Economic Locality and Estrangement in Defoe's Roxana


Nick Valvo

University of California, Davis |

"Transporting Bodies" | University of Michigan

September 15, 2012

Economic Locality

Economic locality refers to the impact of economic considerations, especially credit networks, on communal form.

Credit helps to organize:

  • the external boundaries of communities, and
  • the internal organization of patronage within communities.



Strangers Pay Cash.

Estimates of retail credit ratios

  • 15:1, Earle, 1989
  • 11:1, Wennerlind, 2011


One outlier merchant, William Turner

  • 357:1

Laboring-class Wages versus Cost of Living

Source: Gregory Clark. "Average Earnings and Retail Prices, UK, 1209-2010"

Credit was not an instrument for negotiating a cash economy; cash was an instrument for negotiating a credit economy.

The laboring-class expenditure gap

Work from Muldrew (1998), Erikson (1993), Wrightson and Levine (1995), Woodward (1995) and Hindle (2004) suggests that:

  • A laborer working c. 300 days/year could earn £13 to £16;
  • The cost to support a laboring-class family of four would have been £18 to £20;

How was the gap covered?

  • Some of this difference was made up through makeshift — stinting livestock, making cheese, gathering fuel, etc. Women and children worked, and their work was valuable.
  • Charitable debt forgiveness was common, and structurally important: more than £20/annum per rate-paying household.

I observed he came oftener to see me, looked kinder upon me, and spoke more friendly to me, than he used to do, particularly the last two or three times he had been there. He observed, he said, how poorly I lived, how low I was reduced, and the like; told me it grieved him for my sake; and the last time of all he was kinder still, told me he came to dine with me, and that I should give him leave to treat me; so he called my maid Amy, and sent her out to buy a joint of meat; he told her what she should buy; but naming two or three things, either of which she might take, the maid, a cunning wench, and faithful to me as the skin to my back, did not buy anything outright, but brought the butcher along with her, with both the things that she had chosen, for him to please himself. The one was a large, very good leg of veal; the other a piece of the fore-ribs of roasting beef. He looked at them, but made me chaffer with the butcher for him, and I did so, and came back to him and told him what the butcher had demanded for either of them, and what each of them came to. So he pulls out eleven shillings and threepence, which they came to together, and bade me take them both; the rest, he said, would serve another time.

– Defoe, Roxana: p. 64 in the 2009 Broadview edition.

Thank you.