Roxana and “The Individual Experience”

Roxana, portrays many of the defining characteristics of the genre of novels. I think the characteristics that distinguish the novel from other genres is seen in Ian Watts text. According to Ian Watts in, The Rise of the Novel, the author states that Richardson and Fielding were the founders of a “new kind of writing,” known as the novel. Watts argues that this new genre of writing was very different from the written text of the past and seventeenth-century writings. Watts also mentions that it “involved a break with the old fashioned romances” (9-10). Watts notes that the features of the novel encompassed “realism” (10). Watts states” ‘realism’ as the defining characteristic differentiates the work of the eighteenth-century novelists from previous fiction” (10). Watts adds that realism “attempts to portray all the varieties of the human experience” (11). Watts states that the novel ” reflects individualistic and innovating reorientation” (13). Watts mentions, the novel challenged previous literary movements “whose primary criterion was truth to individual experience- individual experience is always unique and therefore new” (13). Watts states the most significant characterisistic of the novel is its “non-traditional plots” (14). Watts notes that “Defoe and Richardson are the first great writers in our literature who did not take their plots from mythology, history, legend, or previous literature”(14). He adds “Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, and Milton…used traditional plots”. Watts argues, they accepted the general premise of their time that, since Nature is essentially complete and unchanging, it’s records, whether scriptural, legendary, or historical, constitute a definitive repertoire of human experience” (14). Hence, all human experience have all been seen in these traditional plots, from these traditional perspectives, and there is no new experience that has not been written. Watts argues that Defoe stressed “the primacy of the individual experience,” rather than the “traditional plot”(15).
Daniel Defoe’s, Roxana, does just that. He portrays the unique experience of his main character, Roxana. According to the Introduction to the novel written by Jane Jack, the writer notes “Defoe insists that he is no more writer of the ‘romances’ meretricious books full of improbable people and incredible adventures.” Jack notes , “what he is telling us is the truth .” He chronicles the difficulties that Roxana faces. Jack adds, “Roxana remarks during her period of prosperity as the mistress of a wealthy French aristocrat in Paris.” After Roxana comments about her wealthy aristocrat, ” It would look a little too much like a romance here to repeat all the kind things he said to me”. She finds herself in a position as Jack argues “in the need for secrecy and the necessity of making adequate provision for the children of the Union” (vii). She is constantly worried about the money earned, and her future, according to Jack. The writer states, “If the result is a book which is essentially more of a romance than a novel, it is a romance without any touch of the exotic or the improbable: an unromantic romance” (vii). Jack argues ” Roxana is a dishonest person who travels about and preys on society” (vii). In contrast to Defoe’s other character,Moll Flanders, Roxana differs. Jack states, “Having already shown how an essentially innocent woman may be driven by poverty to a life of crime, he now created a woman who was harder and more ambitious” (x). Jack states, ” Roxana owes much more to accounts of real women than does Moll Flanders”(x). Jack adds “the moral danger of poverty is a subject to which Defoe returns as untiringly in his prose fiction as he does in his letters and in his voluminous journalism”(viii). Jack states, “Roxana loves independence as much as she loves property”.

As a reader, I was forced to ask the question, similar to Jack’s, what would an individual do in this character’s position? In the midst of poverty. For me the very path and decisions that Roxana makes are her attempts to survive. She does so by seeking to gain stability for herself and her family, through means of her many plans. Roxana comes up with these plans in order to escape living in poverty, that she is so close to facing.
Defoe’s writing is to “realistically” capture the experience in which some individuals find themselves who are without proper support and financial ties. To me Defoe seeks to capture the idea of realism, this is even noted in the beginning of the story. He states, “this story differs from most of the Modern Performances of this kind, tho’ some of them have met with very good Reception in the world: I say, It differs from them in this Great and Essential Article, Namely, That the foundation of this is laid in Truth of Fact; and so the work is not a story, but a history” (1).

I definitely agree with Jack and Watts, Defoe’s writing definitely strays from the traditional plot, and captures the “individual experience”.