Roxana Summary

Daniel Defoe


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Roxana Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Roxana by Daniel Defoe.

Originally printed in 1724, Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress was published anonymously and only later attributed to Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders. The full title of the novel is The Fortunate Mistress: Or, A History of the Life and Vast Variety of Fortunes of Mademoiselle de Beleau, Afterwards Called the Countess de Wintselsheim, in Germany, Being the Person known by the Name of the Lady Roxana, in the Time of King Charles II. The novel appears as if it is a biography, which was a common trope amongst 18th century fiction as it was thought to appeal more to the public if readers believed the story was based on true events in a person’s life. The novel has an episodic quality to it, and is not necessarily strung together by one event leading directly into another—although, there is an overarching plot of Roxana’s moral deterioration.

Roxana was born in France, but grew up in England after her Protestant parents fled from religious persecution at a time when France was still primarily Catholic. At the age of 15 she marries the handsome son of an English brewer who turns out to be quite vain and reckless throughout the course of their eight-year marriage. He wastes away all their money as well as his property and eventually abandons Roxana and their five children in complete destitution. Although Roxana no longer has any money to pay her wages Amy, Roxana’s maid, refuses to leave her service. Together the women appeal to relatives of Roxana’s husband for financial support and are quickly rebuffed by all of them except one elderly aunt, who does not have enough money to give any to Roxana. Eventually Roxana finds some help from another poor old woman she had previously helped at a time when she had been more prosperous and the four women work together in order to effectively solicit help from the husband’s family. Care of all five of Roxana’s children is given over to the poor old woman, and while Roxana remains penniless she is now free of ties to her husband’s family.

Impressed by her fortitude in the face of dire circumstances, Roxana’s landlord, Mr. ———, offers to set her up as a housekeeper and giving her money and food to help support her. He is very kind to Roxana and Amy is so taken with his honesty and kindness that she attempts to convince Roxana to become his mistress. Initially, Roxana is unsure about the moral implications of becoming mistress to her landlord, even though she no longer considers herself married since her husband abandoned her, so Amy offers to sleep with the landlord herself. This sets up a theme that will be continued throughout the novel of the exchange of sex for a more prosperous social position, as well as the interchangeability of the two women in sexual transactions. The landlord eventually comes to lodge in Roxana’s house, protesting his love and offering her £500 in his will and an additional £7,000 should he ever abandon her. He proposed the two “live together as husband and wife,” as he cannot offer to marry her himself, since he has also already been married and also abandoned by his wife.

Finally, Roxana lays aside her objections and becomes his mistress, but is unable to conceive a child after over a year and a half of sleeping together. Roxana sends Amy to bed with the landlord in her place, and while Amy is able to conceive a child, Roxana must pretend the child is hers to save Amy the embarrassment of bearing a child out of wedlock.  Ultimately Roxana and the landlord are able to conceive a son together much to Mr.——–‘s delight. He takes her to Paris with him, where he is murdered and robbed. Roxana does manage to inherit the man’s wealth and keep the money from his pervious wife and other relatives. She uses this material gain as well as her sexuality to climb to social ladder, becoming a mistress again, this time to a French prince and again bears a child. She returns to England as a famous courtesan and only then becomes known as Roxana, a name given to her because of the Turkish dancing she learned while on the European continent.

As the novel winds down a friend of Roxana’s, a Dutch merchant of means offers to marry her, which they do in relative happiness. At this point her oldest child from her original marriage, now an adult named Susan resurfaces to claim an entitlement to her mother’s wealth. Susan’s interference threatens to expose the means of Roxana’s social ascension as well as her previously dire circumstances, so Amy acting in the best interests of Roxana murders Susan. From here the novel is wrapped up rather quickly, with many scholars noting that it has a slightly unfinished feel. Because of the nature of publishing in the mid-1700’s, and because Defoe was not revealed to have been the author until later in the century, several different editions had been published with slightly different endings. In all versions the Dutch merchant dies, severely reducing Roxana’s financial circumstances and she begins to regret her moral deterioration and the actions she has been reduced to, however, in some versions this ends with her dying in poverty alone and regretful, whereas in others she lives on.