Gal Pals

Daniel Defoe’s Roxana is not the novel I had in mind. I initially thought Roxana was a prostitute in the typical sense: a monetary exchange for brief sexual favors. I was however, mildly disappointed, when I was presented with a woman who could not care for herself, much less her children, who turned out to be a “kept woman” for several different men. Through the course of her role as a kept woman, Roxana has a maid, Amy, who stays faithful to Roxana through her escapades. Amy proves herself to be the ever consistent, other half of Roxana remaining by Roxana’s side through several different men.

Roxana, upon realizing she is without husband and in charge of five children finds herself allowing her maid, Amy, to drop her children off at her sister-in-laws house. Amy, being the diligent maid does this without protest, going as far as lying to Roxana’s sister-in-law so that Roxana “might be freed from the dreadful Necessity of seeing [her children and herself] perish” (59). This is merely the introduction Defoe gives us of Amy’s steadfast character, and her willingness to do anything for Roxana, including abandoning a group of children at Roxana’s request.

Amy is able to convince Roxana that sleeping with men out of necessity is not deplorable. Through Amy’s logic, that an “abundance of Charity begins in that Vice” (67) she is able to reason with Roxana that the landlord is presenting her with a chance to live comfortably again. Initially Roxana is opposed to the idea of “[laying] with him for Bread” (67), but Amy is able to sway her mistress by saying that she herself would sleep with the landlord if it meant feeding them both: “[if] the Condition was such, that he would not serve you unless I would let him lye with me, he should lye with me as often as he would, rather than you should not have his Assistance” (68). Defoe shows us the sway that Amy has over Roxana, that the two are almost one mind, seen in how Amy convinces Roxana to use her body for their gain. Roxana forces her companion/faithful maid to sleep with her “John,” putting Amy’s words of support and encouragement to the test: “so I fairly stript her, and then I threw open the Bed, and thrust her in [with the Landlord]” (85). Amy’s devotion to Roxana is so strong, she is not resentful that Roxana essentially forced her rape, but that she felt like “a Whore” and “a Slut” because she was unwed (85).

Amy’s guilt is eloquently expressed as she wakes from being unconscious on the ship ride to England: “Don’t you know what a wicked creature I have been? I have been a whore to two Men, and have liv’d a wretched abominable Life of Vice and Wickedness for fourteen Years” (161). This comment in turns forces Roxana to confront her own actions up to this point in the novel, of which she has not been ashamed of or even remotely repentant about. Only after Amy’s “confession” does Roxana realize she’s led life “with the utmost Contempt and Abhorrence” (162). Amy’s role at Roxana’s side is to remain true to her mistress, outlasting the men that come into their lives.

4 thoughts on “Gal Pals

  1. I had the same feeling when reading this book; it almost feels like Amy is carrying Roxana, willing to do all the things that she does not have to(nor should) do, to keep her mistress in her comfort zone. On the other hand, I wonder what did Roxana do for Amy to win her loyalty?

  2. Interesting, I think both ladies are using each other.
    Amy washed away Roxana’s conscious by convincing her that sleeping with men outside of wedlock is not immoral for the sake of survival. She also convinced her that no one has the right to judge Roxana if she leaves six kids behind, and again, for the sake of survival. Amy’s methods of talking about these matters over and over again brainwashed Roxana. Roxana realized if Amy thinks it is okay to sleep with men, why can’t she do the same? Weren’t they both living in the same house? Eating the same bread? In fact on pages 28-29, Amy kept insisting that she would do anything, even sleeping with men for the sake of getting some bread. So, was that just to get Roxana to sleep with men, and make her a whore?
    It is easy to plan what you wish. But, when transferring these plans to actions, they will look and feel differently. Amy never understood Roxana’s disgust of the idea of sleeping with men until she was put in the same situation. Amy knew that it was her own fault. Amy accepted the idea, and made Roxana to act upon that.

  3. I love the idea you raise that Amy and Roxana seem “almost one mind,” and I wonder where we can take that in terms of the characters’ relationship with one another. A lot of research exists that looks at the friendship between the two women as really the centerpiece of the novel. What would it mean if we saw them both as one? Two parts of a whole? What do you think of the fact that, so far, Amy is the only one with an actual first name? Does that say anything about how we might interpret Roxana’s character?

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