«AMATORY CONVENTIONS, LUXURY TRADE, AND THE CULTURE OF EXCESS IN THE RAPE OF THE LOCK, ROXANA, AND GULLIVER’S TRAVELS by DAVID VINSON LILA GRAVES, ...»
Certainly some of Defoe’s allusions to Roxolana are implicit, though a reader familiar with the rich history of Roxana’s name would likely make the connection. The Turkish slave purchased for Roxana by the Prince is one such allusion. This is Roxana’s first intimate experience with the culture of the Orient: “Of [this slave] I learnt the Turkish language; their way of Dressing, and Dancing, and some Turkish, or rather Moorish Songs, of which I made Use, to my Advantage, on an extraordinary Occasion, some Years after” (102). Roxana is foreshadowing her encounter with the masked stranger at her home in the “new Sphere” of Pall Mall (172). The ball she hosts is purely business, as she intends on ensnaring her next customer—hopefully, the King, who (rumor has it) may be among the visitors dressed in “Masquerade” (173). During the ball, Defoe’s use of amatory tropes and his satire of the performative aspects of courtship behavior are pronounced. Roxana boastfully explains that she was “harras’d with Lovers, Beaus, and Fops of Quality” (172)—all adequate models for the amatory schemer. The masks that are worn by some of the men call attention to their performative disguises.
The home itself becomes a staged seduction setting: it is equipped with luxury goods (wine, candy, and confections), a “green Table for Play” (which echoes Pope’s parodic rendering of sexualized epic battles during a game of Ombre in The Rape of the Lock);
music is played and ladies dance, and “everyone began to be merry” (173). Roxana advertises herself as sexualized bait, for she is adorned in imported luxury goods and adopts the persona of an Oriental siren: “Dress’d in the Habit of a Turkish Princess” (173), she seductively dances for the entire room. Her performance is so convincing that many believed the French music to be Turkish, and in a manner of comical, climactic ecstasy, her enthusiastic audience cries aloud, “Roxana! Roxana!” (174). Roxana’s corruption is well-documented by Defoe, but here he implicates all of English society, including perhaps even the King. Defoe’s use of amatory tropes, in conjunction with his allusions to Roxolana and Oriental culture, facilitates his repeated assertion that global luxury trade and the culture of consumption it fosters has transformed the English value system.
It is also worth noting that Roxana draws comparisons to Roxolana in her many confinements: first, with the landlord/Jeweler; then with the Prince; and finally with a high-ranking person (possibly the King) whose identity she protects because it is her “Duty... not to reveal” (181). Her confinements likewise align with the author’s use of amatory tropes: she is sexually commodified by the men, all of whom adopt performative displays in an attempt to seduce her. Like Roxolana, who lived in a harem with “about three hundred other beautiful women” (Yermolenko 4), Roxana competes with many mistresses of the Prince; it is also mentioned that the King “had several Mistresses, who were prodigious fine” (172). Roxana’s ascent from an abandoned, impoverished wife of a Brewer to the role of an incredibly rich mistress of high-ranking royalty is also not unlike Roxolana, who uses her keen intelligence and sexual value to ascend from slavery to royalty. As a modern Roxolana, Roxana’s talent for self-preservation and social mobility is admirable, but Defoe appropriates this mythology while he simultaneously engages the amatory template in order to dramatize the destructive power of capital and the culture of commodification it engenders. Roxana, a product of this culture, uses her sexual currency as a source of dangerous agency. Her value as a sexual commodity enables her to manipulate and steal; it aids in the efficacy of her multiple reinventions and deceptions;
and it affords her the opportunity to transcend geographic, cultural, and social space in the process of acquiring an astonishing amount of capital. It is crucial to remember that her power would be dispossessed if she operated in a cultural reality that did not place so much value upon commodities in the first place. This is perhaps Defoe’s most scathing indictment of contemporary English (and Western European) values: Roxana’s monstrous moral code is a culmination of the very same values permitted in her society.
This chapter has presented Roxana as a tragedy of capital, as a narrative that explores how material and immaterial forms of capital are dangerous, destructive forces.
More specifically, this chapter has explored how a culture that cultivates these forces is responsible for producing new kinds of personalities that are likewise dangerous and destructive. In an effort to contextualize Defoe’s examination of the corruptive forces of finance capitalism and global luxury trade, I have provided a cursory but relevant biographical history of the author. In doing so, I have shown that Roxana is informed by the author’s own failures as a merchant, by his traumatic experiences with bankruptcy and imprisonment, and by his subsequent career as a spy who understood the arts of disguise and reinvention. Particularly, it is Defoe’s experiences in prison that greatly inform the interior logic of the text: Roxana equates poverty with imprisonment; she in turn equates capital to liberty. Defoe examines the dangers of such a philosophy, and he provides numerous examples of how capital distorts value systems and can lead to the total abandonment of traditional ideologies. Roxana is characterized as a body of capitalin-excess, as a creature antagonistic or at least indifferent to what Defoe perceived as the natural order—she is grotesquely fertile and has no maternal instinct whatsoever; she violates pre-existing distinctions between private and public space; and she desires to be a “Man-Woman,” to simultaneously generate and consume capital.
In my textual analysis, I have focused on Defoe’s prolific deployment of amatory tropes to signify his anxieties about England’s growing culture of consumption and commodification. By looking closely at Roxana’s sexual negotiations and her career as courtesan-mistress, I have demonstrated how amatory tropes dramatize the commodification of the individual as an object to be used, abused, hoarded, or even disposed—an expression of Defoe’s attitudes regarding England’s altering value system brought on by finance capitalism and luxury trade. I have examined the ways in which Roxana both adheres to and defies categorization as an amatory heroine; I have shown how the majority of her male suitors align with amatory male schemers, and I have explored the significance of her rejection of those who valued her as something more than a sexual commodity. I have discussed Defoe’s appropriation of the amatory plot and his many subversions of the amatory seduction scene. Finally, I have demonstrated how Defoe expands but also subverts the amatory trope of inquiry. By concluding with a discussion of how Defoe alludes to Roxolana mythology while he simultaneously engages amatory tropes, I have provided a clear link between the title-character and that of an imported cultural icon, a person whose biographical history aligns so closely with Roxana’s that the implication is her history is not even entirely her own. Defoe appropriates this mythology to assert that Roxana is meant to be perceived only as a commodity, as a luxury good; she is thus the creation and embodiment of England’s financial and material climate, a hollow thing with no interior substance.
As Jonathan Swift was working on Gulliver’s Travels in the 1720s, he referenced on some occasion in letters a preoccupation with travel literature. In one such letter to Vanessa, a girl he tutored (and, incidentally, who was in love with him), he explained that a bad spell of weather led him to “[reading] I know not how many diverting Books of History and Travells” (Complete Works 57). This era of geographical exploration and discovery, one partly made possible by the Turks’ defeat at the 1683 Battle of Vienna, coincided with a booming production of travel literature during Swift’s lifetime. In his
excellent study on this unique period in literary culture, Thomas M. Curley explains:
“Travel was a national enthusiasm and a prime manifestation of that exuberant Georgian curiosity to survey and to study the expanding geographical frontiers of human knowledge” (1). Defoe, like Swift, was keenly interested in travel, but both men publicly disparaged the other’s preferred method of learning: Swift called Defoe “illiterate” (Examiner, No. 16) and Defoe mocked Swift as a man who “[knew] nothing of the World, and has never look’d abroad” (Review, Vol. 7). Defoe, who once boasted that he was a “Master of Geography” (Daniel Defoe 81), did have a point about Swift’s lack of real-world experience in travel. Swift generally only traveled between Dublin and Moor Park, or between Dublin and London; he once planned an extensive journey to Vienna but never carried it out (Moore 227). His experience with foreign culture was thus largely intellectual and therefore imaginative—a considerable difference when compared to Defoe, who published a three-volume travel book called Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain (published between 1724 and 1727), which was innovative partly because he had visited the places he described. Simply put, Defoe was nomadic and learned about other cultures first-hand; Swift’s method of acquiring knowledge was primarily through print journalism and literature.
As a foundation to an analysis of Gulliver’s Travels, this chapter will carefully consider the role of travel as it informs the author’s satirical objectives and his engagement of the amatory template. Travel during Swift’s lifetime was of course intimately linked to transnational trade and the rise of capitalism. Like Pope and Defoe, Swift sensed and served witness to a collapse of classical notions of selfhood, to what he perceived as the emergence of new identities in possession of dangerous, unpredictable moral codes. The structure of Chapter Three will first position Swift as a Christian Humanist who was disturbed by the ideological and institutional shifts in Britain.
Following this will be an analysis of how Swift’s ideas regarding the “real essence” (to borrow from Lockean terminology)39 of the human are expressed in the author’s prolific satirical display in Gulliver’s Travels. I will then focus on Swift’s deployment of amatory tropes, which he uses to express his anxieties about how travel adversely impacts the British ethos and psyche. For Swift, travel facilitates corrupt codes of thought and action—not just trade and material consumption, but also the cruelties associated with colonial conquest.
The amatory trope of inquiry is therefore essential to Swift’s dramatization of the unpredictable dangers of travel. As Gulliver encounters foreign lands, he is continuously displaced and defined by his outsider-status. In an immediate sense, it is his material body—one entirely alien to the native norm—which predetermines his status as an absurd See: Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Ed. John W. Yolton. London: Dent, 1976.
monstrosity. Swift also stresses that Gulliver, as a representative of modern Britain’s imperialistic practices and its hegemonic worldview, possesses a belief system that is in its own right absurd and monstrous. As will be shown in Chapter Three, Swift depicts imperialism as but another form of commodification and consumption. It is therefore no coincidence that travel for Gulliver is so traumatic that he experiences a comprehensive disintegration of his former identity; his understanding of “the real” is permanently altered, as his understanding of the “the real” in others—the rhetorical impact on an audience of contemporary readers would presumably be both personal and powerful.
Swift traces Gulliver’s alteration from an exaggerated, hyper-masculine representative of hegemonic values to a submissive and dehumanized subaltern figure. The effect is partly to satirize hegemonic distinctions of cultural and racial superiority; more implicitly, Swift demonstrates how travel can be perceived as a signification of cultural arrogance and entitlement—and subsequently a dangerous violation of not only geographical but also moral boundaries. In conjunction with his deployment of amatory tropes, Swift’s rendering of Gulliver’s devolution serves as a nightmarish prediction for the direction in which Britain is headed.
While the amatory trope of inquiry serves as a basis to Swift’s examination of the potential ramifications of travel on the British ethos and psyche, he also uses a variety of other amatory tropes to express the ways in which human beings are commodified as goods to be valued, used, abused, hoarded, or even traded—all veiled allusions to his indictment of the culture of consumption and commodification brought on by finance capitalism and global luxury trade. As a preface to an analysis of Swift’s parodic use of amatory tropes in the text, I will examine how Gulliver’s many mercantile travels serve as possible allusions to slave trade—perhaps the very worst form of trans-global commerce and commodification. Alternate forms of commodification surface in many other instances in which Swift engages the amatory template. The trope of the allpowerful amatory male schemer is comically amplified at Lilliput, where Gulliver is rendered as a grotesque emblem of virility. Swift reverses this strategy by reducing Gulliver to a miniature size, something akin to a doll or pet, at Brobdingnag. Such a reversal facilitates further subversions of amatory tropes in which the male is not merely emasculated but becomes the vulnerable, commodified target of sexualized force. Swift both plays into and challenges the tropes of the empty-headed and sexually inexperienced female; he satirizes female vanity and the amatory trope of the female as irresistible siren;
on several occasions he also subverts the amatory seduction scene. As Chapter Three will show, Swift’s parodic engagement of the amatory template enables him to stage his anxieties about how the activity of travel is symptomatic of a diseased Britain, one infected by the persistent desire for commodification and consumption.
In an effort to understand Swift’s unique brand of Christian Humanism and its relevancy to his satirical objectives in Gulliver’s Travels, it is necessary to first make a clear distinction between the two opposing sides of humanist philosophy during the author’s lifetime. This debate actually began during the Italian Renaissance with the revival of classical culture, a period in which differing beliefs about literature and learning led to fundamental disagreements among the era’s most influential intellectuals40. The debate was still heated in the 1690s, and Anthony Grafton has argued of this period that there were two primary inclinations in humanism: “One set of humanists seeks to make the ancient world live again, assuming its undimmed relevance and unproblematic accessibility; another set seeks to put the ancient world back into its own time” (620). In this particular context, Swift unquestionably belongs to the ancients rather than the moderns, and his work reflects a desire to exalt the ideas and values first expressed in classical antiquity. The very notion of progress—how to define or identify it; how to determine its role in shaping the ideals of society—was up for debate. With A Tale of a Tub (1704) and a short satire called The Battle of the Books (a parody of epic battles in which library books humorously come alive and attempt to settle arguments between the two opposing sides), Swift’s rhetoric quite clearly mocked the pride displayed by those who believed their own age to be supreme. A cursory glance at Gulliver’s Travels aligns with a similar perspective: at Brobdingnag Part II, the rational giants are akin to the ancients, for they live in an agricultural society and find Gulliver’s modern values to be excessively shocking and corrupt; Part III is largely a satire on modern science; and Part IV employs Juvenalian satire to posit the Yahoos as materialism incarnate.