Reviewer: Tall, Short, Tiny & a Pickle
When I began Moll Flanders, I thought I may have already read it for an English class at high school, but I soon realised that my semi-conservative all-girls school would have been hesitant about a novel about prostitution, bigamy and crime. Indeed, if the novel was known by its full title, it may cause more of a stir than it already does:
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.
What better plot summary can there be? Moll Flanders was indeed a prostitute and thief, numerous-times married (once, unknowingly, to her brother).
Moll’s mother is a convicted felon; shortly after Moll’s birth, her mother is transported to America, and Moll is raised by a kindly woman. She grows to be a beautiful young woman, and is seduced by a young man who promises they will be married; however, he has no intention of marrying her, and begins to leave money for Moll after each of their encounters. When he abandons her, she marries his younger brother, a sweet young man who truly loves her. He dies after a few years, and she quickly marries again; however, her new husband flees England as a fugitive from the law. Moll marries again and moves to America with her new husband, but discovers that he is actually her half-brother. She is horrified, and returns to England, where she becomes mistress of a man whose wife has gone insane. Their relationship ends after he experiences a religious epiphany of sorts, and she begins a relationship with a banker whose wife is cheating on him. Moll agrees to marry him if he will get a divorce; while awaiting his decision, she travels north and marries a rich gentleman, who turns out to have as little money as Moll. They discover each others “fraud” (having let everyone believe that each was very rich), and separate. Moll returns to marry her divorced lover, but he is poorly and dies soon after.
Moll is thrust back into a life supporting herself and soon becomes an expert thief with a reputation for being talented at her trade. Eventually she is caught and sentenced to death; in prison at Newgate, she is reunited with her “rich” husband, who has also been arrested. They are both transported to America, where they become plantation owners, and return to England in their old age, finally rich and successful.
This was a surprisingly easy read, although initially I struggled with the first-person female character being written by a man. The characters were colourful, believable and natural, while still a little larger-than-life – typical of the era, of course. I enjoyed Defoe’s plain, simple style, and his ability to create such strikingly vivid imagery of dark and dangerous nights without an overuse of literary elements.
There were many moments of darkness in the story, and that helped temper the slightly comic nature of Moll’s many relationships and marriages. Each step in her life was both tragic and exciting; as a reader, I found myself caught up in wondering just where she was taking me next. Interestingly, I found myself sympathising and celebrating with Moll more than chastising her; Defoe has created a strong character who, despite her lack of morals, is self-sufficient, strong and smart.
It frustrated me slightly that the entire novel was written as one chapter (called, rather cleverly, Chapter One); there were no natural pauses or breaks for finishing those late-at-night readings…my issue more than the novel’s! I thoroughly enjoyed Moll Flanders, and give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.