37 pages 1 hour read

Daniel Defoe

Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1724

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Introduction and PrefaceChapter Summaries & Analyses

Introduction Summary

John Mullan, an English professor at University College London, argues that Defoe’s contemporary readership regarded Roxana as problematic, because the infamous heroine’s “penitence might merely be a ‘Consequence’ of ‘Misery’ rather than a proper growth of conscience” (xi). During the course of the novel, the heroine, who prostitutes her virtue to several rich men, “failed to regret her sins while she remained ‘fortunate”’ (xi). This ending, which scandalized publishers steeped in notions of Christian morality, was so unpalatable that a half-century after Roxana’s publication they took it upon themselves to change it. The multiple alternative endings show Roxana truly repenting and making peace with God. Mullan argues that the text was “susceptible to adaptation, because it did not officially have an author” (x), as the only names that appeared on the title-page were those of the bookseller and the narrator’s pseudonym.

While the first-person narrator’s real name is Susan, the name she and the book title go by is Roxana. In 18th-century novels “a name is frequently a sign of self-fashioning individuality” (xix), meaning that the protagonist adopts the name that is best suited to the person they have become rather than their given name.