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...
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