Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress

Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress Irony

The Jewels

When the Jeweller/Landlord dies unexpectedly, Roxana skillfully secures some of his jewels for herself, since they are presumed to be stolen. She sees the jewels as a way to secure her future financial security and freedom. Ironically, however, the jewels almost end up landing Roxana in prison: when she is trying to get out of France, the jewels are recognized and she is accused of criminal activity. While the jewels were supposed to make it easier for Roxana to move freely to wherever she wants to go, they end up almost barring her from being able to leave France, as the Jew wants to detain her there while the case is being investigated. Indeed, Roxana has to secretly flee from France like a criminal, rather than the socially secure, self-assured woman she aspired to be. In further irony, the jewels were intended to make Roxana independent, but because of their stolen status, they end up reinforcing her dependence on a man. Because of her risk of being imprisoned, Roxana has to rely on help from the Dutch Merchant, and is in fact still dependent on masculine aid.

Roxana's Turkish dance

When Roxana dances for an elite gathering of London aristocrats in her Turkish costume, it seems like she is at the height of her powers. She knows that she is beautiful and alluring, and she is also in control of the narrative she is shaping about herself: she is reinventing herself yet again, and ends up even being renamed after this performance. However, the irony is later revealed: Roxana thinks she is reinventing herself and concealing her past, but in this moment, she is actually setting the stage for potentially being revealed. Later, Roxana will learn that her daughter Susan was actually one of her household servants at the time, and was transfixed by the performance. It helped to fuel Susan's conviction that the Lady Roxana was her long-lost mother, which will become Susan's obsessive pursuit. There will also be a very tense moment when Susan provides a vivid description of the outfit worn by the Lady Roxana, and the Quaker notices how similar the outfit sounds to something she has seen Roxana wearing (the outfits, of course, are one and the same). Ironically, the moment when Roxana felt most empowered and in control of her destiny was actually laying the seeds for her ruin.

Roxana's Quaker costume

When Roxana moves in with the Quaker, she becomes interested in potentially dressing like her new friend and landlady. The Quakers were known for dressing in an extremely simple and austere style, making them quickly recognizable. The Quaker thinks that Roxana is simply exploring a new style, and maybe even thinking about converting. However, in an instance of dramatic irony, readers know that Roxana is interested in a Quaker costume because it will help her to hide her previous identity. As a courtesan, Roxana was known for glamorous and striking attire, so if anyone were to catch sight of her dressed as a Quaker, they would be unlikely to recognize her. Rather than reflecting simplicity and spirituality, Roxana's Quaker dress ironically reflects her duplicity and lies.

The letter from the Quaker woman

While Roxana is hiding in the countryside, she receives a letter from the Quaker, who innocently informs her that Susan seems to have vanished. The Quaker believes that Susan must have given up searching for her mother, and possibly even left London. This letter is a dark example of dramatic irony because the reader knows that Susan's disappearance is much more likely explained by murder, whereas the Quaker has no idea. The dramatic irony is important because it shows the gulf between Roxana and Amy, and someone like the Quaker. The Quaker is operating under fundamentally different assumptions about human nature: to her, murder is simply inconceivable, and it seems plausible that Susan might have given up and decided to stop bothering Roxana. From Roxana's more cynical and realistic perspective, she knows that Susan would never have voluntarily given up, and that Amy would readily resort to violence if she needed to. The dramatic irony highlights how Roxana and Amy's lifestyle has pushed them outside of typical patterns of moral behavior.