria and a longer history. In Romanticism, sincerity can only be applied to human beings and human action, and "it always involves a relation between inward disposition and outward expression" (Esterhammer 101). In other words, inward intention must result in visible behavior: Intention "must be visible and readable in some external manner – through speech, behavior, gesture, or facial expression" (102). The Romantic concept of sincerity is closely connected to meaning and truth. Linked to the question of sincerity was "a desire to discover a holistic self at the heart of writing, a hub at which the meaning of a word might be connected with the truth of an intention" (Sinanan and Milnes 2). Romanticism, thus, draws together [End Page 174] being and language: a verbal expression must correspond directly to the intention that it represents (5). Romanticism wants to be and to mean simultaneously. Romanticism envisions a society in which "every man would make the world his confessional" (Godwin 220). But Julia's words do not result in behavior. Her letter does signify; she gives him many signifiers of love (the flower, the love letter and promises) but the substance, the real love, is missing. The letter is eloquent, inter-textual, and discursive. It represents, but the representations have no backing in the real, they are not based on truthful intentions: She is not a Juliet; her seal is not a sunflower; her promise is a fiction. To such insincerity the only appropriate reaction is vomiting.

The English word sincerity derives from the Latin word sincerus, "clean, pure, sound, it was originally applied to physical substances such as wine or bodily fluids" (Esterhammer 101). It meant that they were not "patched up and passed off as sound" (Trilling 12). One spoke of sincere wine, simply "to mean that it had not been adulterated, or, […] sophisticated. In the language of medicine urine might be sincere, and there was sincere fat and sincere gall" (13). Byron goes back to the original meaning of the word and shows that vomiting might be more truthful than words relying on the symbolic. Byron shows that, in vomiting, there is more strength and sincerity than in Julia's tropological letter, which is unreliable and unstable and as such collapses in front of Juan's bodily fluids. Juan's vomiting, on the other hand, is unstoppable, spontaneous and authentic.

Julia's line that she will follow Juan everywhere shows how much she is dependent on such practices as vigilance or surveillance. She does not allow Juan to exist outside her gaze. On the contrary, she wants to catch him in her discursive network and transform him into an object which would be looked at, "described in detail, followed from day to day" (Foucault 90), in the same way as the sunflower follows the sun movements throughout the day. She wants to apply to him what Foucault calls "the principle of compulsory visibility," which, in other words, is a means of domination and subjection through which one's real life is turned into someone else's discourse.

But there are still places in the world which are below the threshold of visibility. Byron specifies this when he says that the day when Juan left Julia was a "sunless day," thus hinting at the possibility for Juan of existing free from discourse and outside of Julia's gaze. Another dark place is the interior of Juan's body, his stomach, where he in fact formulates his reaction to Julia's insincerity. While Julia regulated and vigilantly controlled her bodily fluids when writing the letter – her tears never crossed the border of her body: "if a stain/Be on this sheet,' tis not what it appears; / My eyeballs burn and throb, but have no tears" (DJ 1.192) – vomiting is something that can hardly be brought under control. It cannot be regulated or faked. Juan's vomiting indeed is spontaneous and sincere.

Vomiting, as part of the semiotic, precedes the establishment of the linguistic sign (Kristeva, Revolution 26). Vomiting is a modality of significance in which the [End Page 175] sign is not yet articulated; it therefore reveals a deeper meaning that is not lexicalised (200). In other words, Juan's vomiting brings back the archaic configuration of the word "sincere," which was once applied to bodily fluids, and wants the reader to accept it.

According to Julia Kristeva's language theory, formulated primarily in Revolution in Poetic Language (1974), vomiting might be understood as part of the semiotic, resulting from biological drives, which "logically and chronologically precedes the establishment of the symbolic and its subject" (Kristeva, Revolution 41). Through his vomiting, Juan thus speaks in the semiotic mode of language, and he expresses himself in disrupting Julia's pretense. The subsequent silence that comes after vomiting, when not only Juan but also his servant lies exhausted, "sick and speechless on his pillow" (2.25), is also a part of the psychosomatic modality of the signifying process. With vomiting, Juan is there, "on the border of [his] condition as a living being" (Kristeva, Powers 3), as well as a speaking being. But the body fluids, this defilement, "drop so that [he] might live" (3). By vomiting, he displaces and separates himself from Julia. He rejects her artifice and role-playing. As Kristeva points out, vomiting lies outside and beyond the symbolic and it "does not seem to agree to the latter's rules of the game" (Kristeva 2). Vomiting draws Juan to the place where the meaning of Julia's words collapses. But his vomiting is not meaningless, since it leads him out of Julia's insincerity.

Although vomiting is presented in a poetical way in the seasickness scene, having positive effects on Juan's identity and existence, vomiting's destructive energy should not be overlooked. Kristeva quotes Céline to remind the reader what takes place in the body when it vomits: "We are far removed here from buzzing pain that rises musically. The body is turned inside out, sent back from deep within the guts, the bowels turned over in the mouth, food mingled with excretions, fainting spells, horrors, and resentments" (in Kristeva, Powers 146). Vomiting shows the other side of the civilized individual; it unleashes animality, disgust, cruelty. Abjection, repugnant as it might be, is disgusting on the public side. Kristeva, however, emphasizes that its intimate side is not horror or disgust but suffering (140). When the topic of suffering or horror is present in a narrative, it is evidence of the presence of abjection within a linguistic representation (141). If one proceeds to trace the presence of abjection in a text, she says, one would find neither the narrative nor other analytical devices one normally uses to understand a text, but a complete transformation of syntax and vocabulary into "the violence of poetry, and silence" (141). When confronted with violence, horror and suffering, "language turns into slobber" and "conversation into defecation" (144).

The occurrence of vomiting in the seasickness scene might therefore have a deeper meaning, one that is not explicitly verbalized. The reason why Byron transforms Juan's language into slobber, bile and vomiting is that he alludes to a silent suffering. Juan's emotional suffering is well expressed, as is Julia's. Byron, nonetheless, evokes another of Shakespeare's heroines, the one he perhaps thinks did [End Page 176] not have the chance to verbalize her sorrow in the original narrative from which she was cruelly expelled, that of Ophelia.

Byron brings up Ophelia before Juan's farewell stanza:And Juan wept, and much he sigh'd and thought,While his salt tears dropp'd into the salt sea,"Sweets to the sweet;" (I like so much to quote;You must excuse this extract, -' tis where she,The Queen of Denmark, for Ophelia broughtFlowers to the grave;)


Ophelia is connected with Juan and Julia's story on multiple grounds. The first is the connection of the trope of flowers. There is the well-known scene of Ophelia's distributing flowers to the key characters – Laertes, the Queen and the King. Even though it is not certain which flower she gives to whom, it is clear that the flowers have symbolic meanings (Jenkins 536):


There's rosemary, that's for remembrance – pray you, love, remember. And there is pansies, that's for thoughts.

Contrary to Julia, she, however, distributes real flowers, not their imitations (Jenkins 536). Ophelia, in contrast to Byron's Julia, is sincere.

And of course, sincerity is central to Shakespeare's play as Trilling suggests saying the "extent to which Hamlet is suffused by the theme of sincerity is part of everyone's understanding of the play" (3). The sixteenth century was, nonetheless, preoccupied with dissimulation, feigning and pretense. As Trilling points out, "'I am not what I am' could have been said not alone by Iago but a multitude of Shakespeare's virtuous characters at some point in their careers. Hamlet […] resolves to be what he is not, a madman. Rosalind is not a boy, Portia is not a doctor of law, Juliet is not a corpse […]" (13). Ophelia, on the other hand, does not exploit a false presentation of the self. She does not seem, categorically, to be mad. Through her, the audience can experience "the world that is mad when you are" (Berkoff 176–7).

Another theme which connects Ophelia to Don Juan's Farewell stanzas is that of disgust. In "Hamlet and His Problems," T. S. Eliot disagrees with the reading that the essential feeling of the play is that of guilt, instead arguing that Hamlet is "dominated by an emotion which is inexpressible, because it is in excess of the facts as they appear" (Eliot n.p.). The particular feeling which is in excess is not guilt but disgust: "Hamlet is up against the difficulty that his disgust is occasioned by his mother, but that his mother is not an adequate equivalent for it; his disgust envelops and exceeds her" (Eliot n.p.). The reason for Hamlet's disgust with his mother is her speedy remarriage, but it has also something to do with his father's death and his own death, because as Hassel, Jr., has noted, all death "is naturally [End Page 177] abhorrent to him" (612). Hamlet's abhorrence culminates in the graveyard scene when, after seeing Yorick's skull and realizing what will become of all mortal flesh, he becomes sick:


Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. He hath bore me on his back a thousand times, and now – how abhorred in my imagination it is. My gorge rises at it.


Further, Shakespeare's play evokes the unreliability of language and the problems brought about when words do not result in visible behavior. Even though Hamlet's feelings for Ophelia might be true, they are not in the end externalized through behavior, and his unfulfilled promises contribute to Ophelia's madness. In Steven Berkoff's production of Hamlet (1979–82), in Scene V, where she appears for the first time as being mad, Ophelia moves down the line of actors who are reciting lines from the play. Berkoff made her walk past the wall of voices shouting or whispering the lines that Hamlet abused her with: "… Get thee to a nunneryWhere's your father?I loved you onceAffection? Pooh!…" (177). In addition to emphasizing the verbal abuse in this particular scene, Berkoff also foregrounds the topic of disgust: the Queen and the rest of the cast look disgusted as they see how unkempt and filthy Ophelia has become. "They imagine she stinks and perform lewd gestures to each other" (Berkoff 179). They are indifferent to her pain; and, even though her lines are directed to them, they cannot be bothered to consider them (176–7):


I will not speak with her.


She is importunate.

Indeed distract. Her mood will needs be pitied.


What would she have?


She speaks much of her father, […]

            Speaks things in doubt

        That carry but half sense. Her speech is nothing, (4.5.1-7)

Ophelia's language has no apparent meaning, which is a consequence of, as Claudius identifies, "the poison of deep grief" (4.5.75). Ophelia's reaction to the insincerity of the others is that she gives up on language altogether. In his production, Berkoff stresses this fact most clearly when Laertes reunites with his demented sister:

Laertes … O rose of May …(No answer.)        Dear maid –(No answer.) [End Page 178]         kind sister –(No answer.)                sweet Ophelia –(Same.)

From the onset of her madness, Ophelia says very few words that are her own and most of the time she is just singing songs, folk-tales or proverbs written years ago and by others:


Pray let's have no words of this, but when they ask you what it means, say you this.

(sings.)         Tomorrow is Saint Valentine's day (4.4.46-8).

As a result of being harassed and manipulated by her father, by her brother and by Hamlet – notably by the discrepancies between the meanings of their words and their true intentions – Ophelia loses faith in language and reduces her communication to folk-tales and songs. The songs are unintelligible to the others, who cannot see in them any meaning but just the babble of a mad woman. The songs are, however, related to Ophelia's situation, and their meaning is straightforward – they are about death, the burial of true love, or a lover by whom the lady is forsaken (Jenkins 530). The others do not see this, even though the King and Queen tried earlier to interpret Hamlet's nonverbal language and sadness through his sighs.

Apart from the songs Ophelia uses for her communication with the outside world, there are few words which are her own. These words are distinguished from the songs in modern renderings of Shakespeare's text by not being italicized. Of these, the words "fare you well" are the most prominent. Besides her communication through flowers, "fare you well" is the most frequent phrase she utters in her madness. The phrase attracts the reader's attention as it is the first thing Ophelia says to her astonished brother after their reunion. Laertes addresses her in the kindest way possible: "Dear maid – kind sister – sweet Ophelia" (4.5.158), to which Ophelia gives no answer. She breaks her silence by singing a song and then finally says: "Fare you well, my dove" (4.5.166), suggesting this is the last time the brother and sister will see each other. After this, Ophelia distributes her flowers, sings her songs, followed by her "God buy you" (4.5. 197), and her exit from the scene.

With the ballads, songs and her "Fare you well," Ophelia finds herself at the limits of the articulable. She resorts to phrases, poems and words uttered by others because she does not know what to say to enable others to understand the depth of her sorrow. Ophelia's "fare you well" resurfaces again in Byron's farewell stanzas and coincides with Juan's vomiting. Juan finds himself at the limits of the speakable, too. By turning the farewell stanzas into slobber and vomit Byron not only mocks Julia's pathos and the unreliability of her words, but he also draws the reader's attention to Ophelia's grief, which failed to be [End Page 179] expressed in words. The occurrence of vomiting in Byron's farewell stanzas is not disgusting and so is not Ophelia's sad condition in Shakespeare's tragedy. In the stanzas, Byron rehabilitates vomiting as a way of being which cares about the other. Ophelia's silent suffering cries out through Byron's language of vomiting, which encompasses not only Juan's reaction to the insincere words of the others but also those of Ophelia. Byron's farewell stanzas do not give voice only to Ophelia's overwhelming grief but also to Byron's pain and loss. In the seasick scene, there is a strange collision of vomiting, farewells and sadness. The scene does not include only Juan's farewell, it also embraces Ophelia's silent farewell, which the others did not hear, as it does Byron's multiple farewells. Juan's farewell is also Childe Harold's farewell to England, and the painful feeling when he realizes he has nobody to say good bye to. It is also Byron's farewell of 1816 when he realizes its irrevocability. Finally, it is also the farewell of an experienced poet who, due to various disappointments, is turning the romantic into the burlesque.

Marketa Dudova
Katedra Anglistiky a Amerikanistiky FF MU, Czech Republic
Marketa Dudova

Marketa Dudova is a doctoral student at the Department of English and American Studies, Masaryk University, Czech Republic. She specializes in Romanticism. In her research, she focuses on Byron and other authors and aspects of English Romanticism, viewed particularly from the perspective of Diet Studies. She is currently finishing her dissertation on the role of nausea and vomiting in Byron's poem Don Juan.

Corresponding author: Marketa Dudova, Katedra Anglistiky a Amerikanistiky FF MU, Brno Gorkeho 7, Brno, 602 00, Czech Republic. Email:

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