Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress


The novel examines the possibility of eighteenth-century women owning their own estate despite living in a patriarchal society, as with Roxana's claim that "the Marriage Contract is ... nothing but giving up Liberty, Estate, Authority, and everything, to the Man".[1] The novel also draws attention to the incompatibility between sexual freedom and freedom from motherhood: Roxana becomes pregnant many times due to her sexual exploits, and it is one of her children, Susan, who comes back to expose her, years later, near the novel's close,[2] helping to precipitate her flight abroad, her subsequent loss of wealth, and her (ambiguous) repentance.[3]

The character of Roxana can be described as a proto-feminist because she engages in prostitution for her own ends of freedom, before a feminist ideology was fully formed, though Defoe also works to undercut the radicalism of her position.[4] The book also explores the clash of values between the Restoration court and the middle class.[5]

Roxana also discusses the issues of truth and deceit. As the text is a first-person narration and written to simulate a real first-hand account by a woman, first comes the issue of subjectivity, but also an underlying problem as to the veracity of the text. The reader can only trust in Roxana to give us a true account, but as she often lies to other characters in the book, and even to herself, she is not a reliable narrator. Further, her character is constructed from lies and disguises. "Roxana", the name that is most associated with her, is based on her disguise of Turkish dress, and her real name is not mentioned until the end of the novel.

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