Characters Discussed

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share


Roxana, a woman left penniless by her husband at the age of twenty-two. To support herself and her children, she becomes her landlord’s mistress and bears him a child. After his death, she becomes the mistress of a prince, out of vanity rather than need. She bears the prince a child during the eight years of their alliance. She then takes other lovers, receiving riches from them, until she is fifty years old. She finally leaves her role as a courtesan to marry and become a respectable wife.

Mr. ———

Mr. ———, Roxana’s landlord and first lover. He helps Roxana when her husband leaves her, becoming a boarder in her house and then her lover, treating her generously during their five years together. He wants children badly and, when Roxana does not at first bear him a child, Roxana’s maid does so. Mr. ——— is robbed and murdered. He leaves his wealth to Roxana.

The Prince de ———

The Prince de ———, Roxana’s second lover. He protects her after her first lover’s untimely death in Paris. He remains her lover for eight years and rewards her with rich gifts. Upon his wife’s death, however, he repents his sinful life and leaves Roxana.

A merchant

A merchant, who takes care of Roxana’s wealth for her during the years after she parts from the Prince de ———. Roxana bears the merchant a son, after a brief affair. Later, he and Roxana are married, legitimize their son, and settle down to respectability in Holland.


Amy, Roxana’s faithful maid. She serves her mistress without pay while Roxana is poor. She even bears a child for Mr. ——— when it seems that Roxana cannot. Loyal to the end, she is finally dismissed by Roxana when she threatens to murder Roxana’s legitimate daughter to quiet her tongue about Roxana’s past.

List of Characters

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

She is the protagonist, a lively, intelligent daughter of refugee French parents who are forced to leave France because they are Protestants in a predominantly Roman Catholic county.

Roxana's Father
A jeweler by profession, he does very well in business when he moves to London. He brings up his daughter happy and well-to-do.

The Brewer
Roxana's father-in-law, he is decent man and a good businessman but leaves behind a ne'er-do-well son.

Roxana's Husband
He is a stupid, handsome, good-for-nothing fool. A brewer's son, he squanders the brewery and the money he inherits from his father and eventually runs away to France and joins the army. He dies foolishly in a misadventure.

Roxana's maid servant, she is a bright, intelligent young woman who is more than just a maid to Roxana. She is her adviser and confidant, and partner in most of Roxana's adventures throughout the story.

The Landlord
He is the landlord of the house Roxana rents with her husband. After she is abandoned by her husband, the landlord is at first cruel and mercenary with her, but soon falls in love with her and makes her his mistress. He is fair and faithful to Roxana until his death in France. He is a jeweler by profession

The French Lord
He is a nobleman of the French Royal family, and an acquaintance of Roxana's lover, the landlord who deals in jewelry with him. He falls in love with Roxana after the landlord's death and makes her his mistress, lavishing his love and wealth on her. He treats her very fairly until his own wife dies. Stricken with remorse, he gives up Roxana.

The Jewish Businessman
He hounds Roxana and tries to strip her of all her wealth. Apparently he goes as far as to...

(This entire section contains 560 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

plot Roxana's death.

The Dutch Businessman
He hoodwinks the Jewish businessman and saves Roxana from destruction by sending her away with her maid, Amy, to Holland. He ensures that her property is safe and gives her money to tide her over when she reaches Holland. Later, he follows her to Holland and declares his love for her. Roxana agrees to be his lover, but not his wife. He has a son by Roxana and lets her go to London without marrying him. Toward the end of the story, Roxana does marry him, but he realizes that she has been living a deceitful life. He dies shortly after, disillusioned with Roxana and leaving her a very small amount of money.

Sir Robert Clayton
Clayton is a wealthy economist who teaches Roxana how to save and invest her money. He treats her honorably and fairly.

The Anonymous Lord
He is a nobleman who sleeps with Roxana for one night but never discloses his identity to her. There was speculation that he was the King, but Roxana did not think so.

Another Businessman
Another man who sleeps with Roxana, he is the only lover who is unkind to her.

Roxana's Son
He is born to her of the Dutch businessman.

The Quaker Woman
An abandoned wife, she befriends Roxana and gives her news about one of Roxana's daughters.

One of Roxana's Daughters
She is the only child for whom Roxana seems to show some concern and feelings. Interestingly, it is through her that we know Roxana's real name: Susan.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

To discuss the characters in a novel or a play assumes that it has characters to discuss. Roxana does not have traditional "characters" although it certainly has persons who act to carry the story forward. In literature, "character" refers to a person represented in a story, novel, play, or poem. Characters in a novel are realistic imitations of people in a recognizable social setting who, like people in real life, develop their personalities. Through plot they come into conflict with other characters and with themselves, and they grow from simple to complex human beings.

Defoe's Roxana does not have characters in that complex, novelistic sense. Strictly speaking, they are persons in action, carrying the story forward. The protagonist tells the story of her life in the first person and, for that reason, a prolonged discussion of the characters ends up as a retelling of the story itself. Before the first English novel (Samuel Richardson’s Pamela) was published in London in 1740, prose fiction in England was entirely about action and adventure, not about character. Against this literary background, Roxana's characters should be considered as “personae,” as in “dramatis personae," rather than as characters.

Roxana, protagonist of this fictional work, is the dominant figure of the entire story. Indeed, one may go as far as to say that one of the reasons Defoe's Roxana cannot be considered a novel is because the relationship of Roxana to the story completely outweighs that of any other person.

Roxana is the only daughter of French immigrant parents in London. They had come over the channel as refugees from France because they were persecuted for being Protestants in a heavily Roman Catholic country. Roxana was two years old at that time.

She grows up a sprightly, bright, handsome young woman, good in conversation and excellent in dancing. She is brought up with love and among plenitude.
Defoe's pseudo-history, written in the first person, about Roxana has her married to a good for nothing brewer's son who squanders the family wealth and eventually abandons her. Thereafter begins the adventures of the “fortunate mistress.” They begin first, by her desperate struggle for survival, giving her body to the man who was willing to protect her and give her shelter. Thereafter, however, Roxana understands the value of her body, and the value of money. She goes from being mistress to mistress, and from wealth to wealth.
Like most of Defoe's main characters, Roxana is interesting because of her capacity at self-reflection and self-criticism. She is an extremely intelligent woman, and is never under any illusion that what she is doing is by any means the right thing to do. She is fully aware that she is (in her own words) a "whore." Her only, and constant, defense is that she needs to be a prostitute because in her society, it is the only way a beautiful woman with no financial means can survive and thrive. She is practical and pragmatic to a fault.

Roxana's intelligence is probably her most attractive and interesting characteristic. The way she argues with the Dutch tradesman who has fallen in love with her and wants to marry her is impressive. It is typical of the early eighteenth century rationality that pervaded English prose. Also, the way Roxana shows a shrewd and prudent understanding of money and finance is striking.
Defoe's avowed purpose of writing Roxana was moral, to show that despite enormous social and material success, an immoral life ultimately leads one to ruin and destruction. However, he makes Roxana and her accomplice, Amy, such attractive personae that readers cannot help but be impressed by them. In his preface, Defoe categorically denies that Roxana's successful life might give the wrong impression to his readers. But action speaks louder than words.

Amy is the next most important person in Roxana. A maidservant to Roxana, Amy is, in fact, her friend, confidant and advisor. Like her mistress, she is extremely pragmatic and practical. It is she who encourages her to take up her landlord as a lover, having noticed that the man is attracted to her. At first, Roxana's upbringing makes her resist such an immoral idea. An extremely interesting dialogue about the morals of bartering one's body for money follows. In the end, though, she knows that the writing is on the wall: Roxana becomes the landlord's mistress.

Another interesting feature about Amy is her sexual morals. She freely admits she would sleep with a man for his money, but when Roxana tells her to sleep with her lover just to please him, she refuses because the landlord is not only her mistress's lover, he is also the master of the house. The more Roxana insists that she does not mind, the more stubbornly Amy refuses. There is even a touch of class consciousness here. She being a servant is extremely unwilling to sleep with her middle class master. As it happens, Amy is literally dragged in front of the landlord by Roxana, stripped completely naked, and thrust into the bed with the waiting landlord. She also watches the two make love. Roxana carries out such a bizarre action because she wanted to prove to herself and others that she did not love the landlord and that her physical relationship with him is strictly business.

Roxana's Lovers
The three principal male personae in this story are the landlord, the French nobleman and the Dutch tradesman, all serving the same function in the plot; that is, they are Roxana's lovers and financial supporters. At the outset, it must be noted that unlike typical morality tales, all three lovers are decent, honest men and love Roxana quite sincerely. Thus, our protagonist never comes to grief by being cheated by them either emotionally or financially. One could extrapolate that it is Roxana's personality—witty, bright, and pleasant—that encourages honesty from her men, but since there is hardly any character development in the story, this is only be a guess.

A more probable reason for the men being honest and caring is that Defoe may have meant to write an optimistic story about someone who is basically a business person in spirit; Roxana is a rather extraordinary sex worker who thoroughly understands the value of money. Everywhere in the story this business spirit permeates.

Sir Robert Clayton
Finally there is Sir Robert Clayton, the economist. He befriends Roxana and wants to show her the importance of frugality (he calls it his "Scheme of Frugality") and financial planning. At first Roxana politely refuses his offer saying, humorously, that she would rather be young and well-off rather than a rich old lady. However, by this time Roxana is making far more money than she needs and takes up Sir Robert on his offer.

Sir Robert complies and teaches her the importance of saving and how to double her money by investing it. Roxana gives him her money and he comes through for her, yet another example of how the men she trusts never cheat her. Roxana benefits enormously from this relationship which is businesslike, friendly and completely free of romance or sex. As with the other persons in this story, we learn nothing more about Sir Robert's character traits.




Critical Essays