Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
Filed under: Book Reviews,Infinite TBR,Reader of the Stack Goes Canonical — Ibis at 8:14 pm on Thursday, June 16, 2011

From the back cover:
“Written in a time when criminal biographies enjoyed great success, Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders details the life of the irresistible Moll and her struggles through poverty and sin in search of property and power. Born in Newgate Prison to a picaresque mother, Moll propels herself through marriages, periods of success and destitution, and a trip to the New World and back, only to return to the place of her birth as a popular prostitute and brilliant thief. The story of Moll Flanders vividly illustrates Defoe’s themes of social mobility and predestination, sin, redemption and reward. ”

My thoughts:
Moll Flanders is one of the great characters of English literature. In one way, she illustrates how dependent women were upon men before the feminist movements of the past couple of centuries, in another, she herself is a proto-feminist doing her best to survive in a patriarchal culture. Born to a criminal in prison, she must work for her keep from the start. She has ambition, but it is not the ambition of, say, a Becky Sharpe. She just wants to live comfortably and work for herself rather than as a servant. She is blessed with intelligence, a likeable personality, a bit of beauty, and some fortunate occurrences that happen when she needs them the most (bad fortune comes her way too, so it doesn’t seem too contrived). Though she calls herself a whore, in fact, looking on her with liberated, twenty-first century eyes, the closest she gets is living for a few years as a kept mistress (without many other options I might add). She marries a few times, but one gets the impression that this is out of practical necessity rather than desire. Marriage (as long as it’s good) grants stability and respectability. Once poverty drives her to take up thievery though, she’s perfectly content to apply herself and her talents to it as a career that provides both her and her friend with a living. One could imagine Moll dropped into modern times taking up a far less ethically dubious profession. Though at the end she protests her true repentance, there is really little change to her character. She doesn’t allow herself to feel the shame and remorse that religion and men would demand of her. And it would seem that Providence doesn’t require it since she finishes up happy and well off.
My Rating: 9/10