restricted access The Female Accomplice: Rape and the Servant Problem in Roxana


This article evaluates the servant rape in Daniel Defoe’s Roxana (1724) against conduct literature on the “servant problem,” and particularly against Defoe’s multiple tracts on servants and supposedly promiscuous female domestic labourers. Like contemporary conduct writing, Roxana’s rape narrative expresses intersecting social anxieties among employer classes over commerce infiltrating the domestic sphere and uncertainty related to contracted servants’ virtue and obedience. Roxana specifically reflects conduct writers’ association of female servants’ disloyalty with sexual promiscuity. Yet, unlike Defoe’s conduct literature, which avoids discussing servant rape, Roxana reflects the normalization of rape of female domestics. I argue that the novel’s representation of rape deflects blame from male authority within the private sphere onto a female accomplice engaged in sexual labour beyond the bounds of the middle-class household. The narrative thus draws on the common occurrence of the rape of female servants but, at the same time, removes culpability from a readership whom Defoe protects as an ideologically moral employer class.