Moll Flanders

Moll Flanders
Moll Flanders  
Author(s) 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 simply as Moll Flanders) is a novel written by Daniel Defoe in 1722, 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 (not her birth name, she emphasizes, taking care not to reveal it) is raised until adolescence by a goodly foster mother, and then gets attached to a household as a servant where she is loved by both sons, the elder of whom convinces her to "act like they were married" in bed, yet eventually unwilling to marry her, he convinces her to marry his younger brother. She then is widowed, leaves her children in 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 kindly man who introduces her to his mother. After three children (one dies), Moll learns that her mother-in-law is actually her biological mother, which makes her husband her half-brother. She dissolves their marriage and after continuing to live with her brother for three years, 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 relationship is at first platonic, but eventually develops into Moll becoming something of a "kept woman" in Hammersmith, London. They have three children (one lives), 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 while still married to an adulterous wife (a "whore"), proposes to Moll after she entrusts him with her money. While waiting for the banker to divorce, 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, a supposedly rich man. She soon realises he expected to receive a great dowry which she denies having, leading him to admit that he has cheated her into marriage, having himself lied about having money that he does not possess. He is in fact a ruined gentleman and discharges her from the marriage, telling her nevertheless that 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 he 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 son is born when the banker's wife commits suicide following their divorce, and Moll leaves her newborn in the care of a countrywoman in exchange 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!" They live in happiness for five years before he becomes bankrupt and dies of despair, the fate of their two children left unstated.

Truly desperate now, Moll begins a career of artful thievery, which, by employing her wits, beauty, charm, and femininity, as well as hard-heartedness and wickedness, brings her the financial security she has always sought. Only here does she take the name Moll Flanders and is known thereby. On the downside, she stoops to robbing a family in their burning house, then a lover to whom she becomes a mistress, and is sent to Newgate Prison (like the book's author 20 years prior).

In Newgate she is led to her repentance. At the same time, she reunites with her soulmate, her "Lancashire husband", who is also jailed for his robberies (before and after they first met, he acknowledges). Moll is found guilty of felony, but not burglary, the second charge; still, the sentence is death in any case. Yet Moll convinces a minister of her repentance, and together with her Lancashire husband is sent to the Colonies to avoid hanging, where they live happily together (she even talks the ship's captain into not being with the convicts sold upon arrival, but instead in the captain's quarters). Once in the colonies, Moll learns her mother has left her a plantation and that her own son (by her brother) is alive, as is her brother/husband.

Moll 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. Moll reveals herself now to her son in Virginia and he gives her her mother's inheritance, a farm for which he will now be her steward, providing £100 a year income for her. In turn, she makes him her heir and gives him a (stolen) gold watch.

At last, her life of conniving and desperation seems to be over. When her brother/husband is dead, Moll tells her (Lancashire) husband 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), the two return to England to live "in sincere penitence for the wicked lives we have lived".

Film, TV, or theatrical adaptations

  • A 1975 two-part BBC TV adaptation, Moll Flanders, adapted by Hugh Whitemore, directed by Donald McWhinnie, and starring Julia Foster as Moll and Kenneth Haigh as Jemmy.
  • A musical adaptation was recorded in 1993 starring Josie Lawrence as Moll Flanders, with Musical Direction by Tony Castro.
  • A later American adaptation, Moll Flanders (1996) starred Robin Wright Penn as Moll Flanders and Morgan Freeman as Hibble, with Stockard Channing as Mrs. Allworthy. This adaptation took many liberties with the original plot, and most elements of the original novel are missing.
  • 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. This film is one of the closest adaptations to the novel, though it ends when she is still a relatively young woman.
  • In Desperate Housewives, Katherine Mayfair is seen reading Moll Flanders whilst incarcerated in a mental institution in the sixth season of the show.

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]


External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Moll Flanders — Moll Flanders, im englischen Originaltitel (The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous) Moll Flanders ist ein von Daniel Defoe verfasster und 1722 erschienener Roman. Er beschreibt in der Form einer Ich Erzählung das Leben von Moll Flanders,… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Moll Flanders — the main character in the book The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, written in 1722 by Daniel Defoe. Moll tells the story of her marriages, sexual relationships, and crimes in an amusing way that makes the reader feel… …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • Moll Flanders —   [məl flændəz], Roman von D. Defoe; englisch 1722; deutscher Titel identisch …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Moll Flanders — Portada de Moll Flanders Autor Daniel Defoe Género Novela picaresca …   Wikipedia Español

  • Moll Flanders — Cette page d’homonymie répertorie les différents sujets et articles partageant un même nom. Moll Flanders est un personnage de fiction, héroïne de : Heurs et Malheurs de la fameuse Moll Flanders (The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Moll Flanders — (The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders) a novel (1722) by Daniel Defoe. * * * Moll Flanders [Moll Flanders] a novel (1722) by Daniel Defoe. The full title is The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders. It takes… …   Useful english dictionary

  • Moll Flanders — (The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders) a novel (1722) by Daniel Defoe. * * * …   Universalium

  • Moll Flanders, Ou Les Mémoires D'une Courtisane — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Moll Flanders. Moll Flanders, ou les mémoires d une courtisane (Moll Flanders) est un film américano irlandais réalisé par Pen Densham, sorti en 1996. Sommaire 1 Synopsis …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Moll Flanders, ou les memoires d'une courtisane — Moll Flanders, ou les mémoires d une courtisane Pour les articles homonymes, voir Moll Flanders. Moll Flanders, ou les mémoires d une courtisane (Moll Flanders) est un film américano irlandais réalisé par Pen Densham, sorti en 1996. Sommaire 1… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Moll flanders, ou les mémoires d'une courtisane — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Moll Flanders. Moll Flanders, ou les mémoires d une courtisane (Moll Flanders) est un film américano irlandais réalisé par Pen Densham, sorti en 1996. Sommaire 1 Synopsis …   Wikipédia en Français

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