Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress

Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress Quotes and Analysis

But Poverty was my Snare; dreadful Poverty! the Misery I had been in, was great, such as wou'd make the Heart tremble at the Apprehension of its Return.

p. 76

Roxana offers this justification while explaining why she began sleeping with the Landlord, even though she now laments that choice. Since Roxana is recounting the events of her life retrospectively, she can see the long term impact of choices she has made, and she is also looking back on a life that has ended up in an unhappy place. Roxana sees the decision to sleep with the Landlord as a pivotal choice where started on a path of immorality; she was not married to the Landlord, he was married to another woman, and the fate of her own husband was unclear. However, while she laments the decision she made, she also acknowledges the intense pressure that made the relationship tempting. After the Brewer abandoned Roxana and their children, she was plunged into poverty, and had no other options for supporting herself. The Landlord's generosity keeps them all from starving, and Roxana is anxious to maintain that relationship. She has been in such a dire situation that she had to give up her own children, and now is determined to never be in that situation again. Roxana's comment shows how her situation is complex and morally ambiguous; she ends up in a terrible situation through no fault of her own, and she also lives in a society where she has very limited options. While partially taking responsibility for her moral failings, Roxana also hints at how circumstances pushed her to make this choice.

As I thought myself a Whore, I cannot say but that it was something design'd in my Thoughts, that my Maid should be a Whore too, and should not reproach me with it.

p. 83

Roxana reveals this reflection after the bizarre incident in which she facilitates the rape of Amy by the Landlord. While Amy had initially playfully proposed sleeping with the Landlord, she was hesitant to follow through, but Roxana forces her nonetheless. Roxana then reveals her motivation to readers: she feels debased by having betrayed her principles and slept with a man in exchange for financial security. She wants Amy to experience the same shame and degradation. The reason why is not entirely clear: Roxana might be blaming Amy, who played an active role in persuading Roxana to sleep with the Merchant. There is likely also a strong class element: as an upper class woman, Roxana would likely not have ever expected to have to trade her body for money, whereas the dividing line between a servant and a prostitute would be much more blurry. Roxana has already lost her money and become as destitute as her own servant, so she clings all the more to wanting to make sure that Amy is not superior to her. The quotation reveals Defoe developing the complexity of his protagonist, and the type of psychological insight in to the inner worlds of characters that would become a trademark of the novel.

In all this Affluence of my good Fortune, I did not forget that I had been Rich and Poor once already, alternately; and that I ought to know the Circumstances I was now in, were not to be expected to last always; that I had one Child, and expected another; and if I bred often, it woul'd something impair in me the Great Article that supported my Interest, I mean, what he call'd Beauty... in time, like the other Mistresses of Great Men, I might be dropt again; and that, therefore, it was my Business to take Care that I should fall as softly as I cou'd.

p. 133

Roxana offers this reflection at the peak of her relationship with the Prince. In theory, everything is going well for her, but she is shrewd enough to never become complacent. This quotation shows how Roxana has matured and become much more realistic, and even cynical. Even though she and the Prince are very fond of one another, Roxana does not lose sight of the fact that her beauty and sexual appeal are a big part of why the relationship exists, and she is also aware that as she ages, she will likely become less sexually desirable. By this point, Roxana is showing hints of the courtesan she will soon become, and approaching her life like a business where her own body is the product she has to sell. She correctly predicts that her relationship with the Prince will someday come to an end, and she plans ahead to ensure her financial future. After Roxana is disappointed and betrayed by her first husband, she never places herself in a vulnerable position with a man again. She keeps her focus on the long term, and knows that true security requires her to acquire her own financial assets.

the Danger being over, the Fears of Death vanish'd with it; ay, and our Fear of what was beyond Death also; our Sence of the Life we liv'd, went off, and with our return to Life, our wicked Taste of Life return'd, and we were both the same as before, if not worse

p. 152

Roxana wryly explains what happened after the storm at sea, showing the reflection offered by retrospective narration and the psychological insights into human nature. During their attempted voyage to Holland, Amy and Roxana are caught in a terrible storm and fear for their lives; this leads them to repent for their past sins, and promise to change their behavior. However, this quotation shows that as soon as they were safe, the two women lost interest in changing their behavior. While they hold conventional religious beliefs, leading them to be afraid of being damned and going to Hell, they also live in the moment, and have a strong temptation between their earthly lives, and theoretical ideas of what might happen after they die. Roxana and Amy do not actually change because they have so much to gain from leading a life that is technically sinful; moreover, the society they live in does not offer a middle ground that would let them prosper without engaging in what would be deemed sinful behavior. If they have to choose between a comfortable mortal life, and saving their immortal souls, they err on the side of living in the present moment. This experience also parallels the temporary repentance of the Prince, who is torn between his desire for Roxana and his fears for his soul.

That the very Nature of the Marriage-Contract was, in short, nothing but giving up Liberty, Estate, Authority, and every-thing to the Man, and the Woman was indeed a meer Woman ever after, that is to say, a Slave.

p. 169

Roxana makes this argument while arguing with the Merchant during their time together in Holland; he is convinced that the two of them should marry, especially since they are already sleeping together, but Roxana stubbornly refuses. As she admits, after the Merchant unexpectedly tells her that she could retain control of her finances, she has to resort to philosophical arguments about the nature of marriage. Roxana complains that marriage is inherently set up to reduce women to a state of dependence, and more or less accurately reflects the legal situation at the time, in which women often lost control of their money and assets once they married. However, by having Roxana make these arguments, Defoe reveals that debates were beginning to occur about the nature of marriage, and relationships between men and women. While Roxana makes such speeches from a decidedly self-interested perspective (and later relents and becomes strongly desirous to remarry), these types of arguments are part of what have led her to be identified as a proto-feminist heroine by some critics.

I had, it seems the Felicity of pleasing everybody that Night, to an Extreme; and my Ball, but especially my Dress, was the Chat of the Town for that Week, and so the name Roxana was the Toast at, and about the Court

p. 195

This quotation shows Roxana reveling in her triumph after she performs in her Turkish dress. Roxana is not only interested in securing greater wealth; she also possesses a form of ambition. After her time with the Prince, Roxana realizes that she can potentially attract the attentions of even extremely high ranking men, and she is curious to see how high she can rise. When she sets herself up in London, Roxana wants to attract attention and build a reputation for herself. At the same time, she is no longer as young and beautiful as she once was. By performing in her Turkish dress, Roxana draws attention to herself, and becomes the subject of a lot of attention. She is so successful that she hints that she does indeed become the mistress of the King himself. However, in her efforts to secure public notice, Roxana also makes herself vulnerable. It will later be revealed that the fame of the Lady Roxana is what leads to her identity potentially being discovered by Susan and the Quaker.

What will my Children say to themselves, and to one another, when they find their Mother, however rich she may be, is at best but a Whore, a common Whore?

p. 222

Roxana regretfully explains her train of thought when Amy at first does not understand why Roxana doesn't want to reveal herself to her eldest children. Upon her return to England, Roxana manages to track down her three surviving eldest children (from her marriage to the Brewer), and makes financial provisions for their future, so that they can be well-educated and move from working class to elevated social status. Nonetheless, Roxana is not satisfied with just being an anonymous benefactor. She wants a relationship with her children, but she now confronts the paradox of what she has achieved: the lifestyle that has made her fabulously wealthy also leaves her too ashamed to reunite with her children. Roxana uses the coarse word "whore" rather than a more delicate term like mistress or courtesan, which reveals the shame and self-loathing she feels. Roxana's experience of prostitution is very different from what the average 18th-century woman engaging in sex work would have experienced, and she could easily make an argument that she is not really a whore at all. Nonetheless, Roxana has always felt uneasy with her choices and lifestyle, and her shame surfaces prominently here.

But the Title of Highness, and of a Princess, and all those fine things, as they came in, weighed down all this; and the Sence of Gratitude vanish'd; as if it had been a Shadow

p. 245

Roxana uses this quotation to describe her hesitation and second-guessing as she decides whether or not to marry the Merchant, or hold out in hopes of marrying the Prince. Roxana genuinely loves the Merchant, who has always been loving and respectful towards her, and he is extremely wealthy in his own right. Roxana knows that together, she and the Merchant could be very rich, possibly even richer than she would be with the Prince. However, the Prince can offer her something that the Merchant cannot: a title. Even though Roxana has led an unconventional life, and has come to understand that social class can be very mobile, she feels herself longing for the type of formalized social status that she has not been able to acquire by money alone. Also, at this time, rank and a title seems like the one thing Roxana will not be able to buy for herself, making the acquisition of a title through marriage all the more appealing. However, Roxana will later learn that even this can be bought. She ends up being able to marry the man she loves, and still acquire a title, through the wonders of commerce. She almost loses out on life with the Merchant yet again, though, since she genuinely considers abandoning him for the Prince. This quotation shows that Roxana is still greedy, ambitious, and calculating, even as she claims to have changed her priorities.

Yet it was a secret inconceivable Pleasure to me when I kiss'd her, to know that I kiss'd my own child; my own Flesh and Blood, born of my Body, and who I had never kiss'd since I took the fatal Farewell of them all.

p. 282

This quotation offers a very poignant representation of Roxana's emotions when she is finally in the same room as her daughter Susan. When Roxana goes to dinner aboard the ship that is supposed to take her and the Merchant to Rotterdam, she is shocked to find Susan is present as well. This situation is very uncomfortable and even dangerous for Roxana, who does not want her true identity to be outed. However, Roxana is also moved by strong emotions of love and clearly shows her attachment to her daughter by commenting on how Susan is her own flesh and blood. Being in the same room as Susan brings back Roxana's pain and trauma about having given up her children many years earlier. The quotation is also notable because it shows that Roxana has different feelings towards her first five children than she does towards her later children (fathered by the Jeweller, the Prince, and the Merchant). Roxana is sometimes indifferent towards these other children, but she seems to feel an intense love and connection towards her eldest children.

I fell into a dreadful Course of Calamities, and Amy also; the very reverse of our former Good Days; the Blast of Heaven seem'd to follow the Injury done the poor Girl, by us both.

p. 326

This quotation features the final lines of the novel, and shows that Roxana ends up with an unhappy fate. The quotation is notable because it remains mysterious and ambiguous: Roxana does not provide any details about what happens to her and Amy, and in what manner they are punished. Some critics and readers have felt that Defoe abandons his narrative, or simply gives up on trying to recount Roxana's story, but the mysterious ending aligns in some ways with Roxana providing a retrospective account of her life. She might find it intolerable to recount the collapse of her life, so she simply skips over it. In the comment, Roxana explicitly contrasts the unhappy fate with the previous happy days she enjoyed with Amy; this comment is telling because at other points, Roxana has tried to express shame and disgust with her former lifestyle, but here, she admits that she often enjoyed her glamorous and lavish life. Roxana also connects this misfortune to punishment for the murder of Susan, rather than punishment for her various sexual transgressions. While Roxana often seems preoccupied with her sinfulness as a whore, it is her fate as someone involved in murder that seems to ultimately weigh most heavily on her mind.