Reading Roxana

It is more interesting to imagine a man reading Roxana than a woman. Daniel Defoe has placed Roxana in many misfortunes that transformed her into a ‘Whore’, a ‘Servant’ or a ‘greedy’ woman. Most occasions were of a manmade. This novel is threatening or warning fathers, brothers, husbands and even friends.

When she was fifteen, Roxana’s father married her to an ‘Eminent Brewer’ (page 7). It was not clear if that was her desire. However, after marriage, she was clearly not pleased ‘with this Thing call’d a Husband,” (7). This marriage was supposed to be a lifetime, but he left her after eight years.

When her father died, Roxana was 21 (page 6), he left her 5000 Livres in her brothers hand (9). She knew she was living with a fool, but had hopes that her father would protect her when she needed. After his death, she realized that her brother was not less foolish than her husband. “who running on too rashly in his Adventures, as a Merchant, fail’d, and lost not only what he had, but what he had for me too” (9).

Imagine how a father would perceive this novel? Women and their money should be guarded, at that time. Was Defoe trying to rethink inheritance? He focused on the consequences that daughters faced had they been left without bread. When Roxana’s husband left her and the kids, because he could not face poverty, she faced the damaging consequences of his departure by herself.

Some readers might see Roxana a ‘Whore’, but few will understand the circumstances that led her to use her body for money.

What could poverty do to a woman with kids? But what was more interesting was that Defoe wanted the readers to look at poverty as a man’s cause.

“My Landlord had been very kind indeed” (25), but his kindness was not for free. Had the landlord given Roxana or Amy a small job, she would not have started a range of relationships. She depended on one man after another. Roxana was about twenty-five, she could have learned tailoring, cooking, or any job at home. Her landlord could have helped her to rise without using her. Once he used her, her emotions died, and money became her goal. She favored money over honor.

Defoe wanted men to look at what values they would like to see in women. These values must be put in men first; then, handed to women. If her husband left the kids, why blame the mother for leaving her kids? If Roxana became a whore, what about the landlord? What should we call him?

The Prince repented and secluded himself after the Princess’s death (109). How do readers see the Prince? Although Roxana’s husband was a fool, he was faithful. While other men she had were cheaters, but not fool?

On page 132, Roxana switched roles of the wife and the mistress; “a Wife is treated with Indifference, a Mistress with a strong Passion; a Wife is look’d upon, as but an Upper-Servant, a Mistress is a Sovereign; a Wife must give up all she has..” While the Mistress “what the Man has, is hers, and what she has, is her own; the Wife bears a thousand Insults, and is forc’d to sit still and bear it, or part and be undone; a Mistress insulted, helps herself immediately, and takes another.”

Marriage to Roxana was slavery. “That the very Nature of the Marriage-Contract was, in short, nothing but giving up Liberty, Estate, Authority, and every-thing, to the Man, and the Woman was indeed, a meer woman ever after, that is to say, a Slave.” (148).

So, what makes a man?  A question that we keep asking.

For the Merchant, he replied that men worked hard, and women ate and drank. If it was about money and work, women could make business, and no need of a man. A single woman was in control of her well, but not a wife. Thus, if husbands overused their powers, women would no longer be interested in being married. If a man had no honor, he had no right to blame women for preferring to be mistresses over wives.

Daniel Defoe‘s novel, Roxana, services as a warning signs for men. Men should rethink their habits and behavior, and not have double standards. What we do not like about Roxana, was caused by a male character. Defoe is almost asking the readers, who are men, what kind of men would you like to be? Husbands were not being true to their wives, but they did not realize that women do not need men as men needed them. Trust was missing in this novel. Men did not trust women, so they did not give them a fair share. However, wives had to submit to their husbands even when they knew their husbands were not trust worthy.

3 thoughts on “Reading Roxana

  1. A question of audience is important. In fact, who Defoe intended to write for as an audience, this shapes our understanding as an audience. While it is true, that certain groups gained from these conquests, I would say that Defoe writes this novel to advise females against false attempts through contractual marriage that really did not guarantee them protection under the law. Whereas, the Prince was kind, he still took advantage of Roxana’s position. This may be a piece of advice for women, at a time when the middle class was rising and traditional standards that governed society may have been of question.

  2. I would ask the same; If Roxana is called a whore, what should we call ‘the men’? I am not sure whether Defoe realized the unbalance, and inequity between men and women in that society, or he just wanted to express this for readers in depicting such character like Roxana to explore deeply implication by readers. Trust is mutual to wives and husbands, how can we definite that Roxana is wrong under the discriminatory just society? She had to live and survive; under some of the circumstances, she had no better option but to experience everything.

  3. Interesting! I am inclined to agree with Sana, but this is primarily because I read the text as an experiment in normalizing misogynistic gender expectations. Yet, many more women were reading, and women, to be sure, read this novel. I wonder about the efficacy, though, of the idea of the “warning” reading? How convinced are we by that?

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