Here we are in the middle of week 2 and well into the first novel on the course, Defoe’s Roxana. In class on Tuesday we discussed our first impressions of the novel, its style, and oddly “stream of consciousness” form. Now that you’ve had a bit more time to get further into the novel, is anything changing about this style? What is your sense of Roxana herself as a character or a speaker? She is of course clearly obsessed by money. How does this obsession make itself apparent? Why is she so obsessed?
One more question to get you thinking: why don’t the male characters have any names?
Feel free to answer using the comments function. Or write a new post with your own questions or reflections on what we’re reading right now!
Other than for the discretion purposes the Preface highlights, I think a reason the male characters are not granted names in “Roxana” is to situate them as a form of commodity (or, grants them credit that ensures a certain value). There are so many characters in the novel, all of which impact Roxana’s financial situation in some way- for example, The Brewer ruins her, The Jeweller and The Merchant provide her financial security, and The Prince endows her with gifts that accumulate to a large measure of wealth. Their lack of name, replaced with their profession, dehumanizes them and ties them to their financial impact upon Roxana.
The usage of their professions or stations to identify these characters also alludes to the discussion about Christian Allegory that we spoke of in class today. While a morality play identifies a character’s key traits by their name, the usage of profession alludes to the financial value of each character (The Brewer is worth less than The Merchant, who provides less than The Prince).
I also find it interesting that even after he has died, Roxana refers to The Brewer as “my husband the brewer”, while she is less able to grant this title to the other men in the narrative (she mentions several times that she can not bring herself to call The Jeweller her husband, though they are legally married). I feel like the continued reference to The Brewer as her husband might be Roxana’s attempt to hold on to the morality that she has given up, in a way asking us (and herself) to believe something that isn’t true. If this label can be read in such a way, it might be a microcosm for the tension between fact and fiction of the narrative as a whole.
Taylor, I like the point you make about Defoe’s choice to portray the men in Roxana’s life as representations of economics. I agree that this seems to be a deliberate decision, on the part of Defoe, in order to highlight some of “Lady Credit”‘s qualities as well as the importance of trade, gifts, dowry, inheritance, and compensation to Roxana’s relationship with the economic system.
Last term I read Robinson Crusoe for a class, so I am familiar with the tricks Defoe uses to ensure the reader that what he/she is reading is true, i.e. the continual repetition that the story is true, the overly detailed descriptions of each and every action, and the qualifying sentences (I did this, I say, because I had to, that is, it was in my best interest; I say, I did this… etc. etc.). In my class last term my professor explained that these tricks were used by Defoe to show that his stories were true, the thought being that only true stories had so much intricate detail. What’s interesting about Roxana is that along with Roxana, or the writer, trying to prove that the story really happened, Roxana is also trying to justify her actions. In Robinson Crusoe, Crusoe doesn’t need to justify his actions — he builds a house because he needs shelter. With Roxana, she has to justify aiding in the rape of her maid, teasing men, and living a wild, promiscuous life. The reason she has to justify these actions is because without there being some right to her actions the story becomes a sordid tale. This is a strange set up — on the one hand, Roxana wants to prove the truth of her story by supplying every little, dirty detail. But she must also tell us of the moralizing and rationalizing that went on beyond her actions to make the story accessible to other readers. In the end, we end up with a story that could probably be 100 pages less, with many, many pages devoted to the same question being first minutely detailed, then minutely rationalized. This allows for a very in depth perusal of Roxana’s character, of course, which is helpful in critiquing the novel, but it does become monotonous after a while. In the end, what Defoe tried to set out to do, i.e. prove his story’s truth, fails, because the “invisible hand” trying to accomplish the two goals outlined is, at least to me, obvious.
Thank you Mia for your insight into Defoe’s writing style and literary devices. I have not read any work by him (or possibly by him) before, so I find this very helpful in my attempts to disseminate the main message of the novel. What I personally believe Defoe is trying to establish as being real is the notion of credit. If we think of Roxana as lady credit, then we can appreciate how he is trying to provide rationalization for her existence. As we discussed in class, for credit to exist, society must abide by an imaginary social contract that grants credit real value and thus requires people to uphold credit owed to others. If we parallel this train of thought with Roxana’s life, the reader must believe that her story is true in order for her to actually exist.
I agree! Defoe’s literary style is intriguing. The very fact that he continues making appeals to the reader–asking the reader to believe in the truth of the story–indicates that even Defoe is doubtful of the story’s believability.
It’s like when you question the truth of someone’s story, so the storyteller starts to include phrases like “I swear”, “No word of a lie”, “I kid you not”, “Seriously”, “Literally”, etc. in order to vouch for their own credibility. However in doing so, the storyteller is actually detracting from the reliability/validity of their own story.
I think Roxana is a mirror of this contradiction or tension between the fictional/non-fictional status of the story. I believe this is used to reveal Defoe’s feelings about the idea of credit/trust/reliability as a system of economics.
My approach to reading Roxana has been that of learning a simple lesson in economics. Considering Roxana as credit it’s self, and her relationships to others as their own ability to gain, maintain, and loose credit has served to teach me the fundamental workings of credit. Given the supposed time period in which Roxana was written and the presence of a female monarch, which according to Defoe was entirely responsible for public credit, I think it is fitting that credit take on a female role. Furthermore, in Joseph Addison’s “Public Credit”, he too describes the discourse of a female entity who’s “recoveries were often as sudden as her decay’s” (1712). Defoe’s use of Christian Allegory also leads me to believe that Roxana was created to depict how money, or credit, should be treated. In parallel to biblical writings, real individuals are included and often presented with relationship to characters that the reader alternatively must take a leap of faith to believe to have existed. For instance, Roxana is presented along side individuals such as Sir Robert Clayton that persuade the reader to believe Roxana’s story to be true. Defoe’s constant argument for the story being true, and inclusion of real historical figures, is to me a desperate attempt to gain validation from the reader. As a final comparison I believe that the masses are also persuaded to believe in the existence and real value of money and credit in a similar way. Money is literally attached to real individuals by placement of figureheads on coins and more recently paper money. Governments try to convince their people that their money has real value, and is backed by real commodities. This was at least the case in the Unites States up until January 30th, 1934 when Congress amended Section 16 of the Federal Reserve Act to read, “Notes shall be redeemed in lawful money” and was no longer redeemable in gold. Once again people are expected to take a leap of faith in believing that there money and credit holds real value, and are only given small exerts of truth to base this belief on. In conclusion, I see quasi-blind faith as the common thread between Roxana, credit and modern day economics as well as the use of convoluted and flawed rational to maintain the statuesque.
I agree, I think there are some very interesting connections between Roxana, Lady Credit, and modern day economics.
Throughout the novel, Roxana takes on countless personas in order to maintain/create credibility, accumulate wealth, and avoid exposure. (Even in her metalanguage (as narrator) Roxana takes on the persona of someone who is morally conflicted. I believe this is intentionally done in order to manipulate the reader into accepting, justifying and granting credit to Roxana despite her villainy. Defoe also distances Roxana from impropriety by creating Amy, Roxana’s alter-ego. In class, Philip suggested that this relationship is similar to the relationship between Tolkein’s Gollum and Smeagol.)
This accumulation of credit forces Roxana to live in the delicate tension between finding freedom from wealth and fearing enslavement from poverty. But, this also makes Roxana a character whose powers of manipulation are far too great to be believable.
I think this is the point Defoe is trying to make: Credit, like Roxana is often “too good to be true”. It is an imaginary system that is based in fiction.
Even today, our economy is based on this “fictional” idea of trust. If investors sense that a certain entity (market, commodity, currency, industry, etc.) is going to lose value, they pull their support. This causes a downturn in the value of that entity. Defoe is pointing to the fact that investors and the public can easily be fooled into investing their trust (i.e.-wealth) or withdrawing it based on the reputation of the entity.
Today, I would argue that the media plays a huge role in contributing to the financial health of a market. The news can be quite alarmist, at times–often to increase viewership–if this is the case, than entire markets rise and fall with the fictional idea of trust. It’s a little disconcerting to think that our global economy is based on such abstract concepts and not in concrete values or measurements.
I’m still wandering through the new idea of economic criticism that we have been studying so I don’t have much to say about the whole “lady credit” idea, but just from reading through Roxana, I do get a sense of what Defoe was trying to say with his “Essay on Public Credit”.
The narrative, I feel, has been increasingly about HER and only her as time goes by. There isn’t a really large shift in the way she tells her story, but she has become the focal point in which the tale revolves around. Of course, this was apparent from the beginning, but I noticed a more, I guess self obsession, from the point of her meeting and getting to know the Prince. Every other detail which has nothing to do with her is seemingly brushed aside or addressed as an aside, and everything is made to be about her or how she feels or how she thinks. I suppose her narrative is like that of establishing credit and gaining confidence or a sense of value once someone has given her value (in this case, the Prince who showers her with anything even before she asks for it). Roxana has gone from being almost a beggar to becoming a rather wealthy woman, and gaining wealth she has gained vanity (as she says) and it is becoming more and more apparent in the way she tells her tale. Because of the credit she gained and of the value she has garnered, she takes extreme care in keeping her wealth, as with sending a spy to observe the daily routine of her first husband, the brewer, or to run away when the Jew says he will accuse her of murdering her jeweller friend. She has contradictory opinions on the safeguarding of her being, saying how the spy “was somewhat expensive” and “very chargeable” to later saying “it cost [her] after the rate of 150 livres a month, and very cheap too” in regards to paying him for continued observation of the brewer. The idea of money here is interesting because it is at once expensive and cheap all at the same time, and questions the value of something as opposed to the price, bringing in society’s idea of “money” and of its symbolism and juxtaposing that with the idea of “value” and “worth”.
I’m still trying to make sense of all that is Roxana, but I hope class discussions will help me understand it all a little better. (:
Did anyone count how many times the terms “easie” and “uneasie” are used by Roxana or to refer to Roxana’s situation?
I have a suspicion that Defoe uses these words repeatedly to track the ups and downs of Roxana’s reputation and her relationship to credit. With these words, I think Defoe is trying to point to the volatility of a market that is dependent on the concepts of trust (credit), mistrust (liabilities), borrowed trust (debt), and predictions of the future (futures).
“… With all this Wealth, I was yet a Whore” (171). We discussed today how this novel represents the beginnings of irony in literature, in that the reader never sees Roxana “pay back her debt” so to speak. Another route by which we can notice irony in the novel is through the several contrasts that crop up in Roxana’s life as “Lady Credit.” Roxana appears to be an independent woman; as her wealth grows, she refuses several marriage proposals, not requiring the financial security offered to women through marriage, and maintaining her freedom from a husband’s governance. However, her wealth and independence ironically are dependent on the fact that men continually find her sexually appealing, exotic, interesting, etc. Like credit, her way of life is only possible because of those who participate in her system of transactions, in Roxana’s case: sex for wealth. While it is evident that Roxana is “making her way in the world” like the middle-class readers of economic journalism, we can question how truly independent she is. A credit system does not work without those who participate in it; Roxana is repeatedly in a vulnerable position, and is only kept afloat financially by these men who contribute to her wealth’s accumulation. The scene with Roxana dancing while being watched by several admirers exemplifies amatory fiction in its emulation of upper-class culture. Because the reader is aware of Roxana’s identity however, her high-status appearance contrasts with her “whore” status. Defoe seems to be critiquing the shallow-ness of upper-class culture, or is at least reflecting that a credit-based economy is based on essentially nothing material; only the trust of future transactions between multiple participants.
Perhaps this is a little outside the realm of formal, literary criticism, which encourages us to predominantly search WITHIN the text for critical analysis, but after reading the novel and learning a little bit more about Defoe as an “authour” or “novelist” (I’ll explain the quotations in a second), I’m compelled to write about something a little different.
Our discussions in class have largely been centred around how Defoe merges the different generic elements available to him in order to provide the book and its characters with a certain credibility. In reading the novel, we the readers are asked to corroborate in the establishment of the novel’s credit. After reading Defoe’s “Essay on Publick Credit”, where he clearly appoints the Queen as the central authorial figure responsible for establishing credit, I was quite interested to learn that Defoe had initially published Roxana anonymously. The uncertainty of whether or not Defoe is even a real person has incited a whole new set of questions around the notion of authorship and the claim of authorial credit.
If we were to read the novel in the way it was initially published – without a clear author or central authority – the novel thus takes on a life of its own: it exists as an independent entity from the author. Based on the “Essay on Publick Credit”, how can the novel’s credit be established if there’s no connection to “a Queen”, so to speak? Once the work has entered a sphere of circulation as an independent entity, its meaning and its value are detached from the author’s intentions. The editor and Roxana herself are the only (yet untrustworthy) sources of authority we are able to consider. (As a side note, this would mean that the historical and even metaphorical methods of economic criticism would not be practical ways of conducting literary analysis on a book without an author. The formalist approach to economic criticism would seem more appropriate.)
That being said, I don’t mean to undermine the influence or intent Defoe may have had in the composition of his novel. Perhaps the novel’s lack of a reliable authorial presence is exactly the point Defoe is trying to make about credit! Without authorial ownership, the novel, as an independent entity, is presented as a kind of commodity that will endow the characters,and the story with credit.
A parallel of uncertainty can be drawn between the way in which generic elements are fused to produce the “proto-novel” (a fluid genre of literature still very much in its infant form), and the notion of economy, money, and credit in Defoe’s time which has existed without fixed or permanent principles. In the 18th century, both Defoe’s novel (as a genre) and the economy (as a system) exist in a fluid realm not yet backed by a central authority. I find Defoe’s decision to remain anonymous puzzling given the importance he places on the Queen in establishing a successful credit system.
Clearly I have a lot of loose thoughts I haven’t yet been able to piece together surrounding Defoe’s authorship, credibility, and the novel itself. Maybe some of the things I’ve said have resonated with you? Or maybe you’re further along than I am in thinking about them? Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
I like what you had to say about the questions of authorship and its connection to the idea of credit. Particularly, when you say “Without authorial ownership, the novel, as an independent entity, is presented as a kind of commodity that will endow the characters,and the story with credit.”
I think you make a valid connection between how the novel is written (with questionable authorship) and why the novel was written (as an economic commentary).
The theme of the novel centers around the rather unsettling idea that something as seemingly concrete as “economics” is actually an abstract (almost fictional) construct centered around the fragile construction of reputation and confidence. Just as the reader constantly wavers between doubting the credibility of the story and trusting its historicity, so too, we –the members of a paper economy– waver between (1) running scared and hoarding our wealth in property or precious goods OR (2) trusting the stability of the economic system and investing in the currency of trade (i.e. – a system of credit and paper).
I think the connection between questionable authorship and questionable credibility, whether intentional or not, do make this novel more about economic criticism than about a woman’s journey to fortune.
In class, we discussed the relationship between the Queen and money as depicted in Defoe’s “Essay on Public Credit”. What appealed to me in this essay was the circular relationship between the Queen and money, a relationship that illustrates that although the Queen is trusted to control/ oversee money and public credit, her own power as Queen originates and is reinforced by money and credit. I believe that this circular relationship can also be found between the character Roxana and the novel Roxana. The narrative of the novel is dependent upon Roxana, as it is her story regardless of the fictional editor, yet at the same time Roxana, as a fictional character, is only given a voice due to the existence of the novel.
The novel also features many circular moments of back tracking and narrative retelling. For example, Roxana talks about Amy’s experience in Rouen regarding the discovery of the Dutch merchant’s location, then she talks about how she ran into the Dutch merchant in London, and then back tracks and retells the conclusion of Amy’s story in France. The novel as a whole could also be viewed as a massive narrative back track since it is Roxana retelling a story regarding the majority of her life.
I think these circularities are important because Defoe wants to emphasize to the reader the circular nature of money and the economy. What he begins to illustrate with the relationship between the Queen and money in his “Essay on Public Credit” he further elaborates within the novel Roxana and through Roxana’s frequent back tracking. Money constantly circulates throughout an economy, every day people make gains and losses due to the market. Although Roxana becomes wealthier as the story progresses, her ability to talk in circles possibly invites the reader to think about the circular nature of money within the economy.
I’ve been really interested in the “Turkish Dress” that Roxana wears and how the dress keeps showing up throughout the novel.
The dress reminds me of 18th century orientalist fascination with “the East”. The East was imagined as exotic and a place of luxury and indulgence, which would have interested aristocratic classes. However, the fact that these specific ideas of the East are imagined and a fantasy is kind of like how credit does not really exist physically, but only exists because of the way that it is imagined and maintained. Addison’s figure of Lady Credit depends on her appearance to maintain her significance. Also, in Roxana, one gentleman claims that he saw Roxana’s dance performed at Constantinople. Even though it is a French dance, he imagines it to be Turkish, simply because of the dress.
Roxana’s use of the Turkish dress for economic gains is also like an extension of imperialism. Roxana buys the dress from a slave “as a curiosity” and then makes a huge profit from the dress, which make it seem as though she is engaging in a form of imperialism. Similarly, imperialists benefited from economic exploitation and profited from selling “exotic” goods from colonies.
Ultimately it is the dress, not her beauty, that brings her the most attention at the court, makes her the talk of the town and gives her the title, Roxana. The dress becomes so memorable that she has to hide it from her daughter in order to not be recognized as Roxana.
On another note, I found the blending of genres to be really interesting in this novel because I think there are many ways to interpret what exactly the novel tries to tell the reader about moral and economic conduct.
One way I interpreted it is that the novel tries to show how Roxana’s abandonment of Christian morals and values for aristocratic life leads to her (financial-which is what she is mostly concerned about) demise.
Roxana is never content or grateful with her current situation and always aspires for more. At every stage, it seems like Roxana could have made better choices (e.g. marrying the merchant, truly repenting during the storm and improving her conduct, being honest with her husband, taking responsibility for her children), had she been content with her life. Roxana should have been happy once she attained middle class status, instead of aspiring to be a “Countess” and become a member of the aristocratic class. Her immoral behaviour, arrogance, lack of repentance and obsession with worldly wealth and status prevent her from making the right choices.
I would like to expand on the conversation last class about the new definition of ‘self’ within the context of credit. Focusing on the interaction between Roxana and the merchant, I found evidence of one of these definitions laid out by Defoe. I think the ‘self’ in this instance became solely about one’s economic standing, particularly for women. With capital comes independence, and while a good marriage was seen as the ultimate achievement for a woman before this text, a husband would control all assets and thus take the away that independence. The new, wealthy, single woman was a new version of a successful ‘self’, not a woman who had married well. Roxana exhibits this when she is willing to surrender her virtue by having sex with the merchant but is unwilling to marry for she would then surrender her money. I believe it is because this new definition of ‘self’ was such a novel idea that Roxana is so unsure whether or not she really wants to define herself in this way. This uncertainty is present throughout the novel within the many contradictions that Defoe presents his readers.
In class we also discussed the possibility of there being any opinions that held true for Roxana throughout the text and the response that we held was mainly that there was not. I was thinking that perhaps there is one prevailing theme which is the aforementioned empowering of women. Roxana gaining capital through whatever means necessary gives her agency that she wouldn’t otherwise be able to enjoy. It seems, however, (and particularly in the case of the marriage debate with the merchant) that Roxana spends the most time laying out her true feelings (that she doesn’t want to marry to preserve her independence) but is frightened by the older, dominant view of the female ‘self’ being subordinate to men but widely accepted and expected. Casting herself out of the crowd to cater to her desires as a woman is a frightening concept and is the cause of her back-tracking when the merchant says that he is leaving. Again, this is the root of the ambiguous contradictions within speech and actions of Roxana.
As often as Roxana is seen as the cunning and manipulative protagonist that she indeed very much is, Gabbard points out in his article, “The Dutch Wives’ Good Husbandry: Defoe’s Roxana and Financial Literacy,” that she admits to her inability of comprehending formal bookkeeping procedures. He begs us to reevaluate her financial acuity, for when the Dutch merchant assumes her qualification of interpreting his book of accompts, Roxana shrivels away and becomes blatantly honest with her failure to do so.
On one hand, Defoe implicitly suggests that the wives of businessmen must learn the inner workings of the trade, however on the other hand the larger picture resides in the fact that the practice signifies moral righteousness so that “virtue [is] made visible.” As a result of Roxana’s financial illiteracy, her style of self-fashioning involves her conveniently omitting her losses, and even more so concealing her true identity through her chameleon-like ways of adjusting her image/status/reputation in accordance to her surrounding and relationship with particular individuals. For example, when her Dutch husband makes the grand mistake of permitting her to take his fortune as the wives do in the Netherlands, this allowance provides the perfect gateway for the protagonist to make her ever so smooth transition into a “Dutch wife” who gets to enjoy the luxury of acquiring her partner’s assets. Interestingly enough, she is one step ahead of the game when she realizes the need to conceal her past financial (as well as sexual) affairs, and makes the clever move to insist his adoption of English manner in which the husband governs both of their fortunes so she can continue hiding her lack of financial expertise. And despite how confusingly symbolic Roxana the character seems to embody/portray, I do enjoy deciphering the things Defoe wants his readers to conclude about the economy, literary criticism and the fragility of human virtue.
The comments about Roxanna’s lady credit are intriguing and it made me think about the whole act of maintaining one’s self as a proper lady as credit itself. By creating a certain persona from an early age, women begin to build their lady credit by being modest and sacrificing their pleasure to gain modesty as a sort of credit. To acquire wealth in the same manner as Roxanna, one has to sacrifice such things as attachment to their children and lovers. I’m not implying that Roxanna’s manners are applaudable but her living isn’t any different from a woman who marries a man using her constructed “modesty” by saving her body for the one man she chooses to marry or rather participate in a business contract. Taking into account that during that period in history, the only way women could live comfortably was if they sold themselves by a marriage contract to a wealthy and promising man, or to acquire wealth in some sort of way as Roxanna did. Living a married life is less truthful to one’s own nature. The woman who chooses to wed herself to one man from an early age is in fact a whore; she sells her body for an entire life’s span. During that lifetime, the natural way that one thrives is through discoveries and creativity. Interacting with as many other people does in fact create a rich and vibrant life. But after signing a marriage contract, one sells their given right of living to a fulfilling life by becoming an object of trade. A man sells his labor and the woman her modesty. without knowingly doing so, one becomes accustomed to living a life that lacks interaction with a diverse group of people especially the opposite sex. When in deed it is the interaction with the opposite sex that stimulates one’s consciousness and promotes self growth. However in a marriage there is also self growth but in a negative way. Our culture praises self sacrifice, and the more sacrifice you make in a marriage by limiting pleasure then you feel a sense of false achievement.
While we’ve been focusing moreso on Roxana recently in class, I found your comment about the nameless men in Roxana quite intriguing. As we discussed on Tuesday’s class, there is a very little way to definitively chart Roxana’s age throughout the text, and as such, her men become the way in which we chronologically chart her life. Each man is more or less a phase in her accumulation and dissipation of her fortunes. Around the crux of the novel, after her Prince has removed himself from her as a means of repentance, Roxana experiences what seems like a major stumbling block in her course when she does not know how to secure or transport her wealth.
At this point, it seems like Roxana might have been able to sustain her wealth had she accepted the Dutch Merchant’s offer of marriage. Interestingly as well, her refusal of the Dutchman is unique in that it is the first time her situation appears her to allow to do so – yes she approached him out of necessity but necessity did not drive her to accept him as she did the Jeweller and the Prince.
In doing so, it seems that she abandons the “virtuousness” that she allowed to enable her earlier affairs and begins doing what she wants to do rather than what she feels she must. It is also notable for the fact that her approaching the Merchant was less guided by Amy than her other schemes prior to and after the Dutch merchant seem to be. Is this the true Roxana of the text? At which point, in which relationship is Roxana being her most if not true, at least consistent?
Three ideas I wanted to post about, drawing on discussion from the past two classes, and delving a little ahead are: 1. The relationships between credit, confidence, and marriage, 2. The layers after layers of different perspectives and interpretations relative to time that Defoe builds to create his irony, and what purpose that irony has, and 3. How Roxana representing the failure of the middle class to become a pseudo-aristocracy is tied to the middle class’ unwillingness to accept the queen as the benchmark for credit, and what that meant for the gold standard.
One of the reasons the US housing market bubble remained virtually unseen for so long, was because traditionally the housing market was viewed as a rock solid investment, think the “safe as houses” idiom. We have explored the idea of credit being a social relationship in class, and established the great degree of suspicion and reluctance to accept the worthiness of credit felt by people in 18th century England. Marriage, however, has been seen as a clearly steadfast social relationship grounded in custom and tradition. In 18th century England, marriage was a social relationship that was as “safe as houses”, while credit more often than not was not accepted as a substitute for sheep or gold to pay the rent. Without a more in depth examination of Roxana, this leaves me with more questions about Roxana, credit and marriage. Does Defoe aim to use Roxana to expose the fact that marriage is not always, and often isn’t, a resolute and sanctimonious proposition, but can be, like credit. Are both essentially baseless, but still work because of they way that we as individuals and as a society understand them?
On page 157, while Roxana is debating her decision not to marry, the reader is hit with her state of mind at the time, as well as in the future. “I should marry him, no I got the money on my mind and my mind on the money, oh well maybe looking back that was a mistake” (not a direct quote). Throughout the novel I need to constantly be aware of which perspective of Roxana Defoe is talking from, and this accomplishes two things. One, it makes interpreting and analyzing what is going on much more laborious for the literarily uninitiated undergraduate (me), and two, I would posit that that layering of perspective helps create Defoe’s irony. Roxana actually isn’t so savvy with the financial system as we are otherwise led to believe, which detracts from her believability, which throws everything into question, as the whole book is recounted to the reader from Roxana. This façade of understanding credit and its nuances, helps transition into my third and final point.
The fledgling middle class in 18th century England could read all the stock lists they wanted to, however, they could not accept a monarch as the underpinning of the credit system. The lack of capitalization on a vastly powerful financial instrument meant that their ascendancy into a pseudo aristocracy never happened, and the middle class remained the readers of amatory fiction, and not the subjects. I am excited to see what the social implications of the gold standard were, as suddenly there was something “concrete” (not really) propping up credit.
I like what you have to say about the gold standard and its affect on society. In class, we learned that it was farmers in small villages in England that tore through the illusion that England’s banks had gold to back up their notes. This led to an unprecedented situation where banks would no longer exchange notes for gold at all. From this, the illusion of the credit economy was broken. It became common knowledge that paper was not linked to actual liquid capital. These events led to some important philosophical issues surrounding the system of credit:
Can there be stability in a credit-based economy? If so, is equilibrium achieved through controlling the market (Command Economy) OR through letting it find its own equilibrium (Free Market)?
Is all of Defoe’s writing just to show us that instability is needed in order that power can be decentralized? Is the fact that Defoe was writing about the ascension of the middle classes revealing of the fact that we need instability in the system in order to give each economy (credit system) equal opportunity to rise to the top?
I guess my question is this: Was Defoe an economic critic, a social activist, or simply an engaging author?
Those are interesting questions Janine? My inclination is to agree with Michael McKeon (whom we discussed in class a few weeks ago…): Defoe supported the new system of credit and even wrote pamphlets and articles in defence of it, but he was suspicious of it at the same time. His novels thematize or allegorize these doubts. He knows and through the figure of Roxana represents the instability of the credit system, but he isn’t sure that this is best way to run an economy and suggests that there must be limits to and restraints on it. In this respect he opens the way for future novelists – like Austen – to create a new kind of “novelistic discourse” that turns this combination of feelings (trust/distrusts) into the basis for the novel’s style, function, and prestige.
As I search for ideal articles for Assignment #1, I discovered and learned about plenty of great ideas about Roxana. They span many topics, such as prudence, marriage, economy, and wealth. One of the topics that surprised me the most is the access to (or hindrance of) information, and how a sufficient amount of it will lead to sound decisions, while a lack of it will lead to disaster. We can see this at the very beginning of the novel, when Roxana realizes she her first husband was a “fool” all along for not being able to carry on his brewery, resulting in her severe poverty. In contrast, it was her decision NOT to marry the dutch merchant at first (somewhere in the middle of the novel) because she knew that she would risk losing her freedom and even her wealth by doing so. And throughout the novel, Roxana makes more decisions that benefit her, such as her ‘relationship’ with the prince, (clearly knowing that the benefits far outweigh any possible risk) thus acquiring his wealth.
Just my two cents.
As for the question, yes, I do believe that the names were blanked out not just to provide a sense of realism for the story; some scholars state that the original names have been blanked out in order to preserve anonymity. And not only men’s names were blanked out, but some women too.