Robinson Crusoe extended the form of the picaresque and turned an adventure tale into a critique of colonialism. Moll Flanders did the same with the class of 'gentlewomen'. Roxana similarly has come to be accepted as a critique of early capitalism -- a time in English history when the industrial revolution was yet not a tactile reality but a creepy creature whose tugs on morality, civility and social infrastructure were being secretly felt. Defoe takes a old world morality tale about a woman's coming to terms with her own profession as a whore and turns it into a contemporary tale about capitalism's philosophy of self-aggrandizement and saleability of the self.
In retrospect Defoe will seem prophetic in his constitution of the plot about Roxana's willing acceptance of her profession and how she readily agrees to 'capitalise' it when she knows her moral degradation is irreversible. In medieval morality plays, Roxana's good self would have been saved by a benign god who in a climactic moment would retrieve her from misery. But in Defoe's world emergent capitalism prevails over frivolling morality and what would have been a fallen life before becomes a life of opportunities for Roxana.
No wonder Roxana is called Defoe's 'darkest' novel and that explains the crowd of critical and scholarly attention that it has received. ...Show more