Monday, August 9, 2010

Poverty vs. Conscience

Daniel Defoe's 'Roxana' surprised me, and that's saying something. It's the first Defoe book I've ever read. I know the story of 'Robinson Crusoe' but have never read it. I plan to read 'Moll Flanders' very soon, but these are moot points. This story of a woman going from grinding poverty to high society caught me and drew me in nicely. Before I address the story itself, there are a couple of structural points I wish to make. The edition (1964) I read was pulled from the original first edition (1724), and I cannot help but wonder if changes were made in future editions. First off, there are no quotations marks and paragraph breaks to denote dialogue. I've found these in Austen, the Bronte's, Dickens... so I was pretty thrown. It's a lot of I said, he/she said stuff. Reminds me of the writing I used to do when I was 8. I know that Defoe's a better writer than I am, so I guess that's how they used to do things back in the 1700's. I guess quotation marks had either not been invented or they weren't important then.
Second structural point: No chapters! The whole thing flows without breaks of any kind. It wasn't until I was at least halfway through the book that I realized there were no chapters, so it's not the end of the world. Just could be a little annoying for folk who say 'Okay, I'm going to stop after chapter...' Apart from these two points, the rest of the structure is just fine. A few spelling differences, but normal for the 1700's. Now to get into the story proper. 'What goes through the mind of a mistress?' Defoe answers the question, more or less, with 'Roxana'. I'm sure there are mistresses nowadays who would share the protagonist's concerns and feelings, although most mistresses aren't connecting with lords, princes and high worthies in general. A successful enough businessman can keep a wife and mistress (or doxy - I love that word!) pretty well.
Roxana's conscience impresses me. I'm a cynic, so when a person (real or fictional) has morals enough to feel guilt so keenly, I'm impressed. I also find myself duelling with my conscience quite a bit, and I don't expect to be anyone's mistress anytime soon. As far as mistresses go, Roxana is quite the lucky one. Trailed by wealth and wealthy patrons from Paris to Rotterdam, to England, to a Quaker enclave, and then left in the lap of reasonable luxury with her second hubby and dealing with a ton of guilt. And what did she do, apart from sleep her way to the top? Her cunning and doting lady-in-waiting did much worse, but I'm focusing on Roxana and not her dear Amy. When faced with poverty and the fear of losing it all, what would you do?
Thought-provoking stuff. That's all. BYE.

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