Literary Criticism of Daniel Defoe's Novel, Roxana

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Literary Criticism of Daniel Defoe's Novel, Roxana

Most critics agree that Daniel Defoe's novel, Roxana, is his darkest work. Author Malinda Snow, who wrote "Arguments to the self in Defoe's Roxana," quotes author David Blewett saying that "Roxana is Defoe's only protagonist who is passive in the face of disaster" (Snow, 1).

Roxana is portrayed as a significant character who is "intensely self-aware, she reasons with herself, judges herself, and ultimately cannot forgive herself' (Snow, l). One of the reasons the novel has such a serious mood and tone is because Roxana seems to constantly be arguing with herself. However, her arguments consist of two parts. Usually she narrates in the "narrative present-- a fixed point in time-- [and it] becomes the means for us to see the 'narrative past,' which is not fixed but evolving" (Snow, 2). Roxana combines this style of narration with one of anamnesis (a remembering), and a "warning: she recounts the events of her life as an argument to her reader, urging that the reader not do as Roxana herself has done" (Snow, 2). In fact, Snow points out that Roxana reviews her arguments at least twice. The first time she weighs her options, she is the young Roxana who is actually making a decision at present, and the second time the situation is re-hashed, it is as the older Roxana who is looking back on her decisions and explaining to the reader her arguments and her consequent choices.

Snow explains the "narrative complexity" of Roxana which sets her apart from the rest of Defoe's works, most notably Moll Flanders. I found this an interesting argument since in class we discussed the many similarities between the two works like a "life of 'continued variety,' including abandoned children, [and...

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...ause of "her harsh judgment against herself, her fear of revealing her past to her husband and children, her fear of retribution, and the profound dread in her voice at the narrative' s end," Roxana considers herself unquestionably damned (Snow, 7).

Snow argues that "Roxana's fear of her past thwarts a conventional happy ending with the heroine married, rich, and repentant, with her children rising up to call her blessed" (Snow, 6). Even Roxana' s concluding words emphasis her conviction of damnation: "I was brought so low again, that my Repentance seem'd to be only the Consequence of my Misery, as my Misery was of my Crime" (Defoe, 330).


Defoe, Daniel. Roxana The Fortunate Mistress. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Snow, Malinda. "Arguments to the self in Defoe's Roxana." Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900. Houston, Summer 1994: 1-10.

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