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DUTCH WIVES’ GOOD HUSBANDRY: DEFOE’S ROXANA AND FINANCIAL LITERACY
D. Christopher Gabbard
Scholars of Daniel Defoe’s last novel, Roxana, or The Fortunate Mistress (1724), appear to be convinced that the novel’s protagonist exhibits considerable expertise in managing financial matters by amassing a substantial fortune. Moreover, it generally has come to be assumed that Roxana exemplifies the successful manipulation of emerging capitalism’s market forces. Supporters of these claims maintain that she is “a successful entrepreneur” and a “shrewd investor” and that she “masters the exchange economy of late seventeenth-century England.”1 However, in light of issues relating to financial literacy as well as to gender and the semiotics of geography, a close study of the text suggests that the assumption of her financial acumen needs to be reconsidered, if not thrown entirely into question. Sandra Sherman writes of Roxana’s “homology with the discourse of credit,” and in the spirit of such a discourse, an accurate balance sheet regarding this protagonist’s economic abilities and deficiencies should be maintained.2 One element worth entering into such a reckoning is the narrator’s self-mythologizing strategies, effected primarily through her repeated tallying of assets. These strategies have gone a long way toward obscuring recognition of her inability to read and keep her own financial records, a shortcoming that in itself imposes serious limitations on economic agency. A counterbalancing element equally worth entering is the novel’s play with what it meant to be Dutch in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the period of Holland’s “Golden Age,” when Dutchness served as a figure in some English quarters for economic success. Weighing these elements one against the other helps inform our understanding of what we are to
D. Christopher Gabbard is an assistant professor of English at the University of North Florida. Currently he is working on The Corporeal Imagination: Beauty, Defect, Deformity, and Disfigurement in the British Eighteenth Century. Eighteenth-Century Studies, vol. 37, no. 2 (2004) Pp. 237–251.
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make of the protagonist’s overall narrative trajectory from Mademoiselle de Beleau to Dutchman’s wife. A reassessment of Roxana’s economic prowess begins with her admission of an inability to read “Accompts.” This lack first becomes evident in the scene in which she and her newly-wed Dutch merchant display for one another their respective assets. When the merchant pulls out his “Books of Accompts, and Writings, and such things” for his bride to examine, on the supposition that she has the capacity to interpret them, she confesses in an aside to the reader that they “were in themselves of no Moment to me, because I understood them not” (302).3 Understanding here means literacy, and what she is expected to read are accounting books. Furthermore, formal bookkeeping procedure during this period entailed the keeping of three types of books: the memorandum or “waste” book, the journal, and the ledger.4 In this instance, Roxana appears unable to identify what types of books her husband is showing her, so she dismisses them as “Writings, and such things.” Her ignorance may be even more profound, for on the following page she admits that she cannot grasp the meaning of what appear to be relatively simple documents. The merchant “pull’d me out some old Seals, and small Parchment-Rolls, which I did not understand” (303). Again, this statement concerning her inability to analyze and interpret financial documents is unequivocal. Far from being insignificant details, these sotto voce disclosures would have been remarked by a portion of Defoe’s readership. Moreover, on another occasion Roxana reveals that she cannot perform double-entry bookkeeping (known during the time as “the Italian method”) or balance books.5 In the text’s final pages, the information comes out that her servant Amy, who “was now a Woman of Business” (290), has been keeping her mistress’ books. When Amy disappears, the protagonist finds herself incapable of managing her own affairs:
I was irresolute to the last Degree; I was, for want of Amy, destitute; I had lost my Right-Hand; she was my Steward . . . [who] kept my Accompts, and, in a word, did all my Business; and without her, indeed, I knew not how to go away, nor how to stay. (366)
The protagonist’s language here invokes Defoe’s description of the ill-prepared widow in his 1726 tract, The Complete English Tradesman; in a chapter entitled “Of the Tradesman’s letting his Wife be Acquainted with his Business,” Defoe explains that, for both the tradesman’s own benefit and that of his wife (in the event of her becoming a widow), he should include her in the family business and familiarize her with its day-to-day operations.6 Implicit in this advice is the notion that all business people—male and female—should be able to perform bookkeeping. Defoe warns that if pride prohibits some wives from learning to keep accounts, then, when their husbands die, they “live to be the shame of the tradesman’s widow; they knew nothing how he got his estate when he was alive, and they know nothing were to find it when he is dead.”7 In view of this admonitory passage, we should note that the departure of Amy—in this instance, a sort of female husband—renders her mistress just such an ill-prepared widow, for Roxana cannot manage her own accounts now that her maidservant has disappeared. What is more, the protagonist acknowledges that, because she has ceded the maintenance of her books to the now absent maidservant, she knows not “how to go
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away, nor how to stay.” Finding herself unable to achieve any kind of economic reckoning on her own, she becomes as immobile as her bankrupt and contemptible first husband, the man to whom she once referred as that “meer motionless Animal” (132). It is significant that, as the novel draws to a close, the protagonist finds herself descending into the same paralytic (“motionless”) state previously occupied by him. Thus, at this very late point in the story, she still possesses a substantial fortune, but she hardly can be said to exhibit considerable expertise in managing financial matters. How important is financial literacy to our understanding of Roxana? A minor gauge of its importance can be found in Defoe’s background: he grew up in a household in which being able to maintain “accompts” mattered a great deal. Both his uncle and his father were respected accountants, and he himself had been employed as one.8 A more important gauge appears in the Complete English Tradesman. Writing on this subject “with something approaching religious fervour,” Defoe emphasizes that people engaging in trade not only must be able to interpret financial records, but also must maintain them scrupulously.9 It is a “bad sign when [bookkeeping] is omitted,” he writes, “and looks as if the tradesman was afraid of entering into a close examination of his affairs.”10 The failure to “cast up his books,” he adds, “carries a very ominous face with it.”11 Early in Roxana, just such an “ominous” bookkeeping lapse appears in the omissions of the protagonist’s first husband: “[I]t was below him to inspect his Books,” Roxana reports; “he committed all that to his Clerks and Book-Keepers” (42). Her first husband’s delinquency in attending to his books, it should be remembered, sets in motion the fateful chain of events that drives the narrative: his failure to maintain his own “Accompts” leads to bankruptcy, which ushers in family calamity, which eventuates in the protagonist’s resorting to prostitution. Defoe’s opinion of formal bookkeeping—“the essential skill for the management of credit”—also should be situated within a larger tradition.12 Alfred Crosby notes that in the early 1400s it came to be recognized that “[b]y keeping good books the good merchant saved himself from ‘a chaos, a confusion of Babel.’ The key technique in achieving that end proved to be double-entry bookkeeping.”13 As the use of this technique spread in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in the great Italian trading republics, it went well beyond entailing the habit of keeping track of financial transactions. Mary Poovey demonstrates that it signified much more because of its early link to the discipline of rhetoric.14 As a logical, rule-bound, self-correcting, and self-enclosed system, formal bookkeeping became associated with both the production and display of moral rectitude. As Poovey informs us, “entering the pertinent information about each transaction twice, once as a credit and once as a debit, enabled the accountant to add up the amounts, then to rectify or balance the sums of the entries” so that “virtue was made visible.”15 By the middle of the seventeenth century, accounting in England was breaking this early link to rhetoric and was forging a new one with Francis Bacon’s inductive science, that is, with the notion of a disinterested realm of knowledge.16 Despite this change, the procedure’s purpose remained the same: accounting continued to be regarded as a formal process for insuring and exhibiting the tradesman’s trustworthiness. In line with this demonstration of individual probity was accounting’s social effect, namely, that of proclaiming “the hon-
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esty of merchants as a group.”17 Also during the seventeenth century, the Puritans began to privilege formal bookkeeping as a way of accounting for material experience. As such, it served as one more means of achieving self-knowledge, of maintaining moral rectitude, and ultimately of taking stock of one’s spiritual goods and evils. Thus, as a method of personal self-reckoning, accounting assumed a salvational dimension. Defoe himself came from a Dissenter background, and this spiritual aspect of the practice, together with the authority and legitimization it accorded to merchants both individually and as a group, suggests that his regard for it should not be underestimated.18 While Roxana’s confessions of financial illiteracy may be intriguing, by themselves they do not undermine the assumption of her economic prowess. After all, the fact of her prodigious material accumulation cannot be denied; John Richetti correctly notes that “Roxana’s wealth is astonishing.”19 Readers are struck by her repetitive and ostentatious detailing of assets, especially in the novel’s second half. Still, the question arises as to whether readers, even scholarly ones, fall prey to her self-promoting strategies. That she conspicuously displays her gains should not divert attention from her lapsing into silence when it comes time to tabulate her losses. Moreover, the prominence of this financial self-fashioning obscures a number of subtle thematic elements that raise additional suspicion regarding her business know-how. These elements involve the itineraries she maps out as she moves from place to place and from one identity to another, each of which is inflected by a particular national character. A non-exhaustive list of her identities starts with her French personas (the Huguenot refugee Mademoiselle de Beleau, also “The Beautiful widow of Poitou”),20 moves to her English ones (Roxana the courtesan, and woman in Quaker dress), and concludes with ones associated with Holland (wife of a Dutchman, and anonymous “Dutch Lady” ). How are we to interpret this medley of adopted nationalities? Janet Sorensen observes that Roxana interrogates a “spatial semiotic economy,”21 and along similar lines a number of critics—David Blewett, John Richetti, and Bram Dijkstra— have construed this novel to be an allegory of world trade, one in which the Netherlands stands for economic discipline and France for luxury and corruption.22 If we take this notion of Roxana one step further and read it as a gendered geopolitical fantasy, the distinction between France and Holland plays itself out so that the semiotics of these two geographical spaces reveal much about what is to be made of the protagonist’s various identities: France and Holland become encoded so as to make intelligible Roxana’s trajectory from Mademoiselle de Beleau to Dutchman’s wife. It is important to point out that reading France and Holland in this light is neither to overestimate the stability of these signifiers nor to assert that Defoe understood national difference as an essential or stable phenomenon. In his 1701 poem, The True-Born Englishman, he attacks the supposition of England’s own homogeneity by thematizing hybridity. One of the elements that makes Roxana fascinating is the manner in which he carries forward this same concern regarding the contingencies of nationality by presenting Roxana’s relationships to national categories as fluid, as being matters of inventiveness, even disguise. As a result, the examples of her changing national associations should not be taken to suggest that Defoe intended readers to glimpse an authentic national identity lurking beneath her assumed ones.
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With this caveat in mind, France and Holland should be understood to represent not so much distinct locales as reference fields with specific signifying power. France epitomizes what Alison Conway describes in another context as the “terror of the power of aristocratic culture and its desires that Defoe desperately confronted throughout his career.”23 Along similar lines, France in this novel serves as the locus of what Raymond Williams terms “residual” beliefs and customs: it is the land of absolutist monarchy and feudalism, with its traditions of wealth resulting from inheritance and inalienable property.24 Concurrent with these beliefs and customs were its supposed vices of idleness, moral laxity, and sensuality. In the novel’s symbolic structure, France’s residual nature is manifested through Roxana’s jeweler “husband” going there to trade in precious stones. Dijkstra correctly points out that Roxana’s fascination with jewels as treasure (together with France’s association with such treasure) exhibits economically oldfashioned thinking, for jewels “were for Defoe items of value representative of pre-capitalist systems of value, wealth and exchange.”25 Hence, her fascination with jewels becomes indicative of what Judith Sloman identifies as her “desire to remain tied to the values of the past,” and France, it can be said, aligns with residual wealth-generating forces.26 France also connotes what is perilous. Throughout Roxana, references to a menacing French national character accumulate. To name just a few: the crucial figure the protagonist dances while wearing the infamous Turkish dress was “invented by a famous Master at Paris” (216), and while in that country she passes as the French wife of an English jeweler who winds up murdered (91). Best exemplifying France’s dangers is that twice in the text Roxana must flee from it: on the opening page she mentions the first escape (as a Huguenot going into exile). The second takes place when, on account of a Paris intrigue that nearly proves fatal, she again must leave (159). Juxtaposed with this French reference field is one connected with the Dutch Republic, for the sense of menace associated with the former is counterbalanced by the prospect of safety offered by the latter. Twice Roxana seeks refuge in the republic: the first instance occurs after her escape on account of the Paris intrigue, whereupon she successfully redeems her fortune in Rotterdam. The second takes place in the book’s final pages, when she must evade the pursuit of her daughter, Susan. At this late stage, the protagonist repeatedly asserts that she will find tranquility only by crossing over the North Sea to the Republic (317, 366, 375). Holland consequently provides a leitmotif suggesting security, while France becomes associated with danger. It is during Roxana’s first residence in the Netherlands that, by her own report, a new profile begins to emerge. In Rotterdam, she informs the reader, she undergoes a change from a “Lady of Pleasure” to a “Woman of Business,” becoming, she says, “as expert in [business], as any She-Merchant of them all” (169, 170). The protagonist’s statements deserve exploring because the fact that she utters them in this locale would have resonated with Defoe’s readers. During this period, English stereotypes about the women of “Golden Age” Holland included the supposition that they performed public, non-agricultural, non-domestic labor. Dutchwomen especially were believed to operate as bargainers, bookkeepers, and money managers.27 An anonymous poet in 1674 writes that in the Netherlands “Their was not Widdow, Wife, or Maid, / But to a hair she had her Trade.”28 And late in the century an English traveler reports that Dutchwomen
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“many times of the two [sexes] better understand” keeping books and conducting business, and because this was so, “in the Cities the Women often manage the Cash.”29 Another late-century traveler similarly records that “it is a general Observation in [Holland], that where the Women have the direction of the Purse and Trade, the Husbands seldom prove Bankrupts.”30 Bernard Mandeville states in 1709 that “In Holland, Women sit in their Counting-houses, and do Business, or at least are acquainted with everything their Husbands do.”31 Such views persisted at least into the late eighteenth century, when Benjamin Franklin registered that a successful businesswoman operating in the 1730s in Charleston, South Carolina, was “born & bred in Holland . . . where the Knowledge of Accompts makes a Part of Female Education.”32 Dutchwomen’s capabilities correlated with their relatively strong legal position in marriage, one which afforded them considerable scope in matters regarding property and probate.33 However, the historical reality of Dutchwomen’s economic and social status does not concern us so much as the fact that these women were reputed to possess commercial wisdom.34 Contributing to Dutchwomen’s reputation was the general awe with which Holland and its surging economy were regarded. Some of the century’s most important contributors to political economy—Thomas Mun, Sir William Petty, James Puckle—were fascinated by the Dutch model. Joyce Appleby writes that the “sustained demonstration of this Dutch commercial prowess acted more forcefully upon the English imagination than any other economic development of the seventeenth century.”35 The overlapping of interest in Holland’s mastery in finance, shipping, and trade and in Dutchwomen’s commercial wisdom can be observed in Josiah Child’s 1668 Brief Observations Concerning Trade, and Interest of Money. In the early pages of this pamphlet, Child presents a vision of the Dutch wife as an industrious tradeswoman and accountant who from girlhood has been instructed in the commercial arts. The piece emerged out of an economic debate specific to the 1660s and 1670s focusing on increasing productivity and lowering interest rates vis-àvis developments in the Netherlands.36 In the seventh of fifteen “particulars” of trade exercised by the Dutch, Child recommends emulating the Dutch example of instructing all children, “as well Daughters as Sons,” in “Arithmetick and Merchant Accompts.”37 As a result of this custom, in the United Provinces the “women are as knowing therein as the Men.”38 He then enumerates two benefits of the custom: first, it inclines both sexes to greater thrift, for it encourages “both Husbands and Wives in some measure from running out of their estates.”39 And second, it facilitates the formation of husband-and-wife business partnerships. In Holland, he reports, wives “incourage Husbands to hold on in their Trades to their dying days, knowing the capacity of their Wives to get in their Estates, and carry on their Trades after their Deaths.”40 A wife’s know-how allows her to take over the enterprise in the event of her husband’s illness, absence, retirement, or demise. In other words, in Holland the husband cedes some authority to his wife so that, in return, she can function in a business capacity, and these Dutch concerns run by such husband-and-wife teams enjoy greater longevity and therefore realize more return on investment than do businesses in which only the husband is involved. By contrast, English businessmen often cease trading before their time is up. Pointing out this difference, Child implies that the failure to educate En-
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glish women for business results in having to turn off prematurely the spigot of potentially long-running profit flows. Two years later, Roger Coke reiterates many of Child’s points in Of the Growth and Increase of the Dutch Trade. One of Coke’s goals in writing this pamphlet was to suggest ways to overcome the labor shortage resulting from emigration to the colonies. Drawing from the mercantilist view that a nation’s population constituted a resource, Coke sought to augment the labor pool and concluded that English women were underutilized. Coke goes further than Child by incorporating a reason-of-state argument to buttress his claim that training women for business would increase the labor supply:
From hence it is that Dutch Merchants Wives frequently when their Husbands are abroad in Trade, or any other business, order and govern their Trade as diligently and discreetly as if they were at home; which is a very great advantage both to the State and their Husbands, and Families, and might be of as much, or more to the King and Merchants here in England, if their Wives were so educated, as to be enabled to do so.41
Coke predicts that English women schooled in commerce will prove an even greater benefit to their “state,” “King,” and, most importantly, “Merchants” than their Dutch counterparts do for the Netherlands. In addition to the mercantile apologists Child and Coke, and perhaps because of them, two English writers of accounting manuals in the 1670s promoted female accounting by referring to the positive role Holland’s women played in their economy. These writings mark a departure from the past, for neither the accounting manuals emerging centuries earlier out of northern Italy, nor their English successors, mention women engaging in the exercise. These omissions were in keeping with the cultural bias that wives should be kept from having intimate knowledge of financial affairs. In 1580 John Lyly had counseled in Euphues: “Let al[l] the keyes hang at hir girdel, but the pursse at thine, so shalt thou knowe what thou dost spend and how she can spare.”42 As a practical matter, English women in the seventeenth century often did manage household finances, but the accounting manuals coming out before the 1670s implicitly distinguished between female casual domestic record keeping and male formal practice. Poovey comments that “women do not figure in accounts of double-entry accounting because what was at issue . . . was the professionalizing of bookkeeping.”43 Indeed, no manual advocates for women’s participation until Stephen Monteage’s 1675 Debtor and Creditor. Monteage credits the Dutch with exhibiting women’s potential: “It is therefore a good Course they take in Holland,” he writes, “where if the Husband be the Merchant, the Wife is the Book-keeper.”44 Three years later, another accounting manual sounds a similar note. Addressing a primarily female readership, Advice to the Women and Maidens of London was written by an anonymous female author who alludes to the importance of the Dutch model.45 Because of these texts, as well as other influences, women’s involvement in accounting—a Dutch innovation—eventually spread to England.46 Two other women writers in the later part of the century also comment upon Dutchwomen’s financial prowess. In her 1673 polemic for female educa-
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tion, Bethsua Makin states that educated English wives “may be very useful to their husbands in their trades, as the Women are in Holland.”47 Makin affirms that “One great Reason why our neighbours the Dutch have thriven to admiration, is the great care they take in the education of their women.”48 Enumerating such subjects as “Geometry,” “Arithmetick,” and “Oeconomicks,” she stresses that a truly educated woman should possess knowledge of each of them, asserting:
This seems to be the description of an honest, well-bred, ingenious Dutch-woman. I desire our women, whose condition calls them to business, should have no other breeding but what will enable to do those things performed by [a Dutch] woman.49
For Makin, Holland’s women stand as a kind of alternative feminine ideal of industriousness and cultivation. And Judith Drake, in her 1696 Essay in Defence of the Female Sex, brings up a related theme when she contrasts the circumscribed state of English women with the wider range of activities open to women living across the North Sea:
Let us look a little further, and view our Sex in a state of more improvement, amongst our Neighbours the Dutch. There we shall find them . . . making and receiving all Payments as well great as small, keeping the Books, ballancing the Accounts, and doing all Business, even the nicest of Merchants, with as much Dexterity and Exactness as their, or our Men can do.50
Drake’s promotion of female education relies to a considerable degree upon emphasizing the benefits the Dutch nation derives from the good husbandry of its well-taught women. It is against this backdrop that Roxana’s contemporary readers would have made sense of the protagonist’s claim that, while in the Netherlands, she is becoming a “She-Merchant” and a “Woman of Business” (170, 169). Holland would have served as the most obvious setting for such an economic awakening to occur. The narrator’s statements at this juncture imply that she perceives herself—or at least would like to perceive herself—to be undergoing a transformation from “Lady of Pleasure” to homo œconomicus. However, the Dutch merchant’s first marriage proposal disrupts this transformation, at which time she returns to London to set up residence on the outskirts of the Francophilic Stuart court, where she resumes deploying the skills as a prostitute she first perfected in Paris. Roxana’s prostitution often is viewed as a form of capitalist enterprise, but the question really becomes one of how much of the Dutch “Woman of Business” she retains as she resumes operation as a French “Lady of Pleasure”? Can she superimpose an aura of Dutch good husbandry over French prostitution? Having established herself in Pall Mall, she soon meets the historical figure of Sir Robert Clayton. Clayton gives Roxana tutorials regarding market speculation, and these lessons should consolidate and expand upon the knowledge she picked up while in the Netherlands (207–212). Surprisingly, she does not quickly embrace his world of financial capital, for, after several lessons, she responds that she “knew not how to be a Miser” (208). This tardiness of comprehension seems odd, considering that, a few pages prior, she had proclaimed her-
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self to be a “Woman of Business” (169). Indeed, as Sir Robert’s pupil she appears to be as mystified by the emerging speculative commercial environment as were those among Defoe’s readers who still viewed the new markets as tinged with usury, even dark magic. Be that as it may, eventually at his behest she starts to save and to turn over her earnings from prostitution for him to invest. Symbolically, then, he begins transforming her residual “treasure” into the funds of the emerging credit economy. Of crucial importance here is that it is Sir Robert and not Roxana who effects this transformation: what money she brings to him, he makes grow exponentially. This is to say that an accurate assessment of Sir Robert’s role indicates that it is not chiefly through her efforts as a courtesan, but rather, through his successful investment strategies, that she becomes an exceptionally wealthy woman. As a consequence, it simply would not be accurate to assert that Roxana’s turning to him to manage her finances somehow signifies that she herself has mastered finance. Three other narrative elements also cast doubt on her penetration into business matters. The first concerns Roxana’s marriage with the Dutch merchant, who, soon after the wedding, informs her that, with regard to managing their merged family finances, including his own sizable fortune, “you shall e’en take it all upon yourself, as the Wives do in Holland . . . ; for all the Drudgery shall be yours” (288). By means of this delegation of power, she undergoes a categorical metamorphosis into a “Dutch wife.” For one thing, his assignment invokes the cultural assumption we have explored concerning Dutchwomen exercising financial authority and epitomizing rigorous accounting and good husbandry. For another, it holds Roxana up to a high set of expectations, the test of which will be whether she can manage all of his assets as well as her own. However, it also raises an interesting question: unexpectedly given the task of administering finances on a fairly grand scale, and yet, unable even to read a ledger, what is she to do? All of a sudden she not only must conceal her sexual history, but also must avoid detection as an impostor in financial affairs. Roxana responds by preempting his offer with one of her own. Instead of doing “as the Wives do in Holland,” she contrives matters so that he will be compelled to keep his estate and take control of hers. A few pages later, she informs him that, although she earlier had spoken of having “two Pockets” (separate estates for husband and wife) and “of being a Free Woman, and an Independent,” she has changed her mind (295). Now, she tells him, “since I had taken him, I wou’d e’en do as other honest wives did, where I thought fit to give myself, I shou’d give what I had too” (295). Ostensibly she is saying that, just as she has given him her hand in marriage, she also will turn over to him all of her property, and she will do so to prove her integrity. And yet, such an expression of integrity, made by a figure who has assumed a number of masks, should be regarded with suspicion. Indeed, her ulterior motive emerges in her choice of the term “honest wives,” for what she really means by it is that she will comport herself as English wives do, as opposed to Dutch ones: she will perform voluntarily what law and custom force English women entering marriage to do. In other words, under the pretext of bringing herself into accordance with English (but not necessarily Dutch) marital custom and law, she will oblige him to adopt the English manner in which the husband manages the combined estates, thereby allowing her to continue concealing her financial illit-
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eracy. Such a maneuver preserves her disguise of financial competence, which, after all, must be perpetuated, for discovery concerning her financial illiteracy would disclose to him that he had married her under false pretenses, an unwelcome bit of news that might lead to other more unsavory revelations. Consequently, conducting herself “as other honest wives did,” in order to avoid doing “as the Wives do in Holland,” points more toward her need for further dissembling than it does toward a resolve to behave honestly. Clever as this maneuver may seem, it is hardly financially deft. In fact, it potentially could exact a significant price, for Roxana paradoxically must expend all of her capital (give everything to her husband) in order to continue the ruse that she is a woman who knows how to accrue capital. Worse still, she must acquiesce in a manner that she has attempted to avoid; namely, she must lose her financial independence by turning her riches over to a husband. Considering how important “the Dignity of Female Liberty” has been to her, this offer to surrender the means of her independence represents a major setback (269). Worst of all, she must relinquish her wealth not just to any husband, but to one who has never asked for, expected, needed, or even wanted her money. Luckily for her, this desperate maneuver turns out favorably, for the Dutch husband unquestioningly accepts her honest wife / English wife persona as genuine. Still, he persists in attempting to make her “Dutch” by returning her portion, and, by so doing, treats her not as an English but as a Dutch wife: “he gave back all my Writings into my own Hands again” (305). To this move she replies, “seeing you will have it be kept apart, it shall be so” (305). Thus, Roxana successfully has it both ways: she adopts the guise of an English wife to avoid detection, but still manages to “go Dutch” in a marital arrangement where the parties will maintain separate estates. And yet, lucky as she seems to be, she really only winds up back where she started, for, if she had been truly financially literate in the first place, she could have taken control of his estate while also retaining her own. The second narrative element raising doubt about her economic prowess operates figuratively and appears toward the novel’s close, in an episode in which she reverses positions vis-à-vis the one just discussed. Where she previously had behaved as an English wife to fool her Dutch husband, this time she behaves as a Dutchwoman to fool her English daughter, Susan. This episode exploits the metaphor of Dutchness by emphasizing her inability to present herself convincingly as Dutch, the nationality that, we have argued, stands for economic competence. This clumsy and transparent piece of acting takes place when Susan, who has never known her mother, shows up at a dinner party and interrogates her regarding her identity. Roxana improvises that she is not Susan’s mother but an anonymous Dutchwoman, explaining that she “had liv’d at Rotterdam a great while” (325). Then, attempting to make the performance a little more persuasive, she “jested, and talk’d Dutch” with a little Dutch boy nearby (325). Because this ruse fails to allay Susan’s skepticism, the daughter in the following scene seeks information from Roxana’s Quaker friend, who, continuing the feint, insists to Susan that Roxana “wast a Dutch Lady” (327). Still discerning a “true” character beneath the Dutchwoman persona, Susan continues the hunt and draws ever closer, Roxana fears, to unmasking her. While the failure of the “Dutch Lady” imposture to fool Susan accentuates the flimsiness of Roxana’s overall Dutchwoman
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façade, the unconvincing impersonation signals something else as well. G. A. Starr has demonstrated that the seventeenth-century Puritan spiritual autobiography served Defoe as a kind of template for producing such fictions as Moll Flanders and Robinson Crusoe.51 A brief comparison of these two novels with Roxana is informative. The first two novels feature itineraries through society and the world, with these travels corresponding to spiritual journeys characterized by recognitions of God’s providence and culminating in prospects of spiritual redemption. Moll Flanders and Robinson Crusoe undergo considerable physical hardship in the middle portions of their stories, and it is only toward the conclusions that the protagonists acquire lasting riches and status. This ordering of trial, then reward becomes crucial for establishing the teleology inherent in salvational allegory. With Roxana, Defoe complicates the usual sequence: Roxana experiences material comfort in the middle of her narrative, and no teleology terminating in the likelihood of redemption becomes obvious as the reader nears the end. This deviation from the genre’s usual “arc” becomes most apparent in the succession of her identities, for her final, “Dutch Lady” persona cannot be said to be successful and so cannot represent an endpoint of transformation. In fact, everything about this last identity indicates that it is as improvisational (and disposable) as her earlier French and English ones had been. What this last bit of posturing means is that her pretension to being expert in financial matters—her “Dutch” pose— signifies nothing so much as the donning of another mask. It also suggests a lack of success in undergoing the type of powerful spiritual conversion sought for by the radical reformist Protestants, many of whom had taken refuge in Holland during the latter Stuarts’ reign, the time in which Roxana is set. The stark difference between these exiles and Roxana thus comes into focus: in sympathy with the former, Defoe in Roxana metaphorically (and metaphysically) aligns becoming a proto-capitalist, a Dutch wife, and a good Christian. This alignment gives us a handle on the spiritual outcome of Roxana, whose pretensions to being a protocapitalist and a Dutch wife are belied by her non-existent accounting practices, and whose standing as a good Christian is left to negative inference. In summary, Defoe’s inversion of the spiritual autobiography comes powerfully to the fore as the narrator’s failed trajectory from French Huguenot refugee to “Dutch wife,” with the novel finally trailing off, only to point to “missed opportunities for conversion” to both God and good husbandry.52 The last of the three narrative elements to undercut the assumption of Roxana’s superior economic knowledge is nothing more really than a slip of the tongue occurring within a few pages of the end. At this juncture she is describing the services that her maidservant Amy has been performing for her. She asserts that Amy functioned as her “Steward [who] gather’d in my Rents, I mean my InterestMoney” (366). This strange misspeak—substituting “Rents” for “Interest-Money”—discloses that, not surprisingly, Roxana fantasizes that she is a member of the landed class. In other words, it reveals that she thinks first and foremost of herself as being a member of the Tory nobility living off of land revenues (“Rents”) and not as someone benefiting from Sir Robert’s Whiggish, speculative investments (“Interest-Money”). This slip, which she quickly corrects (“I mean . . .”), brings to light her impulse to conceal the source of her riches. After all, the manner by which she arrives at the “treasure” she turns over to Sir Robert has noth-
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ing to do with inheritances and the inalienable property associated with “Rents,” except, perhaps, that it comes from noblemen who themselves receive them. Roxana’s misspeak also divulges that, even within paragraphs of the conclusion, she continues to equate wealth with land; forever remaining an afterthought are Sir Robert’s lessons. Accordingly, her substitution of “Rents” for “Interest-Money” reinforces the insight that Roxana has not fully internalized the meaning of speculative finance and so is not successfully completing the transition to “Dutch wife.” More importantly, it strongly suggests that her transformation into a full participant in the new credit economy will remain as incomplete as the novel’s closing paragraph. Her misprision and immediate correction (“I mean . . . ”) also inadvertently let it be known that she is having trouble telling the novel’s real story. While her modus operandi as storyteller has been to reveal only self-complimentary information, readers occasionally catch a glimpse of something incompatible with her self-flattering selectivity. As Lincoln Faller puts it, she is an ignorant relater, “unaware of the impression” she gives and of all that her story can mean.53 The difficulty she experiences as a storyteller comes to a head in the final paragraphs, when the narrative disappears like the bursting of a bubble, leaving important questions unanswered. Amy has taken the troubling matter of Susan into her own hands, but the narrator cannot tell what happens next. Nor can the narrator give specifics with regard to what happens to Amy or herself. Instead, she speaks vaguely of a “Blast of Heaven” and a “dreadful Course of Calamities” (379). What are the particulars of these events? Throughout the novel she has itemized her gains in considerable detail, but when it comes time to tally her losses, she disappears. This spectacular “collapse of narrative” compounds the narrator’s unreliability to the point that that very unreliability becomes the dominant concern.54 Lennard Davis points out that “[i]n looking at texts, one needs to see not merely what they say, but what they do not say. The unsaid frequently can tell us more than the obviously stated.”55 What this text leaves unsaid—how the story ends—ultimately shifts focus away from Susan’s and Amy’s fates to the problem of Roxana’s literary accountability. Here is where the implications of her financial illiteracy infiltrate to the novel’s core, for her deficient bookkeeping skills find an analogue in her equally inadequate literary ones. In both realms she cannot make figures add up: like a bookkeeper who can neither balance her books nor produce a bottom line, she proves incapable of revealing an outcome. These failings bear upon the crucial issue of spiritual accountability that underlies this novel: because she cannot take stock of herself or accomplish a serious personal reckoning, she likewise cannot bring this spiritual autobiography to a meaningful close. Because salvation does not await her, the most she can do, before she vanishes from the pages of her own story, is deliver up a “History of [a] Life” that amounts to little more than “a broken Account of things” (3, 315).
1. Laura Brown, Ends of Empire: Women and Ideology in Early Eighteenth-Century English Literature (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1993), 151; William Warner, Licensing Entertainment: The Elevation of Novel Reading in Britain, 1684–1750 (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1998), 174; and Janet Sorensen, “‘I Talk to Everybody in Their Own Way’: Defoe’s Economics of Identity,” The
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New Economic Criticism: Studies at the Intersection of Literature and Economics, ed. Martha Woodmansee and Mark Osteen (New York: Routledge, 1999), 76. 2. Sandra Sherman, Finance and Fictionality in the Early Eighteenth Century: Accounting in Defoe (New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996), 85. 3. Daniel Defoe, Roxana, or The Fortunate Mistress, ed. David Blewett (New York: Penguin, 1982). All references will be cited parenthetically. 4. Mary Poovey, The History of the Modern Fact: Problems of Knowledge in the Science of Wealth and Society (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1998), 42–3. 5. Nancy Cox, The Complete Tradesman: A Study of Retailing, 1550–1820 (Burlington: Ashgate Publishing, 2000), 151. 6. Daniel Defoe, The Complete English Tradesman, 2 vols. (1726; reprint, New York: Burt Franklin, 1970), 1:213–27. 7. Defoe, Complete English Tradesman, 1:214; also see Peter Earle, The Making of the English Middle Class: Business, Society and Family Life in London, 1660–1730 (London: Methuen, 1989), 161–2, for more on English businessmen’s widows. 8. Paula Backscheider, Daniel Defoe, His Life (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1989), 34, 27; also see Max Novak, Daniel Defoe, Master of Fictions: His Life and Ideas (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2001), 18, 114. 9. Novak, Defoe, 56. 10. Defoe, Complete English Tradesman, 1:309. 11. Defoe, Complete English Tradesman, 1:310. 12. Cox, Complete Tradesman, 149.
13. Alfred Crosby, The Measure of Reality: Quantification and Western Society, 1250–1600 (Cambridge Cambridge Univ. Press, 1997), 203. 14. Poovey, History of the Modern Fact, 29–65. 15. Poovey, History of the Modern Fact, 43. 16. Poovey, History of the Modern Fact, 65. 17. Poovey, History of the Modern Fact, 30. 18. Sherman (in Finance and Fictionality, 138–44) reads The Complete English Tradesman as Defoe’s attempt to complicate the “extraordinary claims to truth and stability” made by the more polemical authors of bookkeeping manuals on behalf of accountants’ balance sheets (132). Her reading does not question Defoe’s high opinion of bookkeeping so much as examine his nuanced response to it, for, as she states, the difference for Defoe (as opposed to other authors) is “one of emphasis, of raising doubts” (139). 19. John Richetti, The English Novel in History: 1700–1780 (New York: Routledge, 1999), 81. 20. La Belle veuve de Poictou. The protagonist’s assumed title, “La Belle veuve de Poictou,” appears in Roxana, 93. 21. Sorensen, “I Talk to Everybody in Their Own Way,” 84. 22. David Blewett, introduction to Roxana by Daniel Defoe (New York: Penguin, 1982), 12; John Richetti, Daniel Defoe (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1987), 106; Bram Dijkstra, Defoe and Economics: The Fortunes of Roxana in the History of Interpretation (London: Macmillan Press, 1987), 65. 23. Allison Conway, “Defoe’s Protestant Whore,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 35 (2002): 217.
24. Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1977), 121– 127. 25. Dijkstra, Defoe and Economics, 43.
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26. Judith Sloman, “The Time Scheme of Defoe’s Roxana,” English Studies in Canada 5 (1979): 413. 27. For more information on seventeenth-century English perceptions of Dutchwomen, see my “Gender Stereotyping in Early Modern Travel Writing on Holland,” SEL 1500–1900 43 (2003): 83– 100. 28. Anonymous, Hogan-Moganides: or The Dutch Hudibras (London: printed for William Cademan, 1674), lines 554–5. 29. John Northleigh, Topographical descriptions: with historico-political, and medico-physical observations: made in two several voyages, through most parts of Europe. (London: printed for Benj. Tooke, 1702), 118. 30. William Carr, An accurate description of the United Netherlands, and of the most considerable parts of Germany, Sweden, & Denmark: Containing a succint account of what is most remarkable in these countries: and necessary instructions for travellers. Together with an exact relation of the entertainment of His Most Sacred Majesty King William at the Hague. (London: printed for Timothy Childe, 1691), 25. 31. Bernard Mandeville, The Virgin Unmask’d: or, female dialogues, betwixt an elderly maiden lady, and her niece, on several diverting discourses on love, marriage, memoirs, morals, &c. of the times. 4th ed. (London: printed for T. Cooper, 1742), 142. 32. Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Louis Masur (New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s Press, 1993), 101–2. 33. In The First Modern Economy: Success, Failure, and Perseverance of the Dutch Economy, 1500–1815 (New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1997), Jan De Vries and Ad van der Woude assert, among other things, that the republic “provided a measure of economic and social space for women that was not typical of European societies until much later” (599). 34. See Women of the Golden Age: An International Debate on Women in Seventeenth-Century Holland, England and Italy, ed. Els Kloek, Nicole Teeuwen, and Marijke Huisman (Hilversum: Verloren, 1994) on the historical status of Dutchwomen vis-à-vis English women. 35. Joyce Oldham Appleby, Economic Thought and Ideology in Seventeenth-Century England (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1978), 73. 36. Appleby, Economic Thought and Ideology, 87. 37. J[osiah] C[hild], Brief Observations Concerning Trade, and Interest of Money (London: printed for Henry Mortlock, 1668), 6, 4. 38. Child, Brief Observations, 5. 39. Child, Brief Observations, 5. 40. Child, Brief Observations, 5. 41. Roger Coke, A discourse of trade. In two parts. The first treats of the reason of the decay of the strength, wealth, and trade of England. The latter, of the growth and increase of the Dutch trade above the English (London: printed for H. Brome, 1670), 75. 42. John Lyly, Euphues and His England, ed. Edward Arber (Westminster: Constable, 1900), 475. 43. Poovey, History of the Modern Fact, 63. 44. Stephen Monteage, Debtor and Creditor (London: by J.R., to be sold by Ben. Billingsley, 1675), n.p. 45. “By one of that Sex,” Advice To the Women and Maidens of London (London: printed for Benjamin Billingsley, 1678), 1. 46. See Rebecca Connor’s “Keeping Books: Accounting in the Eighteenth-Century Novel” (Ph.D. diss., Stanford Univ., 1997), 1–49, on English women’s bookkeeping.
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47. Bathsua Makin, An Essay to Revive the Ancient Education of Gentlewomen, in Bathsua Makin, Woman of Learning, ed. Frances Teague (Lewisburg: Bucknell Univ. Press, 1998), 133. 48. Makin, Ancient Education of Gentlewomen, 135. 49. Makin, Ancient Education of Gentlewomen, 142. 50. [Judith Drake], An Essay in Defence of the Female Sex (1696; reprint, New York: Source Books, 1970), 35. 51. G. A. Starr, Defoe and Spiritual Autobiography (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1965). 52. Paula Backscheider, “Roxana,” Critical Essays on Daniel Defoe, ed. Roger Lund (New York: G. K. Hall, 1997), 255. 53. Lincoln Faller, Crime and Defoe: A New Kind of Writing (New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993), 94. 54. Warner, Licensing Entertainment, 152. 55. Lennard Davis, Factual Fictions: the Origins of the English Novel (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1983; Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Pres, 1996), 8.
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