‘An imposter Princess and a Royal Fool: reconstructing Defoe’s mismatched masquerade’

In his dark and brilliant novel The Fortunate Mistress (1724), Daniel Defoe advances his heroine’s worldly fortunes in a climactic scene of mis-matched, masked dancing. Though nominally set in the reign of Charles II, the novel’s time-scheme unexpectedly oscillates between the Restoration and Georgian periods. These fluctuations influence the choice of dance-forms which Defoe uses to underscore the shifting social relationships between his characters. The dances offered to, engaged in, and declined by Defoe’s heroine represent more than simple physical pleasure; their succession charts her social progress within the context of a 17th-century masked ball. However, it is her final solo, an exotic "Turkish" dance, one perhaps inspired by choreographies performed on the 18th-century London stage, that whips up her audience into a frenzy of admiration, ensuring her social triumph. This paper analyzes the non-verbal social signifiers of Defoe’s ball-scene using 17th- and 18th-century dance treatises as a guide. Special attention will be paid to the noble air and aristocratic grace associated with the courante. The social implications of masked, comic and theatrical dancing will also be examined, as well as that deceptive manipulation of movement for worldly advancement which Defoe, in The Fortunate Mistress, so scathingly criticizes. Two of the dances in which Roxana engages will be re-produced by Jennifer Thorp and Ricardo Barros, providing visual clues as to what Defoe's mis-matched dance might have looked like.

Jed Wentz
Symposium Title: 
Dance and the Novel – 2011