Daniel Defoe: Moll Flanders (1722)

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Moll Flanders is the chronicle of a full life-span, told by a woman in her seventieth year with wonder and acceptance.  In one sense, she is the product of a Puritan society turned to worldly zeal. Moll is supreme tradeswoman, always ready to draw up an account, to enter each experience in her ledger as profit or loss, bustling with incredible force in the market place of marriage, and finally turning to those bolder and franker forms of competitive enterprise, whoredom and theft.  To an extent, she is the embodiment of thrift, good management, and industry.  But she is also the perverse and savagely acquisitive outlaw, the once-dedicated servant of the Lord turned to the false worship of wealth, power, success.

 

Her drive in part the inevitable quest for security, the island of property that will one above the waters of an individualistic, cruelly commercial society.   Born in Newgate, left with no resources but her needle, she constantly seeks enough wealth or a wealthy enough husband to free herself from the threat of poverty and the temptations of crime. But she finds herself fascinated by the quest itself, by the management of marriages, the danger of thievery. When she has more money than she needs, she is still disguising herself for new crimes, disdaining the humble trade of the seamstress. When she finally settles into respectability, it is with a gentleman, not a merchant; her husband is a rather pretentious, somewhat sentimental highwayman, who is not much good as a farmer but is considerable sportsman. Moll is so simple middle-class mercantile figure.

 

There is another dimension of Moll Flanders.  Her constant moral resolutions, her efforts to reform, her doubts and remorse cannot be discounted as hypocrisy or even unrealistic self-deception.  Moll is a daughter of Puritan thought, and her piety has all the troublesome ambiguities of the faith. Her religion and morality are essentially emotional. She has scruples against incest, but they take the form of nausea, physical revulsion. She intends virtuous behavior and is astonished to discover her hardness of heart.  Moll's life is a career of self-discovery, of "herself surprised," surprised by herself and with herself.

 

Moll Flanders:   a picaresque novel

Devices to gain unity:

       Newgate to Newgate: rebirth;   Old world  ßà New world  

  Places: Colchester  /to be a gentlewoman

        Later, again  

        London

        Lancashire

        Bath

Moll as wife, mother 

recognition: different stages: Mother/Jemy /Son

 

Motifs:

Money and Marriage as business in the 18th Century

Gentlemanà whoring and thievery

Middle-class mentality

       


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