Moll Flanders

Daniel Defoe published „Moll Flanders“ in 1722. „Moll Flanders“ is a picaresque novel recounting the adventures of a strong-willed woman who has no choice but to survive in 17th century England.

            Daniel Defoe was an English writer, trader, journalist, and spy. He is most famous for his novel “Robinson Crusoe”, which is claimed to be the second to the Bible in the number of translations.

The plot in Moll Flanders

            It’s quite easy to assume what the plot is all about since it’s all laid out in the ample title.

            “The fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, &c. Who was born in Newgate, and during a Life of continu’d variety of threescore years, besides her childhood, was Twelve Years a Whore, Five Times a Wife (Whereof once to her own Brother), Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at Last Grew Rich, Liv’d Honest, and Died a Penitent. Written from Her Own Memorandums”.

            It would be easy to foresee her life through the eyes of her birth. Being born from a prisoner in Newgate, she was from birth destined to a life of privation and misery. She had not only little chances of survival but less of becoming someone of importance. The fact that she was born in the 17th century didn’t help her fate one bit.

            However, her fate is not so different than most fates of simple people born in 17th century England. It was said that those were times where only the rich could afford to have scruples. The same cannot be said of the less fortunate. It’s difficult to imagine you have a choice in action when you’re running on an empty stomach.


Moll Flander’s character or lack there of

            Despite being born in prison and having a frail start in life, the child showed signs of wit. She seemed interested in learning from the people she admired. Moll Flanders could even dare to dream of a better life, at least better than her mother had before she got transported to Virginia, the place where outlaws were deported.

            She met love for the first time or so she thought. Moll was foolish enough to believe that love can transcend class differences. That was her first lesson among many.

            Little by little Moll Flanders understood that there are things one must do to survive. And she did them all, from marrying for money to lying and stealing to secure her future.

            Newgate marks the beginning and the end of the old Moll Flanders. After her adventures, she gets thrown into the place where her mother gave birth to her. During her life, there’s nothing more she dreaded than ending up in the same place that her mother was. But there we find her. This time, not an innocent newly born baby but a grown woman, paying the consequences of her life. Newgate is the end of the old Moll and the rebirth of the changed Moll Flanders.


Compassion for Moll Flanders

            Even though Moll’s life is full of deceit, we cannot help but feel sorry for her. We feel for her unfortunate start, without prospect or hope for the better. Maybe that is what drives us to forgive her when she makes mistake after mistake only to end up in prison.

            There are moments when she feels like she might make an attempt at happiness but then something happens. Her own past or that of the characters she associates herself with always seems to get in her way at being happy and fulfilled.

            It’s easy for Moll the narrator and the reader to know what happens. Moll recounts her life after she had lived it. We are given a short recount of her life even at the beginning of the novel. It’s only Moll Flanders, the character who actually lives the story of her life who has no clue as to what happens next.


Is Moll Flanders a picaresque novel?


            A picaresque novel is an early form of the novel. It’s usually a first-person narrative relating to the adventures of a rogue or lowborn adventurer. The character drifts from place to place and from one social environment to another in his effort to survive. The picaro wanders about and has adventures with people from all social classes and professions. He often just barely escapes punishment for his own lying, cheating, and stealing.

            Moll Flanders is just a few moments away from being caught, time after time. It’s only through luck that she manages to escape her punishment until she can escape no more. She lies and cheats and does everything in her power to survive. Though, she is given a chance to quit her stealing ways. However, now it’s too late. Her pride as being a notorious thief by the name of Moll Flanders who was on the lips of everyone from her trade was much too appealing.

            In her youth, it was her pride that got her in trouble, her inflated self-esteem, and inflated sense of beauty. During her career as a thief, it was her reputation as being the best in the business that kept her going. Now it was a matter of pride.  

The teachings

            The entire novel is meant as an example of the choices we make and the consequences that follow. Moll herself tells us that her story is meant as a lesson to be learned, an example of what can happen should you lead the same life.

            However, there’s also a light at the end of the tunnel. The fact that she ended up at Newgate, where it was the beginning of her life, was not by accident. She had to come close to death to start and appreciate life. She finally understood that everything was not a matter of survival but a matter of choice. And she chose to repent, to regret her decisions and the path it took her.

            Only after almost facing death by a day, could she start to truly live her life. She was transported to Virginia with her husband, where she got the chance to meet her son, born of her marriage with her brother.

Even though she had other children during her life, it was this one that she managed to touch her heart. Maybe now was the right moment for it to happen. She found out that no matter what life throws at you, you are still capable of healing.

Moll Flanders had to go to Virginia to become a plantation owner in order to come to England and enjoy her old days. What she thought it a curse at first, turned out to be her salvation.

I guess that’s the way in life. A lot of times, we don’t know what waits for us around the corner. We just have to hope that it’s the way we have to take to get us where we need to be.



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