Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress

Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress Imagery

The storm at sea

As Roxana and Amy attempt to sail to Holland from France, a violent storm erupts at sea, endangering their ship and forcing the crew to eventually land in England rather than Holland. Amy and Roxana endure extreme terror during the storm, which is vividly depicted using imagery. The use of imagery is important because it builds tension and suspense; it also heightens the fearful and sympathetic response of readers, given that Defoe was writing at a time when traveling at sea was relatively common, and therefore shipwrecks could be a significant threat. The imagery is important because the storm fulfils a significant function of symbolism and character development in the novel. The storm puts the lives of both women at risk, but it also symbolically reveals that due to the lives they have chosen to lead, their souls are also at peril. Amy in particular is terrified that if she dies at sea, she will go to hell due to having been unchaste, and temporarily repents for all of her sinful behavior. However, as Roxana wryly notes while looking back on this event, this repentance is temporary, and does not last once safety is achieved. Nonetheless, in order for this temporary fear and repentance to be even remotely plausible, the storm has to be sufficiently terrifying, and imagery allows Defoe to achieve this purpose.

Roxana's Eastern costume

During Roxana's trip to Italy with the Prince, he purchases a Turkish costume for her. Later, while she is establishing herself as a courtesan in London, she hosts a party and dances while wearing said costume, attracting a lot of attention and a famous reputation. This costume is also what earns her the exoticized nickname of Roxana. The description of the costume, and the wider imagery of the exotic and elegant party that Roxana hosts, reflect the luxurious and cosmopolitan life that Roxana establishes for herself. Because she chooses to pursue independence and ignore the moral conventions that would require her to live in dutiful obedience with a husband, she is able to have access to a wider world than most women in England at the time would ever encounter. The imagery of the Turkish costume also reveals how Roxana has become a cunning businesswoman with a shrewd sense of how to market her main product: her own body. By this time, Roxana is no longer young and has given birth to many children, so she knows she needs to add additional interest if she wants to attract wealthy men as her patrons. By displaying herself in exotic dress, Roxana makes herself the talk of the town, and ensures she will be successful as a courtesan in the years to come.

The Prince's dinner

Shortly after the sudden death of the Jeweller in Paris, a German Prince who was one of the Jeweller's clients begins to visit Roxana regularly. At one of these visits, he brings all the required items to lay out a lavish table and enjoy a fancy dinner with Roxana in the privacy of her home. The Prince's dinner is described using luxurious and sensual imagery, highlighting its beauty and lavishness. Both Roxana and the reader understand that the Prince is trying to woo Roxana into becoming his mistress, and the imagery is important because it reveals his wealth, elegance, and commitment to being seductive. Roxana looks back somewhat regretfully on her choice to become the Prince's mistress, especially because, by this time, she was financially secure in her own right, and didn't need the protection of a wealthy man. The seductive imagery of the dinner shows that while Roxana is comfortable, the Prince has access to a much more lavish lifestyle that could be shared with her if they began a relationship. The imagery of wealth and opulence also shows that acquiring wealth tends to make individuals aspire to even more wealth, rather than achieving contentment. Roxana has rescued herself from poverty, and no longer needs to be concerned about her financial future. However, rather than being content, she finds herself lured by the promise of even greater wealth.

Imagery of Susan being murdered

After Roxana hears from the Quaker woman that Susan has vanished, she becomes haunted by the idea that Amy has gone ahead and killed her, and begins to be tormented by visions of the different ways in which Susan could have been killed. Defoe provides some gruesome imagery of the violent deaths that Roxana imagines for Susan. The imagery provides the dark and foreboding tone that dominates the end of the novel, as it finally becomes clear why Roxana has been so tormented. It also shows that Roxana truly believes Amy is capable of violently killing another human. At the same time, the vividness of this imagery hints at Roxana's own complicity and her capacity for violence. While she claims to have been resistant to Amy's suggestions about killing Susan, Roxana has also had a lot to gain from this crime. She may be able to imagine these scenarios so vividly precisely because she has shamefully been imagining this course of events all along. Even if Roxana is disgusted by these violent images, she is also capable of conjuring them up, hinting that she may have been fantasizing about Susan's death all along.