Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress

Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress Summary and Analysis of Part 5

After nine months in Holland, Roxana returns to England, and moves in to the lodgings Amy has set up for them in London. She gives birth to a son, and sends word of the birth to the Merchant, who is now back in Paris. After she has recovered from childbirth, Amy and Roxana move in to a splendid house in London, near Pall Mall. Roxana keeps to herself but has Amy spread word that she is a wealthy French widow. Rumors of her wealth quickly lead to marriage offers from various lords and nobles, but Roxana turns all of those down. Roxana also begins working with Sir Robert Clayton to manage her money; he gives her advice to save money so that it will grow via compound interest, and Roxana reluctantly agrees to save and invest some of her money. Clayton also suggests that if Roxana does want to marry, she would be better off marrying a merchant rather than a lord, but at this point Roxana has no interest in marrying anyone.

Roxana begins to mingle more at court, and eventually gives a ball at which some men appear masked and in disguise. It is possible that one of them might be the King himself; Roxana slips away and returns wearing her exotic Turkish costume. One of the masked men asks her to dance with him, and they dance together; during the performance, several spectators begin calling her Roxana, and this becomes her nickname going forward. After the ball, Roxana receives a large gift of money and a request to host another ball, which she happily does. At the second ball, she is requested to appear again in her Turkish costume, which she does, and she dances with other very high ranking men, including someone who seems like he could be royalty. The next day, Roxana again receives a large gift of money. At this point, Roxana coyly skips over the next three years of her life, hinting that she was possibly the mistress of the King during this time. After this relationship ends, Roxana is older and somewhat less popular, but she continues to host lavish parties, and eventually attracts the attention of wealthy nobleman. Roxana shrewdly negotiates the money she will require in order to become his mistress, and ends up being offered a generous salary. She also takes advantage of this opportunity to retire from her more public life, and live in a quiet location where he can visit her discreetly and often.

Roxana breaks off the story of her life in England to interject with something that has been happening in the background of her life as a glamorous courtesan: her search for her children. When Roxana returned to England, she became interested in finding the five children from her first marriage to the Brewer. She sends Amy to try and track down the old aunt who had helped them with the children, but the woman has died. Next, Roxana sends Amy to the house where the sister of the brewer and her husband lived when they reluctantly took the children in, but they no longer reside there. However, Amy is able to track down some updates: the husband died, and the Brewer's sister was left in financial difficulties. Gradually, information emerges about all five children (three daughters and two sons): one daughter and one son have died; one son is alive and working as an apprentice, and the other two surviving daughters have both gone into household service. Amy finds the son and meets with him; he has no idea who Amy is, and has very little information about his parents. Amy, acting on Roxana's behalf, arranges for him to be bought out of his apprenticeship and instead given an education to prepare him to work as a merchant. Amy acts as though she herself is now a wealthy woman (having gone away to the East Indies and made a fortune), and is providing this generosity because of her fond memories of the young man's mother. Amy also ensures that the son is not told why plans for his future have changed. As Amy makes the arrangements with the son's guardians (another, more kindly aunt and uncle), they point out that he also has two sisters who cannot be located, but who likely also need financial help. Amy says that if the son becomes wealthy, he can provide for his sisters.

About a year later, Amy notices that one of the serving maids in her and Roxana's household is upset and weeping. Amy questions the girl and learns a surprising story: the young girl has a brother who had previously been a poor apprentice, but when she went to visit him, she was astonished to find that his fortunes had changed due to a mysterious and wealthy woman. The woman had visited and provided ample sums of money to assist the boy; the maid believes that the woman would likely have helped her too, but since no one knew where to find her, she missed out on her chance to be wealthy. Amy realizes with astonishment that the young maid must be Roxana's daughter. Amy does not share this information with Roxana immediately; instead, she finds an excuse to dismiss the maid from service. Amy only tells Roxana the story after the maid is gone. At first, Roxana is upset, but she concedes that the situation would have been tricky. It is very important for Roxana to ensure that the Brewer's family doesn't find out that she is now extremely wealthy; in fact, she is more at risk than ever, because it turns out that Amy lied when, years earlier, she told Roxana that the brewer was dead. If he's alive, he poses a serious threat to Roxana's wealth and reputation. While Roxana isn't sure what she wants to do, she sends Amy to track down her daughter. Amy is able to find the maid, and arranges for her to be told that, like her brother, she will receive financial support, and no longer needs to work as a servant.

All of this happened during the first few years that Roxana was in England; the narrative now resumes at the point where she has been back in London for eight years, and is becoming tired of her affair with the old Lord, and with her life as a courtesan in general. She is now so wealthy that she can't see why she needs to continue to lead a sinful life. Also, by this point, her son is completing his training, and beginning to work as a merchant with a promising career ahead of him. Roxana is saddened that her son has no idea why all this good fortune has come to him, but she can't imagine having her son find out that his mother is a courtesan. Roxana wonders if, if she changed her lifestyle, she might actually be able to have a relationship with her son. Meanwhile, her daughter, Susan, has been living comfortably and gaining a good education and elevated social status ever since she started receiving money. Susan regularly comes to visit Amy (whom she thinks of only as her former employer) and show off her new wealth and status. Susan has shared with Amy that even though she worked for years in Roxana's household, she only ever saw Roxana once, while Roxana was wearing her Turkish costume. Roxana realizes, upon hearing this, that she could likely meet with Susan, and Susan would not be able to identify her as the Lady Roxana. Amy cautions her not to test this theory until they know more.

As Roxana feels more and more longing to change her lifestyle so that she could build a relationship with her children, she confides these feelings to Amy. They start plotting ways in which Roxana could disappear, move somewhere else, and start life under a new identity. They decide that Roxana will dress as a gentlewoman of modest means and find a humble lodging house for herself and Amy. After she has moved out, Amy will tell everyone that the Lady Roxana has gone to Holland, arrange to pay out all of the household staff and sell off their furniture and other items. Roxana agrees to this plan, and Amy finds her lodgings in an unfashionable neighborhood of London, where they can rent rooms in the house of a Quaker woman.


Having rejected the Merchant, Roxana enters the most radically independent stage of her life, and the one in which she is most explicitly advertising herself as a publicly available sex worker. Prior to this, Roxana has always been in some sort of exclusive relationship (with the Jeweller or the Prince), and has behaved more like a mistress or pseudo-wife than a flat-out courtesan. By the time she gets to London, Roxana has moved from empowered to potentially hubristic: she knows she can be alluring to even the most powerful of men, and wants to test out how high she can rise, and how much money she can acquire. Roxana is now fully in charge of constructing and performing her identity, and she skillfully moves in to elevated court circles. The chronology of Defoe's novel is somewhat slippery here, as he initially introduces Roxana as arriving in England in 1683 as a young child, but then situates her time in London amidst the scandalous court of King Charles II. Charles II ruled as King of England from 1660 (when the monarchy was restored after the English Civil War) until 1685; he was notorious for a licentious court filled drinking, gambling and illicit sexuality. For Defoe's readers in the 1720s, it would have been easy to imagine Roxana fitting in to this notorious milieu. Defoe makes reference to several actual historical figures in this section, adding to the tantalizing blurring between fact and fiction (especially at a time when writing prose fiction about invented characters was relatively new): these include the Duke of Monmouth, and Sir Robert Clayton. The former was the illegitimate son of King Charles, who was part of a 1685 failed rebellion to seize the crown for himself, rather than his Catholic uncle who inherited the crown as King James II. The latter was a well known merchant banker and politician who served as Lord Mayor of London.

Roxana positions herself so effectively that she enjoys first a relationship with an unknown man hinted to be the King himself, and then a second extended relationship with a very wealthy English lord. During this time, she is explicitly learning about how best to manage her money and set up her fortune for long-term sustainability. Comically, Roxana is irritated by Sir Robert's suggestion that she save part of her income rather than spending all of it, but she ends up coming around to the notion of prudently saving and investing to ensure that she will always have a secure fortune. Roxana is particularly shrewd to make these choices because she knows that she is growing older, and that her ability to earn money is dependent on her youth and beauty. Throughout the novel, Roxana shows a lot of self-awareness in recognizing that her beauty and appearance give her a unique opportunity, but are also fleeting. Roxana is vain about her appearance, but also realistic about her future. Nonetheless, she is also very invested in ensuring that she always passes for far younger than she actually is, and she seems to be successful at covering up her true age.

Defoe chooses to separate Roxana's narration of her life as a glamorous courtesan from her efforts to locate her children, even though these two series of events are overlapping and occurring at the same time. This division might represent Roxana's own psychological compartmentalization of these events: Roxana's rise to fame as the Lady Roxana is an entirely separate identity from the self who lost her children and is now striving to find them. Roxana's keen interest in locating her five eldest children hints that this might also have been part of why she was insistent on returning to London, and avoiding marriage to the Merchant. In this project, Amy again acts as Roxana's surrogate, but by now dressing and representing herself as a wealthy woman, the doubling of the two women becomes even more explicit. Amy hints at the social mobility of the time through her cover story of having moved to the Indies and acquired a fortune there. In Defoe's era, global capitalism was becoming a new reality, wherein someone could indeed go off to a different part of the world and return with a vastly different income and social status. At different points in the novel, Amy fabricates very different social roles for herself, pretending to be either wealthy or impoverished depending on what best suits her needs. As Kristine Booker notes, "By displaying the outward signifiers of a higher status, Amy is able to blur, or even disregard, the authority of traditional class boundaries" (53).

Arrangements for Roxana's son are set up fairly smoothly, reflecting Roxana's knowledge of how to create a secure financial future for her children. By preparing him for a career as a merchant, Roxana makes it reasonably likely that her son will thrive and succeed. The situation with Roxana's daughter is more complex because it is too close for home: the shocking coincidence that Susan has actually been employed as a servant in Roxana's own household makes the whole situation precarious. While the reclamation of Roxana's son could be controlled by the two women, the reappearance of Susan is more similar to the surprise encounter with the Brewer in Paris, or the Jew recognizing the jewels. It represents a threat to Roxana's security and identity, hence why Amy's first reaction is to get rid of Susan. This somewhat cold and ruthless act foreshadows Amy's later willingness to kill Susan if necessary.

While Susan shows caution about the engagement with Roxana's children, Roxana herself wants even more than the knowledge that they are financially secure. She longs for an actual emotional relationship, showing that she is reaching a new stage of life. Roxana is now growing older and lonelier, and the allure of her wealth and luxury is wearing off. She is tired of superficial relationships and wants to be truly known by someone other than Amy. However, in order for Roxana to reach out for her children, she is insistent that she needs to change her life and hide her previous reputation. Roxana reveals the depth of her shame that even though she has become fabulously wealthy, she doesn't want her children to ever know where her money came from. Thus, Roxana prepares for another reinvention. This time, however, she is choosing the life she wants, and making her retirement discreetly. Although not stated, Roxana may know she is coming to the end of her ability to attract men, and wants to choose the end of her career rather than having it foisted upon her.