Defoe’s Story of “Frailty, thy name is Woman”


   Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders is a fictitious tale of a woman striving for greatness. Yet Defoe did not create it purely for entertainment. He wanted the story of Flanders to serve as “a Work from every part of which something may be learned…by which the Reader will have something of Instruction” (5). One example of this “Instruction” lies in the following passage, “…that if my Story comes to be read by any innocent young [woman], they may learn from it to Guard themselves against the Mischiefs which attend an early Knowledge of their own Beauty” (22). This example but one of the “instructions” in the work but this one sticks out because it is the underlying source of all of Moll Flanders’ problems.
   This quotation is the center of Moll Flanders’ troubles throughout the beginning of her story. Flanders is saying here that women who know themselves to be beautiful must protect themselves from the aims of “mischievous” men, men who profess their love to these women. Flanders encounters a variety of male characters throughout her life who fall into that category and jeopardize Flanders’ circumstances. The first man in the story to appear as a member of this category is the older brother at Flanders’ magnificent new home. The brother ruins her chance to be a “Gentlewoman” by getting her involved with him as an unmarried woman. His pursuit of Flanders and actions caused a spiraling effect where Flanders’ had to refuse marriage to the younger brother and leave the Lady’s home. When Flanders left the family, her chance of becoming a “Gentlewoman” left her.
   The “Irishman” is the second man to ruin Moll Flanders’ hopes for success. His “mischief” is a different form than that of the brother. While the brother seeks sex, this man seeks money. This Irishman has been told by his sister that Flanders has a massive estate. He lies about a mansion and servants that he doesn’t have just to impress Flanders and attract her to him. He professes his love to her to seal the deal, and by the time Moll Flanders figures it out, they’ve already been married. It is a disaster for both of them and once again Flanders was hurt by the “mischiefs” of a man.
   Defoe indicates that Moll Flanders is hurt because she fails “to Guard [herself] against the Mischiefs” of men’s aims. Her failure to resist the brother until marriage caused her to lose an amazingly lucky shot a becoming a “Gentlewoman,” and her blindness to the Irishman’s true goals led to another heartbreak and disappointment. The passage aims to help its female readers avoid situations similar to those of Moll Flanders. This “instruction” is invaluable to a great many.


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One Response to “Defoe’s Story of “Frailty, thy name is Woman””

  1. jackscherger Says:

    I thought it was interesting how you say that Moll is a weak person and that is what leads to her downfall. I thought that she gave up her dream of becoming a gentlewoman and just tried to marry for money because it was easier; however, your essay presents another plausible character flaw in Moll.

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