Celebrated as "a masterpiece of characterization" by E. M. Forster, Moll Flanders is both a cunning examination of social mores and a hugely entertaining story filled with scandalous sexual and criminal adventures. In Moll, Defoe created a character of limitless interest, in spite of her unconcealed ethical shortcomings. Taking Moll through the echelons of 18th-century English society, Defoe seldom moralizes as he champions the personal qualities of self-reliance, perseverance, and hard work - even when it takes the form of crime.
Regular price: £22.39
Buy Now with 1 Credit
Buy Now for £22.39
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Pierre Gauthier on 01-07-12
Any additional comments?
It is difficult to believe that this audacious novel was written by the same author as Robinson Crusoe, that classic among all that is definitely traditional and even somewhat staid!
Here, a very independent minded woman pretends to tell us her life story marked with bigamy, theft, incest, embezzlements, etc.
Since the overall plot is described from the start, the whole suspense lies in how what is announced will actually fit in (it does).
The novel may be read at multiple levels since the degree of truthfulness on the narrator’s part is of course questionable given that she tells the reader about her life based on deceiving others.
She certainly seems completely amoral and her single motivation appears to be money. Thus, in very modern fashion, her loyalties vary according to her own interest. For much of the work, she complains that she has no friend but has no qualms time and again to abandon her own children. She does develop a very close relationship with another woman, although it seems to be somewhat unidirectional in her favour. If it was as intimate as one may deduce, it certainly would have been completely scandalous in her days. Although the author does not shy away from providing precise details in many instances, he remains elusive on this account.
This enthralling work written three centuries ago is very pertinent today and warmly recommended to all (adult) readers.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
By Jefferson on 11-05-13
The Memoirs of a Mistress, a Thief, and a Penitent
The sub-title of Daniel Defoe's novel Moll Flanders (1722) says it (almost) all:
"The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, &c. 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."
It sure is an odd book! I suspect Defoe of having his cake and eating it too, of presenting Moll’s story as a cautionary tale replete with Christian moral lessons, but also writing what was for its era a titillating, suspenseful, and social novel. After a rather slow first half or so, in which Moll recounts her birth in Newgate Prison, her childhood, her youth, and her romantic relations in a well-to-do family, as well as her marrying of the first two or so of her several husbands, her story becomes more involving and exciting as she begins thieving. This second half is more compelling because it is morally disturbing and darkly revealing of human nature, and because Defoe gets the reader to root for the careful, quick, and lucky Moll as she frankly recounts doing wicked criminal acts that must psychologically and financially hurt her victims. She tells us of robbing a little girl of a gold necklace and even contemplating killing her to silence her, of robbing a woman whose house is on fire by pretending to be there to help her, and of tricking a host of gullible or unobservant maids, tavern boys, shopkeepers, traders, gentlemen, gentlewomen, justices and constables, and even fellow thieves. Defoe must have done a lot of research into the practices of pickpockets, shoplifters, and scam artists.
We know from the sub-title of the novel and hints that she sprinkles about that Moll will be caught, and one of the pleasures of the novel involves anticipating and then finding out how things that we know will happen to her (like marrying her brother) will come to pass. Despite gaining enough money from her thieving to live comfortably on and despite seeing several colleagues collared, imprisoned, and either transported to the colonies or hanged, Moll continues her criminal career, offering up moral lessons about how we should be more observant when among strangers and about how the devil, fate, poverty, and avarice can lead people into wickedness. Moll is a fascinating character: fearlessly honest to her reader in narrating her exploits and cannily dishonest to nearly everyone she encounters, from her victims to her confidante-mentor "governess" and her husbands and son.
Defoe establishes the authenticity of Moll's story by saying that he has edited her "memorandums." And it is easy to read Moll Flanders, like Robinson Crusoe, forgetting about Defoe and believing in the reality of his fictional autobiographical narrator. Although Moll is a very different person from Robinson, being more sinful and less pious, as well as being more reliant on society than on nature to make her living, both characters are intelligent, resourceful, and strong-spirited in the face of exceptional adversity.
The imagination necessary for Defoe to write in the voice of Moll Flanders as a “real” woman must have involved a good deal of empathy for women and sympathy with their plight in the male-dominated and morally corrupt early 18th century. A woman like Moll born in Newgate Prison had few opportunities to make something of herself, and she was lucky to wind up in a relatively nurturing and comfortable place, but even if she were fortunate enough to find a good husband, he would automatically possess any of her assets which she hadn’t previously hidden. The end of the novel was partly disappointing, because it seems as if Moll (and Defoe?) has forgotten her many victims as she complacently lists her and her "gentleman" husband's plantation wealth and luxury objects almost as though they are heavenly rewards for having become "penitent." But throughout the novel Defoe does express through Moll many devastating insights into human nature, among them the fact that in time anyone may become used to hell, as Moll and her fellow inmates come to accept living in Newgate Prison.
Davina Porter is a clear and engaging reader, with a rich and gravelly voice, especially for men's lines, and she’s quite good at inflecting her speech for wit, grief, fear, or love (though all her men sound pretty much the same).
In short, if you are interested in the early 18th century (especially in their treatment of women and criminals) and in vivid novels about frankly wicked women of a certain age and experience, you should give Moll Flanders a try.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful