”Marriage without love, is the Compleatest Misery in life. Besides, I must say, it is to me utterly unlawful, and entails a Curse upon the persons, as being wilfully perjured, invoking the Name of GOD to a falsehood, which is one of the most provoking crimes that mankind can commit. He or she who, with that slight of superficial Affection, Venture into the Matrimonial vow, are to me little more than legal prostitutes. ” ( Daniel Defoe , Conjugal Lewdness )
All his characters were rogues, but not fools. They were all searching for a form of respectability in an age of commerce and trade; trying to escape their position in life through the cracks that mercantilism had brought onto the social vessel. To this extent , they were abstractions of the author, Daniel Defoe’s, own life; deeply flawed, contradictory, basically untrustworthy, morally adaptive and elastic, but ultimately redeemable for some intangible reason. In part, it may come from his religious upbringing as a Dissenter, a sort of Puritan that flavored much of his writing with a decidedly practical bent. In Daniel Defoe’s parody of diabolism, History of the Devil, not only are magicians, astrologers, witches and diviners offspring of the Father of Lies, but also the fools who believe them.
As a bit of a hoaxer and flimflammer himself, he could readily spot the competition. Defoe pursued paranormal investigation as more of a non-fiction endeavor, as demand for his fiction after the poor selling ”Roxana” nosedived.
Defoe could be said to have been an expert on the paranormal; he studied the paranormal field for four decades and produced the, “Essay on the Reality of Apparitions.” Many of his other celebrated stories are: “The Spectre and the Highwayman,” “The Friendly Demon,” “The Ghost in All the Rooms,” and “The True Relation of the Apparition of one Mrs. Veal.”
”In the view of Richard Titlebaum, Defoe’s work on demonology casts “a fascinating light on Defoe’s fiction” (6); however, he makes no mention of Roxana. In Realism, Myth, and History in Defoe’s Fiction, Novak proposes that Defoe began “toying” with a notion in Roxana he would later develop fully in the Political History–namely, the means by which human beings transform themselves into devils. Even more than Defoe’s previous novels, Roxana focuses on the internal state of its protagonist and traces her moral decline (105, 100). David Blewett similarly claims that “the attention paid to the interior drama of moral deterioration” distinguishes Roxana from Defoe’s earlier novels, and he examines the “subtle” means by which the devil preys on Roxana’s mind, a theme developed by Defoe in the Political History (130, 139). Novak and Blewett point to a central feature of the Political History–the view that hell is more an internal reality than a physical place of fire and brimstone.”
Underneath Defoe’s attitude toward women there is a respect for the independence. The cynical Roxana, who is a high class courtesan, is presented as a wicked and repentant sinner; but her greed and dishonesty, while she was getting richer moving eventually into royal society, are represented also as a protest against marriage as it then was. ”Never , ladies,” she says, ”marry a fool.” Fools shame you publicly, lose their money and, even worse, yours as well. Roxana is ruthlessly for economic idependence. What Defoe hates, and here he represents his whole class, is folly, the lack of practical common sense. In building a house on a desert island and making a way of life there, as in thieving, whoring, trading, plunging, reforming, he loves to see how things are done. Temptation fascinates him as a process, and he speaks of all things, good and bad, high and low, in the level terms of the ingenious, able man. His religion is a sort of moral shopkeeping, low but decent.
The view that thinkers such as Englishman, Daniel Defoe, are feminists is one which needs serious reconsideration; despite the often central roles they played; an attempt was there to de-stratify them and find a form of composite between the folkloric and the classical that later found a much greater refinement and articulation in Jane Austen. Nonetheless, Defoe foreshadowed the Romantic period without the poetic, literary and structural heights and pretensions of say, Heinrich Heine.
Defoe’s 1697 work, Essay Upon Projects,19 complains of the frivolous nature of women’s education, the height of which is being “taught to read indeed, and perhaps to write their names,” and suggests the establishment of a voluntarily attended secular academy for women throughout England. He suggests that the education should focus on the perfection of speech, reading, especially the subject of history, and “music and dancing, which it would be cruelty to bar the sex of, because they are their darlings.” Defoe rejects the assumption made by many of his contemporaries that “exquisite beauty is rarely given with wit, more rarely with goodness of temper, and never at all with modesty,” stating that “the great distinguishing difference which is seen in the world between men and women is in their education.”Although Defoe can be accused of half-hearted feminism,he skewered equally,in the same manner as caricaturists Thomas Rowlandson and James Gillray would later do.
Defoe’s attitude is most clearly attested to when, after ridiculing the notion that God Almighty made women to “be only stewards of our houses, cooks, and slaves,” he offers this disclaimer: “Not that I am for exalting the female government in the least.” He goes on to suggest that if men are to take women for companions, they should “educate them to be fit for it.” Defoe’s attitude toward women foreshadows that of thinkers to come. In short, one could argue that efforts to improve female education were largely purposed to improve man’s domestic servant, woman. Much of this however, was to appeal to popular taste, and to shrewdly provoke and gently antagonize at evidenced by his popularity among women readers.
The best writers and critics of the eighteenth century despised him but his public loved him, being perceived as a thorn to the establishment. Robinson Crusoe was recognized in every corner of the world though Moll Flanders and Journal of the Plague Year were thought far less of. It is indeed, a general fault of picaresque literature that it drones on interminably and that the only interesting fact about human beings is their self interest, is extremely limited.The Victorians deplored Defoe’s lack of idealism, romance, and above all, sensibility.
Though sympathetic to the plight of women, Defoe fell woefully short of say, Condorcet’s standard for feminism. By and large, the question of woman’s rights stimulated Defoe intellectually more than it stirred his sense of injustice and outrage. Defoe was primarily interested in maximizing woman’s potential and, thereby, her ability to improve society, particularly via educating children and providing sound companionship for their husbands. Though when Defoe reached the cliff of gender equality, acknowledging that men and women shared the same intellectual capabilities, his first instinct was not to protect the social order he best knew and probably benefited from. As an educated, respected man, Defoe was inherently an outsider who essentially participate in the privileges of a patriarchal society;something was woefully wrong in the way women were treated, but the malaise went far deeper than mere allegiances were to their own, to men. Mistreatment of women and children were a symptom in which legislation followed by modern marketing have shown to merely reinforce and encourage stereotypes creating a normative equality without Defoe’s ”plunging” at a deeper and more essential level.
Even Jeremy Bentham, who readily acknowledged that women were capable of nearly all that men were, chose to place women’s rights on the back burner in favor of tackling issues he believed were more important.And he may not have been mistaken. Condorcet, however, represents a fundamental shift away from the way in which these men thought. Condorcet did not view women as the sub-human “other” who deserved greater liberties, when the time became right, as Bentham advocated. Condorcet saw in women not only his intellectual equal but also his fellow human. Simply put, he saw only humans, not male and female beings. As a result, establishing women’s political liberty became a necessarily urgent cause, which could no longer be put off in the face of sexism’s gross injustice.
If one compares Roxana by Defoe to, say, Fanny Hill, it is clear that the latter has a charm and even a poetic imagination unknown to Defoe, though it comes nowhere near to showing his range of interest in human character, and sense of empathy that walked on a tightrope between the droll and the dramatic without the pretentious construction of tension in a narrative. The Victorians also deplored Defoe’s interest in low and sinful life and were horrified by his prosaic attitude toward sex. He was too explicit.
Roxana, is Defoe’s story of a woman with a proper upbringing who is left by her husband with no money and five children. Working outside of the legal and social contrainst of the insitution of marriage Roxana accumulates wealth through prostitution. The relationship and exchange between Moll and Roxana with their male counterparts was anathema to Victorians. Although throughout their narratives, Moll and Roxana free themselves from constrainsts of marriage and motherhood, they are still stuck inside the patriarchal system through their dependance on gifts for sexual exploits.
Modern critics deplore the narrow , surface view of Defoe’s reports, but they are captivated by his detail, by his power of seeing, and by his acute eye for human motive. One recognizes that when politics failed him, Defoe had an immense , untouched store of working experience to draw on and that neither his disasters, nor his phenomenal gist for hard work , had drained it. But he had latched onto something; the faint stirrings of middle-class values, heroic struggle, and sentimental love, a romanticism in early more pure flowering before being crushed by the weight of unbridled passion.
Daniel Defoe’s Roxana seems to resist interpretation, though it has been scrutinized for its likeness to a trade manual, a spiritual autobiography, and a “‘woman’s novel.'” Leopold Damrosch, for instance, remarks with some exasperation on his attempt to define Roxana’s “inner logic”: “We cannot know exactly what Defoe thought he was doing in this enigmatic novel, but we do know that it was his last. As one critic puts it, ‘Defoe stopped when he reached the end.'” One prominent debate concerns the novel’s religious allusions, as when Roxana reflects: “So possible is it for us to roll ourselves up in Wickedness, until we grow invulnerable by Conscience.” At issue is the influence that Defoe’s Puritanism exerted on the text.
Polarized opinions on this subject emerge in two seminal studies of Defoe. In the monograph Economics and the Fiction of Daniel Defoe (1962), Maximillian Novak presents Defoe as guided by the religious precepts of Puritanism; Novak, thus, is not loath to pronounce Roxana “guilty of two economic sins: avarice and luxury.” Contrary to Novak, Ian Watt claims in The Rise of the Novel (1957) that Defoe substitutes the literary schema of “formal realism” for Puritanism’s providential order, making his writings “ethically neutral.” Roxana’s unsatisfactory plot “denouement,” Watt says, shows that Defoe “prefers and certainly achieves the inconsequential and the incomplete.” Recent studies tend to view Roxana as informed by Defoe’s Puritanism, particularly in its sober tone, even while they suggest that the novel is a departure from strict religious discourse toward aesthetic expression. As Malinda Snow comments in “Arguments to the Self in Defoe’s Roxana’ (1994), “Defoe’s narrative method encourages us to seek a ‘right way’ to talk… about our choices rather than seeking a right choice.'” In The English Novel in History (1999), John Richetti concludes that, despite debate, Roxana’s meaning remains ambiguous: “Some critics consider her agonized reflections as Defoe’s warning about the moral decadence of early Georgian England, but others just as plausibly discount the chorus of guilty reflections as conventional moralizing.”
The moral waywardness of a Roxana,within the context of Defoe’s other late works, does subdue the notion that Roxana represents a dead end for Defoe, particularly concerning the moral content of his writing. Roxana incorporates Calvinistic tropes decrying against luxury and promoting charity, rhetoric that also appears, for example, in Defoe’s The Complete English Tradesman. It is possible to argue that, as a high class call-girl, Defoe’s creation of Roxana becomes an allegorical representation of England, which, according to the novel, is a nation prostituted by its nobles and king, whose behaviors are mirrored in the actions of commoners.This has some plausability, given Defoes visceral dislike for the old Tory crocodiles in their white shoes, counting their profits form the slave trust investments.
“]As Novak observes, Roxana’s plot “revolves about the decline of Roxana’s moral character, a decline that is contrasted with her worldly success. But although the focus of the novel is mainly on Roxana’s hardening conscience, the course of her career implies the moral decline of the entire society.” As a narrator, Roxana frequently digresses from her story to moralize about her lack of integrity. Her most poignant remark no doubt is the novel’s closing line: “my Repentance seem’d to be only the Consequence of my Misery, as my Misery was of my Crime” (p. 330). From early on, however, she depicts herself as a reprobate. She says of taking her landlord’s supposed charity in exchange for sex: “I did what my own Conscience convinc’d me at the very Time I did it, was horrible unlawful, scandalous, and abominable” (p. 39). Shortly afterwards, she reiterates: “so with my Eyes open, and with my Conscience, as I may say, awake, I sinn’d, knowing it to be a Sin, but having no Power to resist” (p. 44). She muses somberly a few pages later that “there can be no substantial Satisfaction in a Life of known Wickedness; Conscience will, and does, often break in” (p. 49).In retrospect, she sees herself as stricken by a “Disorder” (p. 277) for trying but failing to live outside the providential order; again incorporating some of Defoe’s seminal ideas on Devilry, spirits and aspects of the paranormal moving within and without, inhabiting the human body and sometimes dominating it to achieve it wider aims.
Roxana does condemn her past behavior. The face of her heart,the manner in which she speaks about and sees herself, is unforgiving and grimly ironic. She appreciates, for instance, that her “good Skin” masks her corruption, and she implores readers against using beauty as a “Bait”: “God forbid any shou’d make so vile a Use of so good a Design” (p. 75). No longer concerned with preserving appearances, she calls herself “Queen of Whores” (p. 821). a “Carcass” (p. 741). and even a swine: “I went on smooth and pleasant: I wallow’d in Wealth” (p. 188). Looking at the glass that conscience holds out, she can now reflect “upon the Brutallity and blindness of Mankind” (pp. 74-5) by first confessing her own inhumanity. Roxana is a frank narrative about a brutish life, informed by a revived moral vision. In essence, therefore. the novel meets a claim made in the preface about Roxana’s narration: “In the Manner she has told the Story… she makes frequent Excursions, in a just censuring and condemning her own Practice…”
In the end, Defoe’s mysterious financial sins were always finding him. Prosperous, if not Lord Mayor, some tangled question of debt dating back twenty-six years caught up with him. He fled from his family. he had been fleeing from bailiffs on and off for most of his life, but this was his last flight. His pursuer was a woman who had ingeniously got hold of administration papers which she was using against him, and who was exactly one of those practical, property minded ladies, a ”she merchant” as Roxana said of herself, whom he admired; but he had already made over his property to his family, and by his flight, had won.
In hiding, the great secret agent and impersonator died, on April 26, 1731, in Ropemaker’s Alley, Moorfields. His last role as a writer, like his first, was as the author of pamphlets and essays, published under a pseudonym.