Roxana (1724) was Defoe’s last novel. It is a fascinating work, simultaneously strange and tragic, which dramatizes the moral deterioration and degradation of its complex heroine. Mlle Beleau, or Roxana as she becomes known, enters upon a career as a courtesan. She passes from one protector to another in England, France and Holland and amasses much wealth. But she is fatally torn between the dull virtue of middle-class respectability and the evil attractions of the beckoning city lights.
The only one of Defoe’s novels that does not end with the triumph of its protagonist, Roxana is nevertheless a triumphant work of art. It is of enormous historical and social interest, highlighting as it does the complex relationship that existed in Defoe’s time between public respectability and private corruption.
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