Moll Flanders

The author:

Daniel Defoe was born in 1660 as the son of a Londoner merchant. In 1685 he opened his own business in which he was not successful and went bankrupt in 1692. At that time Defoe got interested in the social and industrial changes in Great Britain and Europe. In 1697 he wrote his first book. Between 1703 and 1714 Defoe worked as a political journalist and theorist for economy. In 1719 he invented the realistic novel and wrote many books in this new style in the following years. One of these novels is "Moll Flanders". On April 26thin 1731 Defoe died of a lethargy.

About "Moll Flanders":

Defoe wrote the novel "Moll Flanders" in 1722. It is the biography of a criminal woman written in the personal perspective. Such biographies were very popular at that time. The novel is not authentic, only the fact that a pickpocket called Moll King returned to London in 1718 after seven years of banishment gave offence to Defoe to write the novel.

The author himself tells the reader that the story is a true report written in 1683 in which he changed the style and let some morally improper parts out in order not to spoil the reader. It is noticeable that during the whole novel only very few names are mentioned. For explanation Defoe tells that he wanted to protect Moll, for that reason he even made some changes in report and style.

Summary of "Moll Flanders":

Moll Flanders is born in the prison of Newgate in London. Her mother is declared guilty of robbery and is sent to Virginia. Moll remains alone in the prison until a relative takes her out. In the following time she moves around with a group of gypsies till they leave her at the age of three in Colchester, Essex.

An old nurse finds her and takes her to her nursery school where she is taught in devoutness. The "good old nurse", as she always used to call her, dies when Moll is 15 years old. A rich family who was acquainted with the nurse takes her in. She gets a good education and is able to lead a nice life.

At the age of 18 Moll looks very beautiful when she is desired by both sons of her family. She starts her first secret love affair with the elder brother, who obviously only wants her as his lover. The younger brother (Robin) makes Moll a proposal for marriage, but she does not want to marry him because she still loves the elder one. Finally she marries Robin because it is the only way for her to keep the affair in secret. After five years of marriage in which they had two children, Robin dies.

Moll marries a merchant who wastes their whole money. After two years he has completely ruined his business and is taken to prison. Moll moves with a friend to Redriff and marries the owner of a plantation. For financial reasons they move to Virginia, where her husband also has big plantations. Through the stories of her mother(-in-law) Moll finds out that her husband is her native brother. She cannot bear this situation, so she travels back to England and starts a new life in Bath.

Moll has an affair with a rich man, she even has a child from him. As he becomes very ill he believes that the illness is god's punishment for his depraved life and so he finishes his relationship with Moll.

She has only little money left and is therefore searching for a man who can pay for her. Getting acquainted with a bank employee, they decide to marry as soon as he got divorced from his wife. During a trip to Lancashire in the north of England she meets a man who pretends to be rich. After the marriage he reveals that he is poor and that he married her only because he believed that she had much money. So they separate: Jemmy wants to go to Ireland, Moll goes back to London.

Soon afterwards she marries her bank employee, who does not know anything about her "adventure" in Lancashire. After five years of marriage her husband dies on sorrows about their finances.

Moll is more than 50 years old when she begins to steal. She becomes a very clever and successful pick-pocket. After stealing for many years and having made quite a big fortune she is caught and sent to Newgate, the same place where she was born. First she is sentenced to death, a few weeks later she is reprived and the sentence is changed into banishment.

In the prison she meets Jemmy, her husband from Lancashire. Together they are transported to Virginia. With the money Moll still has she buys her freedom. Together they buy some land and found a plantation. She meets her son again, her brother is still living, too. Moll and Jemmy extend their plantation and get rich.

At the age of 70 Moll goes back to England, in deep regret for her sinful life:

"My husband remained there some time after me to settle our affairs, and at first I had intended to go back to him, but at his desire I altered that resolution, and he is come over to England also, where we resolve to spend the remainder of our years in sincere penitence for the wicked lives we have lived." (p.376)

For this novel Daniel Defoe was criticized of having offended against the code of conduct. Defoe himself said that "Moll Flanders" is meant as a moral warning and

instruction to the reader to lead a better life.

My point of view:

For me this novel was interesting at first, especially because of Moll's unusual and turbulent life. But after a while it gets quite boring, because the motives of her acting always stay the same: She is concerned about her finances and searches for a rich man who can pay for her. Moll talks too often about her lack of morals, and it seems that almost every action in the novel must have its moral. The different men come and go and after the third or fourth marriage I got tired about always the same stuff.

Maybe at the time Defoe wrote this novel it was very spectacular how Moll led her life especially concerning her lovers and husbands. Today Defoe cannot reach his intention of keeping up the morals, because nowadays people know that sexual morality has nothing to do with morality concerning crimes.

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