Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 345
Publication Date: 1724
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Defoe's last and darkest novel, is the autobiography of a woman who has traded her virtue, at first for survival, and then for fame and fortune. Its narrator tells the story of her own 'wicked' life as the mistress of rich and powerful men. A resourceful adventuress, she is also an unforgiving analyst of her own susceptibilities, who tells us of the price she pays for her successes. Endowed with many seductive skills, she is herself seduced: by money, by dreams of rank, and by the illusion that she can escape her own past. Unlike Defoe's other penitent anti-heroes, however, she fails to triumph over these weaknesses. Roxana's fame lies not only in the heroine's 'vast variety of fortunes', but in her attempts to understand the sometimes bitter lessons of her life as a 'Fortunate Mistress'.
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I was born, as my friends told me, at the city of Poitiers, in the province or county of Poitou in France, from whence I was brought to England by my parents, who fled for their religion about the year 1683, when the Protestants were banished from France by the cruelty of their persecutors.
I, who knew little or nothing of what I was brought over hither for, was well enough pleased with being here. London, a large and gay city, took with me mighty well, who from my being a child loved a crowd and to see a great many fine folks.
I retained nothing of France but the language. My father and mother, being people of better fashion than ordinarily the people called refugees at that time were, and having fled early while it was easy to secure their effects, had, before their coming over, remitted considerable sums of money, or, as I remember, a considerable value in French brandy, paper, and other goods; and these selling very much to advantage here, my father was in very good circumstances at his coming over, so that he was far from applying to the rest of our nation that were here for countenance and relief. On the contrary, he had his door continually thronged with miserable objects of the poor starving creatures, who at that time fled hither for shelter on account of conscience or something else.
I have indeed heard my father say that he was pestered with a great many of those who for any religion they had might e’en have stayed where they were, but who flocked over hither in droves for what they call in English a livelihood; hearing with what open arms the refugees were received in England, and how they fell readily into business, being by the charitable assistance of the people in London encouraged to work in their manufactures, in Spitalfields, Canterbury, and other places, and that they had a much better price for their work than in France and the like.
My father, I say, told me that he was more pestered with the clamours of these people than of those who were truly refugees and fled in distress merely for conscience. I was about ten years old when I was brought over hither, where, as I have said, my father lived in very good circumstances and died in about eleven years more; in which time, as I had accomplished myself for the sociable part of the world, so I had acquainted myself with some of our English neighbours, as is the custom in London; and as, while I was young, I had picked up three or four play-fellows and companions suitable to my years, so as we grew bigger we learnt to call one another intimates and friends, and this forwarded very much the finishing me for conversation and the world.
I went to English schools, and, being young, I learnt the English tongue perfectly well, with all the customs of the English young women; so that I retained nothing of the French but the speech, nor did I so much as keep any remains of the French language tagged to my way of speaking, as most foreigners do, but spoke what we call natural English, as if I had been born here.
Being to give my own character, I must be excused to give it as impartially as possible, and as if I was speaking of another body; and the sequel will leave you to judge whether I flatter myself or no.
I was (speaking of myself as about fourteen years of age) tall and very well made, sharp as a hawk in matters of common knowledge, quick and smart in discourse, apt to be satirical, full of repartee, and a little too forward in conversation; or, as we call it in English, bold, though perfectly modest in my behaviour. Being French born, I danced, as some say, naturally, loved it extremely, and sang well also; and so well, that, as you will hear, it was afterwards some advantage to me. With all these things, I wanted neither wit, beauty, nor money. In this manner I set out into the world, having all the advantages that any young woman could desire to recommend me to others and form a prospect of happy living to myself.
At about fifteen years of age my father gave me, as he called it in French, 25,000 livres, that is to say, two thousand pounds portion, and married me to an eminent brewer in the City. Pardon me if I conceal his name, for though he was the foundation of my ruin, I cannot take so severe a revenge upon him.
With this thing called a husband I lived eight years in good fashion, and for some part of the time kept a coach; that is to say, a kind of mock coach, for all the week the horses were kept at work in the dray carts, but on Sunday I had the privilege to go abroad in my chariot, either to church or otherwise, as my husband and I could agree about it; which, by the way, was not very often. But of that hereafter.
Before I proceed in the history of the married part of my life, you must allow me to give as impartial an account of my husband as I have done of myself. He was a jolly, handsome fellow as any woman need wish for a companion, tall and well made, rather a little too large, but not so as to be ungenteel; he danced well, which I think was the first thing that brought us together. He had an old father who managed the business carefully, so that he had little of that part laid on him but now and then to appear and show himself; and he took the advantage of it, for he troubled himself very little about it, but went abroad, kept company, hunted much, and loved it exceedingly.