Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress

Feminine Deviance and Marriage in Daniel Defoe’s Roxana College

Feminine deviance, or the failure to adhere to societal standards set for women of the time, is a concept displayed by characters across many genres and eras, from William Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth to Ernest Hemingway’s Lady Brett Ashley, but this phenomenon seems to have disappeared from 18th-century novels. Rarely are there characters dramatically defying feminine expectations in the works of and Jane Austen and Mary Shelley. However, Daniel Defoe revives the feminine deviant in his novels, perhaps most notably with the failure of the institution of marriage in Roxana. Roxana is “perhaps the period’s most famous whore,” but this is a title she accepts with grace: Roxana refers to herself as “Man-Woman,” neither male nor female, “something . . . shocking to Nature” in both her relationship with marriage and her overall outlook on life (Defoe, 171 and 156; Maurer, 367). In this essay, I intend to explore the ways in which Defoe challenges traditional gender roles in marriage, paying particular attention to Roxana’s displays feminine deviance in her refusal to marry, her financial management, and her seemingly homoerotic relationship with Amy throughout the novel.

According to literary theorist Shawn Lisa Maurer, “scholars have...

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