The Fortunate Mistress (Parts 1 and 2)
The Fortunate Mistress (Parts 1 and 2)
The Fortunate Mistress (Parts 1 and 2) / or a History of the Life of Mademoiselle de Beleau Known by the Name of the Lady Roxana
In March, 1724, was published the narrative in which Defoe came, perhaps even nearer than in Moll Flanders, to writing what we to-day call a novel, namely: The Fortunate Mistress; or, a History of the Life and Vast Variety of Fortunes of Mademoiselle de' Belau; afterwards called the Countess of Wintelsheim, in Germany. Being the Person known by the name of the Lady Roxana, in the Time of King Charles II. No second edition appeared till after Defoe's death, which occurred in 1731. Then for some years, various editions of The Fortunate Mistress came out. Because Defoe had not indicated the end of his chief characters so clearly as he usually did in his stories, several of these later editions carried on the history of the heroine. Probably none of the continuations was by Defoe himself, though the one in the edition of 1745 has been attributed to him. For this reason, and because it has some literary merit, it is included in the present edition.
That this continuation was not by Defoe is attested in various ways. In the first place, it tells the history of Roxana down to her death in July, 1742, a date which Defoe would not have been likely to fix, for he died himself in April, 1731. Moreover, the statement that she was sixty-four when she died, does not agree with the statement at the beginning of Defoe's narrative that she was ten years old in 1683. She must have been born in 1673, and consequently would have been sixty-nine in 1742. This discrepancy, however, ceases to be important when we consider the general confusion of dates in the part of the book certainly by Defoe. The title-page announces that his heroine was "known by the name of the Lady Roxana, in the Time of King Charles II." She must have been known by this name when she was a child of eleven or twelve, then, for she was ten when her parents fled to England "about 1683," and Charles II. died in February, 1685. Moreover, she was not married till she was fifteen; she lived eight years with her husband; and then she was mistress successively to the friendly jeweller, the Prince, and the Dutch merchant. Yet after this career, she returned to London in time to become a noted toast among Charles II.'s courtiers and to entertain at her house that monarch and the Duke of Monmouth.
A stronger argument for different authorship is the difference in style between the continuation of Roxana and the earlier narrative. In the continuation Defoe's best-known mannerisms are lacking, as two instances will show. Critics have often called attention to the fact that fright, instead of frighten, was a favourite word of Defoe. Now frighten, and not fright, is the verb used in the continuation. Furthermore, I have pointed out in a previous introduction[1 - See Memoirs of a Cavalier] that Defoe was fond of making his characters smile, to show either kindliness or shrewd penetration. They do not smile in the continuation.
There are other differences between the original story of The Fortunate Mistress and the continuation of 1745. The former is better narrative than the latter; it moves quicker; it is more real. And yet there is a manifest attempt in the continuation to imitate the manner and the substance of the story proper. There is a dialogue, for example, between Roxana and the Quakeress, modelled on the dialogues which Defoe was so fond of. Again, there is a fairly successful attempt to copy Defoe's circumstantiality; there is an amount of detail in the continuation which makes it more graphic than much of the fiction which has been given to the world. And finally, in understanding and reproducing the characters of Roxana and Amy, the anonymous author has done remarkably well. The character of Roxana's daughter is less true to Defoe's conception; the girl, as he drew her, was actuated more by natural affection in seeking her mother, and less by interest. The character of the Dutch merchant, likewise, has not changed for the better in the continuation. He has developed a vindictiveness which, in our former meetings with him, seemed foreign to his nature.
I have said that in The Fortunate Mistress Defoe has come nearer than usual to writing what we to-day call a novel; the reason is that he has had more success than usual in making his characters real. Though many of them are still wooden – lifeless types, rather than individuals – yet the Prince, the Quakeress, and the Dutch merchant occasionally wake to life; so rather more does the unfortunate daughter; and more yet, Amy and Roxana. With the exception of Moll Flanders, these last two are more vitalised than any personages Defoe invented. In this pair, furthermore, Defoe seems to have been interested in bringing out the contrast between characters. The servant, Amy, thrown with another mistress, might have been a totally different woman. The vulgarity of a servant she would have retained under any circumstances, as she did even when promoted from being the maid to being the companion of Roxana; but it was unreasoning devotion to her mistress, combined with weakness of character, which led Amy to be vicious.
Roxana, for her part, had to the full the independence, the initiative, which her woman was without, – or rather was without when acting for herself; for when acting in the interests of her mistress, Amy was a different creature. Like all of Defoe's principal characters, Roxana is eminently practical, cold-blooded and selfish. After the first pang at parting with her five children, she seldom thinks of them except as encumbrances; she will provide for them as decently as she can without personal inconvenience, but even a slight sacrifice for the sake of one of them is too much for her. Towards all the men with whom she has dealings, and towards the friendly Quakeress of the Minories, too, she shows a calculating reticence which is most unfeminine. The continuator of our story endowed the heroine with wholly characteristic selfishness when he made her, on hearing of Amy's death, feel less sorrow for the miserable fate of her friend, than for her own loss of an adviser.
And yet Roxana is capable of fine feeling, as is proved by those tears of joy for the happy change in her fortunes, which bring about that realistic love scene between her and the Prince in regard to the supposed paint on her cheeks. Again, when shipwreck threatens her and Amy, her emotion and repentance are due as much to the thought that she has degraded Amy to her own level as to thoughts of her more flagrant sins. That she is capable of feeling gratitude, she shows in her generosity to the Quakeress. And in her rage and remorse, on suspecting that her daughter has been murdered, and in her emotion several times on seeing her children, Roxana shows herself a true woman. In short, though for the most part monumentally selfish, she is yet saved from being impossible by several displays of noble emotion. One of the surprises, to a student of Defoe, is that this thick-skinned, mercantile writer, the vulgarest of all our great men of letters in the early eighteenth century, seems to have known a woman's heart better than a man's. At least he has succeeded in making two or three of his women characters more alive than any of his men. It is another surprise that in writing of women, Defoe often seems ahead of his age. In the argument between Roxana and her Dutch merchant about a woman's independence, Roxana talks like a character in a "problem" play or novel of our own day. This, perhaps, is not to Defoe's credit, but it is to his credit that he has said elsewhere[2 - An Essay upon Projects, An Academy for Women.]: "A woman well-bred and well-taught, furnished with the … accomplishments of knowledge and behaviour, is a creature without comparison; her society is the emblem of sublime enjoyments; … and the man that has such a one to his portion, has nothing to do but to rejoice in her, and be thankful." After reading these words, one cannot but regret that Defoe did not try to create heroines more virtuous than Moll Flanders and Roxana.
It is not only in drawing his characters that Defoe, in The Fortunate Mistress, comes nearer than usual to producing a novel. This narrative of his is less loosely constructed than any others except Robinson Crusoe and the Journal of the Plague Year, which it was easier to give structure to. In both of them – the story of a solitary on a desert island and the story of the visitation of a pestilence – the nature of the subject made the author's course tolerably plain; in The Fortunate Mistress, the proper course was by no means so well marked. The more credit is due Defoe, therefore, that the book is so far from being entirely inorganised that, had he taken sufficient pains with the ending, it would have had as much structure as many good novels. There is no strongly defined plot, it is true; but in general, if a character is introduced, he is heard from again; a scene that impresses itself on the mind of the heroine is likely to be important in the sequel. The story seems to be working itself out to a logical conclusion, when unexpectedly it comes to an end. Defoe apparently grew tired of it for some reason, and wound it up abruptly, with only the meagre information as to the fate of Roxana and Amy that they "fell into a dreadful course of calamities."
The history of this beautiful lady is to speak for itself; if it is not as beautiful as the lady herself is reported to be; if it is not as diverting as the reader can desire, and much more than he can reasonably expect; and if all the most diverting parts of it are not adapted to the instruction and improvement of the reader, the relator says it must be from the defect of his performance; dressing up the story in worse clothes than the lady whose words he speaks, prepared for the world.
He takes the liberty to say that this story differs from most of the modern performances of this kind, though some of them have met with a very good reception in the world. I say, it differs from them in this great and essential article, namely, that the foundation of this is laid in truth of fact; and so the work is not a story, but a history.
The scene is laid so near the place where the main part of it was transacted that it was necessary to conceal names and persons, lest what cannot be yet entirely forgot in that part of the town should be remembered, and the facts traced back too plainly by the many people yet living, who would know the persons by the particulars.
It is not always necessary that the names of persons should be discovered, though the history may be many ways useful; and if we should be always obliged to name the persons, or not to relate the story, the consequence might be only this – that many a pleasant and delightful history would be buried in the dark, and the world deprived both of the pleasure and the profit of it.
The writer says he was particularly acquainted with this lady's first husband, the brewer, and with his father, and also with his bad circumstances, and knows that first part of the story to be truth.
This may, he hopes, be a pledge for the credit of the rest, though the latter part of her history lay abroad, and could not be so well vouched as the first; yet, as she has told it herself, we have the less reason to question the truth of that part also.
In the manner she has told the story, it is evident she does not insist upon her justification in any one part of it; much less does she recommend her conduct, or, indeed, any part of it, except her repentance, to our imitation. On the contrary, she makes frequent excursions, in a just censuring and condemning her own practice. How often does she reproach herself in the most passionate manner, and guide us to just reflections in the like cases!
It is true she met with unexpected success in all her wicked courses; but even in the highest elevations of her prosperity she makes frequent acknowledgments that the pleasure of her wickedness was not worth the repentance; and that all the satisfaction she had, all the joy in the view of her prosperity – no, nor all the wealth she rolled in, the gaiety of her appearance, the equipages and the honours she was attended with, could quiet her mind, abate the reproaches of her conscience, or procure her an hour's sleep when just reflection kept her waking.
The noble inferences that are drawn from this one part are worth all the rest of the story, and abundantly justify, as they are the professed design of, the publication.
If there are any parts in her story which, being obliged to relate a wicked action, seem to describe it too plainly, the writer says all imaginable care has been taken to keep clear of indecencies and immodest expressions; and it is hoped you will find nothing to prompt a vicious mind, but everywhere much to discourage and expose it.
Scenes of crime can scarce be represented in such a manner but some may make a criminal use of them; but when vice is painted in its low-prized colours, it is not to make people in love with it, but to expose it; and if the reader makes a wrong use of the figures, the wickedness is his own.
In the meantime, the advantages of the present work are so great, and the virtuous reader has room for so much improvement, that we make no question the story, however meanly told, will find a passage to his best hours, and be read both with profit and delight.
A HISTORY OF THE LIFE OF ROXANA
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 manufactories 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 playfellows and companions suitable to my years, so, as we grew bigger, we learned 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 learned 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 lead you to judge whether I flatter myself or no.
I was (speaking of myself at 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, or 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 otherways, 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 lay 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.
After I have told you that he was a handsome man and a good sportsman, I have indeed said all; and unhappy was I, like other young people of our sex, I chose him for being a handsome, jolly fellow, as I have said; for he was otherwise a weak, empty-headed, untaught creature, as any woman could ever desire to be coupled with. And here I must take the liberty, whatever I have to reproach myself with in my after conduct, to turn to my fellow-creatures, the young ladies of this country, and speak to them by way of precaution. If you have any regard to your future happiness, any view of living comfortably with a husband, any hope of preserving your fortunes, or restoring them after any disaster, never, ladies, marry a fool; any husband rather than a fool. With some other husbands you may be unhappy, but with a fool you will be miserable; with another husband you may, I say, be unhappy, but with a fool you must; nay, if he would, he cannot make you easy; everything he does is so awkward, everything he says is so empty, a woman of any sense cannot but be surfeited and sick of him twenty times a day. What is more shocking than for a woman to bring a handsome, comely fellow of a husband into company, and then be obliged to blush for him every time she hears him speak? to hear other gentlemen talk sense, and he able to say nothing? and so look like a fool, or, which is worse, hear him talk nonsense, and be laughed at for a fool.
In the next place, there are so many sorts of fools, such an infinite variety of fools, and so hard it is to know the worst of the kind, that I am obliged to say, "No fool, ladies, at all, no kind of fool, whether a mad fool or a sober fool, a wise fool or a silly fool; take anything but a fool; nay, be anything, be even an old maid, the worst of nature's curses, rather than take up with a fool."
But to leave this awhile, for I shall have occasion to speak of it again; my case was particularly hard, for I had a variety of foolish things complicated in this unhappy match.
First, and which I must confess is very unsufferable, he was a conceited fool, tout opiniatre; everything he said was right, was best, and was to the purpose, whoever was in company, and whatever was advanced by others, though with the greatest modesty imaginable. And yet, when he came to defend what he had said by argument and reason, he would do it so weakly, so emptily, and so nothing to the purpose, that it was enough to make anybody that heard him sick and ashamed of him.
Secondly, he was positive and obstinate, and the most positive in the most simple and inconsistent things, such as were intolerable to bear.
These two articles, if there had been no more, qualified him to be a most unbearable creature for a husband; and so it may be supposed at first sight what a kind of life I led with him. However, I did as well as I could, and held my tongue, which was the only victory I gained over him; for when he would talk after his own empty rattling way with me, and I would not answer, or enter into discourse with him on the point he was upon, he would rise up in the greatest passion imaginable, and go away, which was the cheapest way I had to be delivered.
I could enlarge here much upon the method I took to make my life passable and easy with the most incorrigible temper in the world; but it is too long, and the articles too trifling. I shall mention some of them as the circumstances I am to relate shall necessarily bring them in.
After I had been married about four years, my own father died, my mother having been dead before. He liked my match so ill, and saw so little room to be satisfied with the conduct of my husband, that though he left me five thousand livres, and more, at his death, yet he left it in the hands of my elder brother, who, running on too rashly in his adventures as a merchant, failed, and lost not only what he had, but what he had for me too, as you shall hear presently.
Thus I lost the last gift of my father's bounty by having a husband not fit to be trusted with it: there's one of the benefits of marrying a fool.
Within two years after my own father's death my husband's father also died, and, as I thought, left him a considerable addition to his estate, the whole trade of the brewhouse, which was a very good one, being now his own.
But this addition to his stock was his ruin, for he had no genius to business, he had no knowledge of his accounts; he bustled a little about it, indeed, at first, and put on a face of business, but he soon grew slack; it was below him to inspect his books, he committed all that to his clerks and book-keepers; and while he found money in cash to pay the maltman and the excise, and put some in his pocket, he was perfectly easy and indolent, let the main chance go how it would.