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ENL 4122
English Novel

Spring 2006
Time: Monday and Wednesday
11:00-12:15 pm

Class 5

Reading Assignment:

    Roxana pp. 208-330 (THE END)

DUE: POST # 2 (Group B)


Class Objectives:

  • To discuss the conclusion of the novel
  • To discuss the form of the novel
  • To discuss any historical questions raised


Notes and Discussion Questions:

1. Conclusion

After all that she still gets married. What are the implications of her marriage both socially and in terms of the novel (symbolic)?

What happens to Susan? How do we know? What role does the Quaker play in the "conversion" of Roxana?

Evaluate the ending. What does it mean for Roxana to escape with a good spouse and riches beyond her wildest dreams? What role do children play in the conclusion?

How are we to understand the final paragraph: "Here, after some few Years of flourishing, and outwardly happy Circumstances, I fell into a dreadful Course of Calamities, and Amy also; the very Reverse of our former Good Days; the Blast of Heaven seem'd to follow the Injury done the poor Girl, by us both; and 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" (329-330).

Explore the ending in terms of poetical justice: good characters are rewarded and bad characters are punished.


2. Novel Form

In his article "Defoe as an innovator of fictional form," (Cambridge Companion to the Eighteenth-Century Novel ed. John Richetti, Cambridge UP, 1996), Max Novak argues that Defoe's novels reflect a writer consciously experimenting with narrative forms. In Roxana in particular, he creates "enigmas" for the reader to consider; he constantly engages the reader to look at his or her contemporary society.

Based on Novak's suggestions, I would like us to consider in what way Roxana serves as criticism of eighteenth-century society. The book clearly shows that "money is power in Defoe's society," and that even though Roxana ends unhappily, "Defoe is less interested in making Roxana into another version of Pilgrim's Progress than in showing what her world is like and what it takes to succeed in it. Defoe provided some answers (as well as questions) for his religious readers, but he also wanted us to appreciate how powerless women were in his world and what it took for a woman such as Roxana to achieve a degree of power" (65).

What effect does this "realistic" or unillusioned look at woman's plight in English society of the early eighteenth century have?

In the beginning of the novel, Amy clearly serves as the voice of the lower orders with practical advice for survival, but as "Roxana herself remarks, Amy is like a part of herself, a double. The situation becomes complicated by the extraordinary emergence of Roxana's daughter Susan, as a child in search of the mother who was forced to abandon her, the situation between the three is charged with the kind of raw anguish that the British novel usually avoids" (66).

What is the source of this narrative power? Examine and comment upon the double-character of Amy/Roxana.

Ultimately, Defoe leaves the moral judgment to the reader. "Roxana, too, keeps the reader in doubt. We are asked to admire her energy, her resolve, and her daring at the same time as we know that she has taken on the corruption of the society that she exploits. I once suggested that Defoe possessed a high degree of what Keats called 'negative capability,' the dramatist's ability to suspend judgment about his characters and their experiences. However dogmatic Defoe may have been in his moral conduct books about what constituted proper ethical and religious behavior and what did not, his fictional works were almost paradoxical in their tendency to allow such matters to remain unresolved" (66).


3. Implications

Ultimately, what does the novel conclude about marriage and money? With respect to Roxana and her "spouse" as she lovingly calls him, what forms the basis of their successful relationship?

Suggestions for historical research:

    Who are the Quakers in the early eighteenth century?

    What is meant by "the Indies" and what historical role does it play?

    What is Defoe's personal history with finances?

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