Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress

Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress Study Guide

The novel now known as Roxana was published in 1724; it is the third and last of Defoe's major novels, following Robinson Crusoe in 1719, and Moll Flanders in 1722. The original title was The Fortunate Mistress: Or, A History of the Life and Vast Variety of Fortunes of Mademoiselle de Beleau, Afterwards Call’d the Countess de Wintselsheim, in Germany, Being the Person Known by the Name of the Lady Roxana, in the Time of King Charles II. It was published anonymously, which was common practice at this time, and like Defoe's two previous works, it blurs the line between fiction and autobiography. In fact, Defoe includes a Preface before the main narrative begins in Roxana's voice: this Preface adopts the persona of an editor who assures readers that what follows is actually a true story. Especially given the glamorous and sometimes illicit aspects of Roxana's story, the potential for this to be a true story was titillating for readers. Defoe was also writing at a time when the novel was just emerging as a literary form, and in fact, his works played a major role in popularizing this form in English.

When Roxana was published, Defoe was a popular and well-established writer, who had a varied career and wrote in many different forms. Roxana shares some key themes and features with Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders, including an intensive focus on an individual who leads an unusual and adventure packed life. In particular, with both the titular heroines Moll and Roxana, Defoe explores the experience of a woman who is forced to take charge of her own fate and has to resort to illicit and sometimes criminal practices, including theft and prostitution, in order to survive. Roxana is usually seen as both the most psychologically complex, and also the darkest, of Defoe's major works. Defoe spends more time exploring not just what happens to Roxana as she moves through the world, but how her inner world is shaped by these experiences. Defoe also ends this novel on a more grim note, implying that unlike his two other protagonists, Roxana ends up punished for her various misdeeds.

No one knows exactly why Defoe did not write any more novels after Roxana, as he lived until 1731, and continued to write actively in other genres. There were also no other editions of the novel published in Defoe's lifetime. Notably, when subsequent editions began to appear in 1735, many of them altered the ending. Many readers found the original ending both unhappy and unsatisfying, and preferred altered versions in which the remainder of Roxana's life was laid out to them.