Critical Overview

Daniel Defoe's Roxana was published in 1724, anonymously, as a "history," customary in the early days of English prose fiction. There are critics who loosely refer to Roxana as a novel, but in this account the work will not be referred to as a novel because it is not. The definition of a novel is that it is a realistic social fiction of a substantive length in which there is considerable emphasis on character development and at least the main character(s) in the novel undergo discernible change. Applying these definitional traits to Roxana, we find that it is a social fiction of substantive length, is realistic, but there is absolutely no emphasis on any kind of character development. Defoe rarely describes a character physically; and although we get a fair amount of self-reflection and self-criticism from Roxana, the protagonist, it is all of a particular type having to do with either moral or economic issues. In the other characters we do not even get that much.

Most historians of English literature agree that the first English novel is Samuel Richardson's Pamela, published in 1741. So Roxana may be best thought of as one of the important precursors of the novel, along with Defoe's two other works, the famous Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders.

Why did Defoe write realistic fiction like Robinson Crusoe and Roxana? The answer lies in a very interesting preface to the story. In it he claims that Roxana's story is real; that he actually knew the protagonist's husband and father-in-law. Most importantly, he said that he decided to write Roxana's life because of its moral. Here is a lady, whose basic approach to life, preferring money over morals, was wrong and she knew it. Moreover, in what is perhaps an interesting realistic twist, Roxana never pays the price of her sins of living the life of a mistress. In fact, the opposite happens. She gets richer and richer, lives an enormously successful life, and, in the eyes of the others, is happy. However, deep inside herself, through brooding self-reflection, Roxana is very, very unhappy. She is convinced that she is a sinner without hope of redemption.

Toward the end of the preface Defoe tackles the issue of describing some of Roxana's...

(The entire section is 936 words.)