Moll Flanders

Molls Flanders  by Daniel Defoe



Better known for his adventure story, Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe didn’t start writing fiction until he was 60 years old! His second novel, Moll Flanders, tells the story of an orphan who must find her own way in the world, relying on her wits to survive.

Born in a prison, given to others to be raised and set to work at the age of six, Moll Flanders, as she later came to be known, did not have an easy start in life. Beginning as a seamstress, she eventually came to live with a genteel family and received a proper education only to be seduced  by the elder of two sons. From this point on, Moll tricks her way through life, managing to get by on her beauty and gall.

As this was published in 1722, I found the language tedious and the story predictable. I couldn’t find much sympathy for Moll as she herself never became much attached to people, abandoning all of the seven or eight the children she gives birth to. She may have loved one other person, a kind old governess who stuck by her.

We can’t complain about the moral decline these days after reading Moll Flanders. She manages to commit almost all the deadly sins in 376 pages. Married to one brother and mistress to another. Resorting to prostitution, theft, incest, bigamy and fraud, Moll ends up in the infamous Newgate prison, condemned to hang for her crimes.  Luckily,  she is given a chance to immigrate to the colonies as a convict. Defoe indicates that she finally repents of her wicked ways while facing death.

If this is meant as a cautionary tale, it fails in its purpose. Moll lives selfishly and sinfully  always seems to find someone who treats her with kindness and honesty. She somehow comes away without punishment, no matter how great her sins.

This book is interesting only as it shows the development of the novel as a form of literature. The plot is trite and simply a record of Moll’s trespasses. The subject matter must have been rather shocking for the day.I wondered if people read it for titillation and whether the book was widely accepted at the time it was published.


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