Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress

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Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress
Title page from the first edition
Author Daniel Defoe
Country England
Language English
Genre Novel
Publication date
Media type Print
Pages 379
ISBN 0-14-043149-7

Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress (full title: 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) is a 1724 novel by Daniel Defoe.

Plot summary[edit]

The novel concerns the story of an unnamed "fallen woman", the second time Defoe created such a character (the first was a similar female character in Moll Flanders). In Roxana, a woman who takes on various pseudonyms, including "Roxana" (after Roxana, wife of Alexander the Great),[1] describes her fall from wealth thanks to abandonment by a "fool" of a husband,[2] and movement into prostitution upon his abandonment. Roxana moves up and down through the social spectrum several times, by contracting an ersatz marriage to a jeweler, secretly courting a prince, being offered marriage by a Dutch merchant, and is finally able to afford her own freedom by accumulating wealth from these men.


The novel examines the possibility of eighteenth century women owning their own estate despite a patriarchal society, as with Roxanna's celebrated claim that "the Marriage Contract is...nothing but giving up Liberty, Estate, Authority, and every-thing, to the Man".[3] The novel further draws attention to the incompatibility between sexual freedom and freedom from motherhood: Roxana becomes pregnant many times due to her sexual exploits, and it is one of her children, Susan, who come back to expose her, years later, near the novel's close,[4] helping to precipitate her flight abroad, subsequent loss of wealth, and (ambiguous) repentance.[5]

The character of Roxana can be described as a proto-feminist because she carries out her actions of prostitution for her own ends of freedom but before a feminist ideology was fully formed, (though Defoe also works to undercut the radicalism of her position);[6] while the book also explores the clash of values between the Restoration court and the middle-class.[7]


Published anonymously, and not attributed to Defoe till 1775, Roxana was nonetheless a popular hit in the eighteenth century, frequently reprinted in altered versions to suit the taste of the day: thus the 1775 edition, which called itself The New Roxana, had been sentimentalised to meet the tastes of the day.[8] Only gradually from the 19thC onwards did the novel begin to be treated as serious literature : Ethel Wilson has been one of the 20thC authors subsequently influenced by its matter-of-factness and freedom from cant.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ I. Ousby ed., The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English (1995) p. 817
  2. ^ M. M. Boardman, Narrative Innovation and Incoherence (1992) p. 48
  3. ^ M. M. Boardman, Narrative Innovation and Incoherence (1992) p. 48
  4. ^ M. M. Boardman, Narrative Innovation and Incoherence (1992) p. 57
  5. ^ John Mullan ed., Roxana (2008) p. 329-30 and p. x-xi
  6. ^ M. M. Boardman, Narrative Innovation and Incoherence (1992) p. 49-50
  7. ^ A. H. King, Daniel Defoe's Erotic Economics (2009) p. 212
  8. ^ John Mullan ed., Roxana (2008) p. 337-9
  9. ^ D. Stouck, Ethel Wilson (2011) p.184

Further reading[edit]

  • David Wallace Spielman. 2012. "The Value of Money in Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders, and Roxana". Modern Language Review, 107(1): 65-87.
  • Susanne Scholz. 2012. "English Women in Oriental Dress: Playing the Turk in Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's Turkish Embassy Letters and Daniel Defoe's Roxana". Early Modern Encounters with the Islamic East: Performing Cultures. Eds. Sabine Schülting, Savine Lucia Müller, and Ralf Herte. Farnam, England: Ashgate. 85-98.
  • Robin Runia. 2011. "Rewriting Roxana: Eighteenth-Century Narrative Form and Sympathy". Otherness: Essays and Studies, 2(1).
  • Christina L. Healey. 2009. "'A Perfect Retreat Indeed': Speculation, Surveillance, and Space in Defoe's Roxana". Eighteenth-Century Fiction. 21(4): 493-512.
  • Gerald J. Butler. "Defoe and the End of Epic Adventure: The Example of Roxana". Adventure: An Eighteenth-Century Idiom: Essays on the Daring and the Bold as a Pre-Modern Medium. Eds. Serge Soupel, Kevin L. Cope, Alexander Pettit, and Laura Thomason Wood. New York, NY: AMS. 91-109.
  • John Mullan. 2008. "Introduction". Roxana. Ed. John Mullan. Oxford: Oxford University Press. vii-xxvii.

External links[edit]