Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress

Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Jewels (symbol)

When the Jeweller/Landlord is murdered in France, he is not actually carrying any jewels with him. However, people assume the thieves who killed him stole the jewels and therefore don't try to find them amidst his property and assets; this allows Roxana to hang on to the jewels for herself. They come to form an early example of the wealth she acquires, and symbolize her cunning and strategic nature. Roxana is genuinely shocked and grieved by her lover's sudden death, but she reacts logically rather than emotionally. Her first thought is to take all of the steps she can in order to secure her independence and financial future. The jewels are an important symbol because more traditionally, women would receive jewels as gifts and tokens of love (and Roxana later receives lavish gifts of diamonds from the Prince), but instead, Roxana secures the jewels for herself while acting in a detached and rational fashion. Like her body, the jewels go from being a source of beauty and pleasure to a practical, business asset that can be bought and sold. The jewels symbolize Roxana's transformation into a worldly woman who makes choices driven by logic and pragmatism rather than emotion or trust.

Storm at sea (symbol)

While Roxana and Amy are attempting to sail from France to Holland, their ship is caught in a violent storm at sea. The storm symbolizes the danger that the two women risk through their attempt to live independent lives, and the crimes they commit. Roxana and Amy have to take great risks in order to secure the lifestyle they eventually obtain, and as a result, they are essentially always in a state of peril, whether they know it or not. Various incidents, including when the Jew recognizes the jewels that Roxana unlawfully claimed, and when Susan begins to believe that Roxana is her true mother, abruptly put Roxana and Amy in to situations where they could lose their money, their status, or even be imprisoned. In the same way that storms can blow up suddenly and without warning, Roxana and Amy can be confronted by danger at any time, even when things otherwise seem to be going extremely well. When they are on land, Roxana and Amy can feel the illusion of safety but the storm symbolically shows that, because of their lies and secrets, they can come under threat at any time. It also foreshadows that the two women will not be able to outrun their bad actions, and will eventually be punished.

Prostitution (motif)

The notion of prostitution is a reoccurring motif throughout the novel, raising questions about the way in which Roxana accumulates money. Her experience of prostitution is not traditional, especially in comparison to the experiences of more working-class women who would have had much more transactional experiences with a more direct cash payment. Roxana can be more clearly categorized as a courtesan, or a type of paid mistress, as she enters into a series of long term relationships with her patrons, which are carefully negotiated and contracted. She is essentially paid a salary and benefits for the duration of these relationships. However, in Roxana's mind, she is engaging in immoral activity by both exchanging her body for financial gain and by sleeping with men to whom she is not married. She repeatedly refers to herself as a whore, and also wants to drag Amy down in to a similar state, which she achieves by forcing Amy in to having sex with the Landlord/Jeweller. Roxana enjoys the wealth she earns from her lifestyle, but she never feels at ease with the way she is behaving, which reveals that she continues to think of herself as doing something immoral. She eventually tries to reform by moving in with the Quaker, and assuming a new identity.

Money (motif)

Money and the accumulation of wealth is an exhaustingly reoccurring motif throughout the novel; Roxana constantly recites how much money she is acquiring, and how much wealth she has accumulated. This motif shows how she becomes a shrewd businessperson who is always has one eye on the future. Roxana becomes oriented towards growth and optimization, not just stability; she adopts a proto-capitalist mindset of wanting to determine the limits of the market, and see just how much money she can make off of her beauty and sexuality. The motif of money also shows how greed becomes somewhat infectious; before she loses her fortune and is forced to abandon her children, Roxana doesn't seem to think much about money at all, and initially, her goal is limited to establishing security and making sure she is never in poverty again. However, paradoxically, the more money that Roxana acquires, the more that she wants. She can never be satisfied or secure with all of the wealth that she has, and even when she has vast sums of money, she longs for other things, such as a title.

Roxana's Turkish costume (symbol)

Roxana's Turkish costume is one of the most striking symbols and pieces of visual imagery in the novel. She receives the costume as gift while travelling in Italy with the Prince, and later wears it to establish her reputation as a glamorous courtesan in London. The costume also plays an important narrative function because it later turns out that Roxana's daughter Susan saw the Lady Roxana dancing in the costume, and never forgot about it. This moment represents the start of Susan's obsession, which subsequently leads her to pursue uncovering Roxana's true identity. The costume symbolizes how Roxana's whole life becomes a performance and a façade. She can never truly be herself because her whole identity becomes subsumed into maintaining her allure, and her false history. She cannot even reveal herself to her own child, and in a sense, she actually no longer is Susan's mother because now her identity revolves around her life as a courtesan. The costume is also an interesting symbol because it is associated with an Orientalized fantasy of women who are both sexually alluring but also lacking in freedom. Part of the legacy of Orientalism involves Western readers and writers exoticizing women in Eastern societies, and implying that these women lacked the freedom and rights of women in Western Europe. By donning a Turkish costume, Roxana seems to be acquiring more freedom, but the costume also symbolizes that she is now trapped in a gilded cage of sexual subservience, not unlike the stereotype of a woman in a Turkish harem.