Moll Flanders: Wikis


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Moll Flanders  
Author Daniel Defoe
Country England
Language English
Genre(s) Novel
Publication date January 1722
Media type Print

The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders (commonly known as simply "Moll Flanders") is a novel written by Daniel Defoe in 1722.

Defoe wrote this after his work as a journalist and pamphleteer. By 1722, Defoe had become a recognised novelist, with the success of Robinson Crusoe in 1719. His political work was tapering off at this point, due to the fall of both Whig and Tory party leaders with whom he had been associated; Robert Walpole was beginning his rise, and Defoe was never fully at home with the Walpole group. Defoe's Whig views are nevertheless evident in the story of Moll, and the novel's full title gives some insight into this and the outline of the plot:

The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, Etc. Who Was Born In Newgate, and During a Life of Continu'd Variety For Threescore Years, Besides Her Childhood, Was Twelve Year 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.


Plot summary

Moll's mother is a convict in Newgate Prison in London who is given a reprieve by "pleading her belly", a reference to the custom of staying the executions of pregnant criminals. Her mother is eventually transported to America and Moll Flanders (which is not her birth name, she emphasises, and never reveals it) is raised until adolescence by a good foster mother, and then gets attached to a household as a servant where she is loved by both sons. The elder son convinces her to "act like they were married" in bed, but eventually unwilling to marry her he convinces Moll to marry the younger brother. She then is widowed, leaves her children to the care of in-laws, and begins honing the skill of passing herself off as a fortuned widow to attract a man who will marry her and provide her with security.

The first time she does this, her husband goes bankrupt and flees to the Continent leaving her on her own with his blessing to do the best she can and forget him. The second time, she makes a match that leads her to Virginia with a kind and good man who introduces her to his mother. After two children, Moll learns that her mother-in-law is actually her biological mother, which means her husband is her half-brother. She dissolves their marriage and travels back to England, leaving her two children behind, and goes to live in Bath to seek a new husband.

Again she returns to her con skills and develops a relationship with a man in Bath whose wife is elsewhere confined due to insanity. Their friendship is at first platonic but eventually develops into Moll becoming something of a "kept woman" in Hammersmith, London. These two truly fall in love and have a son, but after a severe illness he repents, breaks off the arrangement and commits to his wife.

Moll, now 42, resorts to another beau, a banker, who is still married to an adulterous wife (a "whore") but proposes to her after she entrusts her with her money. While waiting for the banker to divorce his wife Moll pretends to have a great fortune in order to attract another wealthy husband. She becomes involved with some Roman Catholics in Lancashire that try to convert her and she marries one of them, supposedly a rich man. She soon realises he expected to receive a great dowry which she denies having, which leads him to admit that he has cheated her into marriage, lying about having money, which he does not possess. He is in fact a ruined gentleman and discharges her from the marriage but still says she should inherit any money he might ever get (finally, she mentions his name). Although now pregnant again, Moll lets the banker believe she is available, hoping her husband returns. She gives birth and the midwife gives a tripartite scale of the costs of bearing a child, with one value level per social class.

Moll's boy is born when the banker's wife commits suicide following the divorce, and she leaves it in the hand of a countrywoman for the sum of £5 a year. Moll marries the banker now, but realises: "what an abominable creature am I! and how is this innocent gentleman going to be abused by me!" She also dislikes being married in an inn at night by the landlord who is also a minister, an hour after she agreed to marry at all. But he dies in financial ruin after five years, when Moll had two more children by him.

Truly desperate now, she begins a career of artful thievery, which, by employing her wits, beauty, charm, and feminity, as well as hard-heartedness and wickedness, brings her the financial security she always sought. Only here, she takes the name of Moll Flanders and is known by it. On the downside, she is even robbing a family in their burning house, then a lover she becomes a mistress to, and is later sent to Newgate Prison (like the book's author twenty years before).

Here, she is led to her repentance. At the same time, she reunites with her soul-mate, her "Lancashire husband", who is also jailed for his robberies (before and after they first met, he acknowledges). She is found guilty of felony, but not burglary, the second accusation; still, the sentence is death anyway. But she convinces a minister of her repentance, and with her Lancashire husband is sent to the Colonies to avoid hanging, and happily are together. (She even talks the captain into not being with the convicts sold upon arrival, but in the captain's quarters.) Once in the colonies, she learns her mother has left her a plantation and her own son (she had by her brother) is alive, as is her brother (husband).

She carefully introduces herself to her brother and their son, in disguise. With the help of a Quaker, the two found a farm with 50 servants in Maryland. She reveals herself now to her son in Virginia and he gives her her mothers' inheritance, a farm he will now be her steward for, providing £100 a year for her. In turn, she makes him her heir and gives him a (stolen) golden watch.

At last, her life of conniving and desperation seems to be over. She tells her (Lancashire) husband when her (brother) husband is dead, the entire story, and he is "perfectly easy on that account". "For, said he, it was no fault of yours, nor of his; it was a mistake impossible to be prevented". Aged 69 (in 1683), they return to England to live "in sincere penitence for the wicked lives we have lived".

Film, TV, or theatrical adaptations

  • A musical adaptation was recorded in 1993 starring Josie Lawrence as Moll Flanders.
  • A second British television adaptation, broadcast by ITV in 1996, titled The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders, with Alex Kingston starring as Moll and Daniel Craig as Jemmy.

Selected quotations

"...and let any one judge what must be the anguish of my mind, when I came to reflect that this was certainly no more or less than my own mother, and I had now had two children, and was big with another by my own brother, and lay with him still every night."[2] "I was now the most unhappy of all women in the world. Oh! had the story never been told me, all had been well; it had been no crime to have lain with my husband, since as to his being my relation I had known nothing of it."[2]


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