Archive for the ‘Moll Flanders, marriage: Post #3’ Category

Money has Greater Value than Beauty in the Marriage Market

January 20, 2010

     In Colchester, Moll Flanders lives with a wealthy family in which the brothers and sisters argue about what has more value in the marriage market, good looks or money.   The younger brother, Robin, argues that for a woman to attract a husband on the marriage market, she needs to be “handsome” (20).  The sister, who feels like Robin is calling her ugly, responds that she has money instead of beauty, and money is more likely to win her a husband: 

“I understand you, brother,” replies the lady very smartly; “you suppose I have the money, and want the beauty; but as times go now, the first will do without the last, so I have the better of my neighbours” (20).

    The brother tells his sister that money may win at first, but good looks could steal the victory:

“Well,” says the younger brother, “but your neighbours, as you call them, may be even with you, for beauty will steal a husband sometimes in spite of money, and when the maid chances to be handsomer than the mistress, she oftentimes makes as good a market, and rides in a coach before her” (21).

   For Moll, the more important question is a person’s ability to use her looks or money to get the best deal.  When the elder brother is attracted to Moll’s good looks, Moll fails to use her intelligence to make sure she locks in a good deal.  She agrees to lose her “honour” without receiving a commitment from the elder brother to support her.   To Moll, money has the most value.  The person with money is in the best position to walk away, while the person with no money, like Moll, is forced to take what she can get.  Foreshadowing the unhappy end of Moll’s relaitionship with the elder brother, Moll concludes, “there not been one misfortune in it, I had been in the right, but the mistake lay here, that Mrs. Betty was in earnest and the gentleman was not” (22).


Holy Matrimony

January 19, 2010

Marriage in “Moll Flanders” is very similar to how it is thought of today. For Moll it is a way to make money and get out of debt. It seems that she never really loves or has feelings for anyone except for in one instance, and even then she does not seem sincere. “Well if I must be his wife, if it please God to give me grace, I’ll be a true wife to him, and love him to the strange excess of his passion for me”(144). Clearly she does not feel the same way that he does. She has to ask god to help her stay faithful and keep her from cheating on her. It seems as though it is taken extremely lightly and not really appreciated for what it is. It could be interpreted that she acts and thinks like this because of her mother and father. Her father was never around and neither was her mother so she does not know how marriage is supposed to work.

At this point in the novella Moll has had three husbands, and numerous other partners that we know of, all of which she has disserted, and only one is understandable, he being her brother. She has a child with a man who is already married, and surprisingly she is the one who has the final say. The man was ready and willing, but she was having second thoughts about whether it was a good idea. So the corruption is not only on Moll’s side. She does seem to be the leader of the sinning. All the characters that she has some kind of physical relationship with have some fault in them.

The children are also another important part in her marriages, or the lack there of. The disregard for her children is shocking. She has these kids and seems to not care whether they live or die. She simply leaves them in places where she assumes that they will be taken care of. Similar to what her mother had done to Moll when she was a child, and Moll blames this for all of the bad things that happen to her.

Moll Marrying Men Makes Mishaps Mostly

January 19, 2010


Moll Flanders is no stranger to getting married. She marries and re-marries many times throughout the course of the novel. Her most recent husband after moving to London, who is not mentioned by name, seems to be the closest Moll came to having an attachment to. “… I had the prospect of a very happy Life, if I knew how to manage it…” (148). Moll also seems to respect her husband more than any other she had previously “I Liv’d with this Husband in the utmost Tranquility; he was a Quiet, Sensible, Sober Man, Virtuous, Modest, Sincere, and in his Business Diligent and Just…” (149).

Moll remains married to this man for some time, and has two children by him. She describes that this would be the only children she would bear with him as she was approaching infertility, stating “…it began to be time for me to leave bearing Children, for I was now Eight and Forty…” (150).

Moll enjoys the wealth this husband can provide to her until his clerk loses a large sum of their personal fortunes, leaving them with almost nothing. This sudden shock of being poor gives Moll’s husband a heart attack, killing him. Soon after, Moll finds herself poor and alone. She admits that “[her] case is deplorable…” (150). Soon after, she begins to lose her sanity. Moll externalizes her sins to attributes them to the devil. She then begins to self-censor herself as she has a mental breakdown. Is this a sign of Moll’s weakness. It seems that she finally allowed herself to truly love a man to the point where she loses her sanity as she loses him. This is a claim that Moll’s other husbands could make. No other husband affects Moll’s sense of being as does this one.

Another possible theory that I find more likely is that Moll, who became used to being wealthy, suddenly finds herself with nothing much like her situation as a child: poor and alone. This sudden desperation damages what is left of Moll’s sanity, driving her to such rash actions as to steal from a helpless child in an act of self-preservation. Defoe uses this decent from rich and happy to poor and desolate to illustrate how fluid the social structure in eighteenth century London was. Moll, who rose to the highest social standing with her husband, suddenly finds herself among the lowest rungs of society in a matter of days after her husband’s death. Though Moll will likely recover from her latest predicament, it seems that the death of this latest husband will have a lasting imprint on her sanity and morality.

Marry for Love… I Think Not

January 19, 2010

The men who involve themselves with Moll Flanders become either the shame of their family, a shameful two-timer, or ashamed of incest. Moll causes all of this shame because of her idea of marrying for money. This passage clearly represents Moll’s point of view, “this Creature, the go-between that had betrayed us both, had made me believe strange things of my Marrying to my Advantage in the Country, and I was not willing to be without Money whatever might happen” (119).  This “Creature” is the sister of her Irish husband, and he is just one example of Moll’s ignorance and pursuit of money.

            Moll tosses blame from one person to another, from her mother to this man’s sister, never taking responsibility for her actions. She blames this woman for this “betrayal”,” yet both her and the Irishman sought financial gain in their relationship and that is why the sister deceived them, trying to satisfy them both. Moll seems to ignore how she has always ended up in poor situations due to her incessant lust for social stature. This passage is sums up another time when Moll fails to hold herself accountable.

            There have been plenty more experiences in Moll’s past that demonstrate her crave to be a “Gentlewoman.” For example, she first uses marriage to achieve this goal with Robert, the ashamed brother of her host family ruining her chances for an education in a happy home. In search of a new source of money, she moves to a popular city for wealthy sea captains. Ironically when she finds a rich husband, it turns out to be her brother. Once again there’s another failed attempt at money. Finally, there was the friendly gentleman at Bath who was sought after by the woman at Moll’s inn. He was requested to stay as part of a plan to satisfy Moll’s quest for money, and she ruined his honor by sleeping with and encouraging him to pretend he was not married. If she would just think about the presence of love in her relationships, they might work out. The passage above presents the Irishman as another example of another fellow to fall into Moll’s trap.

Moll Flanders’ reflection of how “[she] was not willing to be without Money” is a great example of her actions during the novel. Moll has always looked for opportunities to be higher on the social class. But what could be easily overlooked is how Moll blames the “Creature” for her point of view on marriage. Daniel Defoe satirizes Moll’s idea of marriage with her frequent failures in the story. But even though most would read this passage and frown upon Moll’s character, they must hesitate because this philosophy was not uncommon for Defoe’s time. Moll Flanders is just a figure that represents the feeling of the time period.

Social Class

January 19, 2010

Moll Flanders attracts a man at a public fair despite having about fifty years of whoring and general disgrace behind her. The “extreamly well Dress’d…and very rich” man converses with Moll before inviting her back to his lodgings (177). All the while feigning naivety, Moll accompanies the drunk “Gentleman” and has no scruples about letting the man do “what he pleas’d with [her]” (177). Moll’s actions obviously violate the code of proper ladies and demonstrate her baseness at this point in her life. But, what is be said about the man who courted Moll with the intent to proposition her. Moll entitles him gentleman. The seduction techniques of the gentleman suggest that the moral superiority associated with the upper class simply disguises that all humans are flawed.

The man who engages Moll in conversation has all the trappings of his upper class status. He wears “a gold Watch[,]…silver fring’d Gloves, [and a] Sword” (178). Before speaking with him, an observer would deem him an elite member of society. So, that he deserves respect can be concluded from his outfit. He uses his semblance of propriety to get Moll to trust him. Ultimately, he attempts to get Moll drunk before having his way. This man has spent time “at a House…where they [make] no scruple to show [ladies and him] up Stairs into a Room with a Bed in it” (177). Yet, he returns to his wife and home free of guilt and without sullying his reputation. A social structure that allows this man to retain his status requires revision. Although Moll concurrently uses the man for his money, he remain unworthy of the automatic moral superiority he is granted.

Moll Can Say No

January 19, 2010

Marriage, in particular the marriage marketplace, is a theme that Defoe explores in Moll Flanders. Subtly usurping the normal patriarchal society, Defoe presents the idea that women have much underutilized power over their husbands. Namely, women, he says, “place themselves below the common Station of a Wife,” because the demographics of eighteenth century England give men a disproportionate number of women to choose as wives (61). Despite this unbalanced ratio, Moll finds, through her experience with her sailor neighbor, that “the Advantage is not so much on the other Side, as the Men think it is…that the Ladies always gain of the Men, by keeping their Ground, and letting their pretended Lovers see they can Resent being slighted, and that they are not afraid of saying No (61). Essentially, women find themselves in a depressed matrimonial condition only because they lack the courage to say no. In Moll, however, we see the powerful effects of a woman who is not afraid to say no.

Moll learns at a young age the importance of denying men. When caught between a love triangle with two brothers, Moll knows that she cannot, at least initially, give into both. While her motivation for rejection originally stems from modesty and honor, Moll soon discovers the power she can command over men who are courting her. Moll uses this newfound power with aplomb as she is forced to find husband after husband to meet her financial needs. Basically, Moll uses denial to convince men that she is not a woman who is seeking “easie Courtship,” albeit she often is (61). This tactic works quite well for Moll, in fact, the majority of her problems arise not when she says no but when she relinquishes her control by saying yes. For example, by agreeing to travel to America, Moll soon destroys her marriage and fine circumstances by uncovering the incestuous nature of her relationship. Also, by finally consenting to have intercourse with her lover from Bath, Moll becomes a simple mistress, easily forgotten by her suitor.

Continuing on that note, one of Defoe’s main messages, perhaps, is that women need to use sex to their advantage. Sex is an arena controlled by women, an arena in which they can find the courage and leverage necessary to resist male oppression. Essentially, strategic uses or denials of sex can result in much increased social standing or, in more extreme cases, life itself as evidenced by the mercy given to women who plead their bellies at Newgate.

In sum, Defoe uses Moll as a means of exploring the flexible social structure of eighteenth century England and as a means of measuring how much control an intelligent and stubborn woman can have over men in a traditionally male-dominated marriage marketplace.

Can Women Really Say No?

January 19, 2010

In applying simple economic principles to the marriage marketplace of the eighteenth century, womankind’s dilemma is clear.  A decrease in customer demand, in this case caused by the decreased number of buyers (men), causes fewer of the goods (women) to be bought for a lower price.  Ignoring the obvious injustice that results from the depersonalization of women into items that can be sold and purchased, women’s limited freedoms are now in even greater jeopardy for they have “lost the Privilege of saying No” (56).  Confronted with such a shortage of men, many women abandon their standards of what constitutes a gentleman, knowing that if a “man was by great Chance refus’d at one House, he was sure to be receiv’d at the next” (56).  Consequently, the shifted demand curve in the marriage marketplace greatly contributes to the degradation of society’s values, a degradation made clear by Defoe’s numerous attempts to correct society’s debasement with instructional writing.

The statement that women have “lost the Privilege of saying No” to men, regardless of their circumstances, provides a clear implication that such a privilege previously existed (56).  All other instances in the work, however, point to a woman’s being incapable of refusing a man.  Moll experiences such an expectation at a very young age, when, as Mrs. Betty, Moll’s integrity is questioned for having the audacity to refuse Robin.  The youngest sister in the family even asks the rhetorical question of “Do you think [Mrs. Betty] has learnt to say NO, any more than other People” (39).  These other people, or to speak with more specificity, these other women, have been raised with idea that women lack the aptitude to defy men their right to marry.

Throughout Moll’s narrative, Moll carries herself as if she has the faculty to deny men their wishes. In reality, Moll pretends to hold the power of refusal as a means to enliven the chase necessary to win her over.  In other words, to make the conquest more satisfying for her male suitors, Moll plays hard to get.  Moll makes it quite clear to her readers, however, that her restraint is nothing but a façade.  Oftentimes saying something similar to “I must confess I should not have restrained him much [had he pursued the issue of sex, or marriage, farther],” Moll makes it clear that regardless of her pretense, she, along with every other woman, truly lacks the ability to say no to men (92-3).

So if Moll, and perhaps all of womankind, lacks the ability to refuse men the right of marriage, or anything for that matter, why is a whole segment of Defoe’s work devoted to advocating a woman’s right to inquire about, and if necessary, to deny her male suitors?  The answer falls back upon the fundamental nature of instructional writing through satire.  Defoe uses the irony of having Moll, a woman who is incapable of denying men, teach her friend how to gain the upper hand in the marriage market place to instruct his large female constituency.  Defoe wishes to convey to his female audience that instead of dropping their standards of men, they should understand that “No Man of common Sense will value a Woman the less, for giving up herself at the first Attack, or for not accepting his Proposal without enquiring into his Person or Character; on the contrary, he must think her the weakest of all Creatures in the World … [who would] cast [her] life away at once, and make Matrimony like Death, be a leap in the dark” (62).  In this regard, the idea of a marriage conceived in the marriage marketplace of the eighteenth century accurately reflects the admonishing tone of Moll Flanders.

Money in Marriage; a Panacea?

January 19, 2010

As Moll grows older she becomes more in need of a man to secure her an ample household and a means of living. Upon the recommendation of an acquaintance, she engages the courtship of a seemingly very affluent gentleman. She dupes the man by planting false rumors about her income, as is her fashion, and becomes enveloped in the luxury that he is tempting her with. Eventually, but not with strain, Moll surrenders to the allure of his wealth: “In short, my Eyes were dazl’d, I had lost my power of saying No,…” (114). This statement embodies the notion of the period that real emotional attachment was always second, or third, or forth, to the salary of the courtier.

Throughout the novel Moll strives to climb above her station, which she consciously holds herself to because of her birth, and make money through the endeavor. Even when she discusses men she may have actually had true feelings for she mutes the emotion by qualifying it with the state of their affairs: “…he was a Man that was as well qualified to make me happy,…but to his having no Estate, and being run into Debt on this ridiculous account in the country, made all the Prospect dismal and dreadful…” (118).  The mobility that was possible through marriage gave eighteenth century England a vastly different social scene. Moll demonstrates the ease with which one can leave an identity, and life, behind by her frequent changing of name and location. Essentially anyone could marry into money through the subterfuge which Moll demonstrates in Moll Flanders. England’s new concentration in urban environments enabled the social classes to mix and shrink the gap between the lower and upper classes.

Moll & Marriage

January 19, 2010

The topic of marriage is an ongoing theme in Moll Flanders. Moll explains that “…if they [women] did not Marry so soon as they may do otherwise, they would make themselves amends by Marrying safer; she is always Married too soon, who gets a bad Husband, and she is never Married too late, who gets a good one…” (62). Even though Moll says that one is better off waiting to find the right man, she rushes into marriages and she ends up “undone” (63). Moll rushes into marriages without completely learning about her spouse’s intentions or background, and her spouse does not learn about her intentions or background. Moll’s gives advice to warn the reader on “…how the Men made no scruple to set themselves out as Persons meriting a Woman of Fortune, when they had really no Fortune of their own…” (63). She says this after an experience of her own, but does not follow her own advice and marries poorly again. As a result, most of Moll’s marriages were short lived.

Money was one of the reasons Moll rushed into marriage. She was more focused on how much money the man has than the man himself. A marriage to a draper and a marriage to an estate owner in Ireland who was a fraud failed because of the issue of money. Society of the eighteenth century is focused around material wealth, so the more money one has the more material possessions one can have, thus increasing social status. Moll wants to marry into wealth, but has a hard time making it last. One way to look at Moll Flanders is simply the story of Moll’s many marriages.

Credits and Cash

January 19, 2010

In Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe, all of Moll’s sexual relations have a financial element to it.  This idea in the eighteenth century about money being involved in any relationship was widely accepted in her culture. Romantic love and sex were two separate concepts and were very distinguishable from one another because of the exchanging of money.  Even marriage can be thought of as legalized prostitution in Moll’s world.  Though she does not even try to make the distinction between marriage and prostitution because Moll takes it for granted that there is going to be a financial assessment or transaction before she sleeps with anyone.  A friend once brought Moll to meet a potential husband for her who was a wealthy Irish gentleman and so she was very interested and decided to marry him, but it later turned out that he had actually married her for money.  Moll says, “ I had appeared always as a Woman of Fortune, and he depended on it that I was so, and hoped he was not deceived” (116) and at that point her husband “flew out in the most furious Passion…cursing her, and calling her all the Whores and hard Names he could think of;” (117).  So Moll also had married him for his money as well, but the marriage failed because they decided that money was the only practical part of their relationship so they parted and considered their marriage as nonexistent.

Therefore sex is a more of a transaction or investment because after each relationship Moll has whether it is a marriage or prostitution. The idea of prostitution in the novel is when the male buys the female’s beauty, but the idea of the marriage market is when the male expects the wife to pay him when he marries her.  Though it is the opposite for Moll because she is looking to be paid in her marriage and also wants the security of a somewhat well thought-of marriage to eventually obtain status in England’s high society at that time.  As usual though, Moll’s values of money and love are mixed and inconsistent.  Each time her relationship ends, she adds up her money to see if she has either gained more money from this past relationship or lost more money, the latter is usually the case.  In England’s society as a whole, credit becomes more of an important role than a transaction.  This parallel is seen through Moll Flanders’ actions in her relationships because each partner is trying to figure out how much money they can get by being with each other.