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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 368

Roxana or The Fortunate Mistress was published in 1724. It is supposed to be a biography of one Madamoselle Beleau, the lovely daughter of French Protestant refugees, brought up in England and married to a good-for-nothing son of an English brewer.

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Roxana's husband squanders his property and abandons his wife and five children. She enters upon a career of a mistress, first to the landlord in whose house she and her husband were renting, and then to a series of wealthy aristocrats and businessmen in three countries, England, France and Holland. She acquires her name of "Roxana," traditionally given to stage actresses, after she had returned to London from Europe, and become a famous courtesan.

She is accompanied in her adventures by a faithful maid, Amy, a very lively, attractive and intelligent woman. After many adventures with many men and women, most of whom amazingly, are good decent people who do not take advantage of a beautiful abandoned woman in distress (hence the title of the story—"The Fortunate Mistress"), she finally marries a Dutch merchant who has been her long time lover and friend and even the father to one of her sons. However, in a rather a hurried end to the story, the husband discovers the deceitful and immoral life his wife has led and dies shortly after leaving a her a small sum of money.

Interestingly, the ending of Roxana is shrouded in dispute. In Defoe's original version the protagonist does notdie, but repents for the life she has lived, and that too—according to Roxana herself—only because she comes to an unhappy end after the death of her husband. However, the book, because it was published anonymously (as was often the case with fictitious histories in those days) and then went through several questionable editions, later interpolators gave the story various endings, all of which has the protagonist die repenting her life full of sins. In fact, no less an authoritative encyclopedia than the Oxford Companion to English Literature says that at the end of the book Roxana dies repentant. In Defoe's 1724 version, she does not.

This controversy has led to interesting discussions among scholars regarding the moral purpose of the story of Roxana.

Extended Summary

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1962

Roxana was born of French parents and came to England with them because her non-Roman Catholic family members were persecuted in France. Her father was well-to-do, trading in alcoholic beverages.

From childhood, Roxana was a handsome young girl, taller than average, with a strong body and legs; her physique made her a very good dancer. Moreover, as a consequence of coming to England as an infant, she was able to speak English without accent. She was a happy, gregarious teenager, with a flair for conversation and a penchant for irony.

Roxana's father provided well for her, bequeathing to her over 3,000 livres (well over $100,000 dollars in contemporary money), on which a family could live practically a whole lifetime unless the money was squandered.

But Roxana's good-for-nothing husband does squander it. At fifteen, she marries him because he was uncommonly handsome. But, alas, the man was only interested in hunting, drinking and whoring. The son of a fairly well-to-do brewer, Roxana's husband does not help at all in the family business; instead,  he is prone to spending recklessly what his parsimonious father had accumulated. The indulgent father spoils his only son and does not prepare him at all in the family business. After the brewer's death, the inevitable happens. He spends every penny left to him, and Roxana's money too. Having neither the inclination for business nor any head for it, he fails with every business adventure he launches. Then one day, having literally lost every penny,...

(The entire section contains 2330 words.)

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