Archive for the ‘Moll Flanders: Post #2’ Category

Modern Applications to Defoe’s Commentary

January 11, 2010


While it may seem that eighteenth century British social commentary may hold no bearing on the present day, Defoe strikes down this assumption with his commentary on the subject of abortion in his novel, Moll Flanders. “I wish all those Women who consent to the disposing their Children out of the way, as it is call’d for Decency sake, would consider that ‘tis only a contriv’d Method for Murther; that is to say, a killing their Children with safety” (137).

Defoe, through Moll Flanders, seems to be taking an anti-abortion stance. This makes sense within context of the novel. Moll is born inside Newgate Prison and is left an orphan. Moll freely admits that this situation left her as a “…poor desolate Girl without Friends, without Cloaths, without Help or Helper in the World…” (5). Despite that unfortunate outcome, Moll says that, regardless of situation, killing your child is wrong, even if it is justified as the decent thing to do.

At time of publishing, abortion was a legal practice in London.  Defoe uses Moll’s childhood and the line on page 137 to illustrate his point that abortion is “murther.”In fact, it was not until the Malicious Shooting or Stabbing Act of 1803, eighty years after the publishing of Moll Flanders, that abortion after quickening became a capital crime.

Defoe’s satire provided the perfect opportunity to comment on the present social situation of abortion, an issue that is still hotly contested today. While this is not the only topic that Defoe comments on or satirizes, I think that it is a prominent point that he attempted to communicate with a wide audience, which was vastly female.


Virtue in Moll Flanders

January 11, 2010

 Daniel Defoe’s attention to the virtues and moral obligations of women in Moll Flanders is present throughout the novel. From the start of her life, Moll has been interested in the role of women in society. She focuses on how even if you make a mistake, you can redeem yourself and ultimately succeed in life. Moll’s life, primarily the time she spent with a wealthy family in Colchester, illustrates that she has also made mistakes in life. Her sexual relationship with the oldest son of the family demonstrates that she has disregarded her moral obligation to get married prior to having sex. Because of this, later in her life Moll states “…yet you may see how necessary it is, for all Women who expect any thing in the World, to preserve the Character of their Virtue, even when perhaps they may have sacrific’d the Thing itself”(110). Moll’s belief of the influence of virtue in society sparks her on to live her life.

In eighteenth century England, women built their lives around moral guidelines to which they could live happy lives. Moll grew up in the arms of an old widow who gave her a good education and taught her essential manners to help her live as a woman in eighteenth century society. Even though she was born in Newgate prison, Moll grows up to say “…I had…all the Advantages of Education that I could have had, if I had been as much a Gentlewoman as they were…”(18). Moll feels as if she is as good as any woman in society, no matter what social status they have to their name. Although somewhat out of place, Moll states “…I had the Advantage of my Ladies, tho’ they were my Superiors; but they were all the Gifts of Nature, and which all their Fortunes could not furnish”(18). At the time, citizens in London were focused on how to show their wealth, whether it be through housing or what clothes they wore. Throughout the novel, Moll Flanders attempts to disregard the influence money has on society and therefore she constructs her life centering on the virtues that women have. Someone who knows their virtues builds his life around certain moral principles. A key virtue for women is their sexual life. It is morally wrong for a women to lose her virginity, essentially lose her virtue, before she gets married. This is why Moll Flanders is distraught over the fact that she had a relationship with a man but shortly thereafter married his brother. Women in eighteenth century society were willing to do anything to save their social image. Most women who had lost their virtues nearly changed their lives to show that they had not disregarded their morals and were still religiously correct. The impact of virtue on Moll Flanders causes her to marry multiple men and travel to different parts of the world as if her virtues were still intact. Fantomina, although not based on virtue, represents how women disguise themselves to cover up past events. Simply said, women’s role in eighteenth century society greatly impacted how love was viewed and disguised who people really were.

Moll the Hypocrite

January 11, 2010

Throughout the work, the theme of materialism motivates the characters to act in the fashion they do, and drives the plot forward.  It seems that Moll is always in a position to lie or be deceitful because of her lack of funds.  The reason that she gives for this is that she was put at a disadvantage because of her mother who left her “a poor desolate girl with out friends, with out cloaths, without help or helper in the world…”(10).  As a result of this, she looks up to the people who do have money and strives to become a gentle woman.  It is not just Moll that is influenced by this urge to be important and influential.  Every man that she tries to court, is also looking for the same thing.  In one instant she tricks a man into thinking she has money so he will marry her.

The irony is that she blames her mother for brining her into the world while in jail, while Moll does almost the same.  She has her child in a place full of prostitution, yet never realizes she is repeating the past.  She tries to avoid it by marrying a rich man, yet cannot manage.  She sets her child up for failure just as her mother had done to her, yet she never admits that fact. And furthermore she never forgives her mother for what she did even after realizing how difficult living a life like that is.  At first the place at which she is staying is portrayed to be elegant, but when she arrives there she realizes what the place truly is, yet she doesn’t leave.  So can she be trusted when she says that she blames her mother.  If she did believe that she would have tried to find another place to have her child.  Moll was supposedly put at a huge disadvantage, yet she will do the same to her child.  Which also brings up another dilemma of whether she cares about the children she has with the rich men.  For the same reasons as previously mentioned, probably not.

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

January 11, 2010

   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.

Born into Struggles

January 11, 2010

Moll Flanders, by Daniel Defoe tells the life of a woman’s struggles in the eighteenth century. Moll was born into a life as “…a poor desolate girl Girl without Friends, without Cloaths, without Help or Helper in the World…” (10). Moll blames the way she was brought into the world for the way her life turned out and all the sinful things that she did. She believes that if she had not been born of a whore and criminal of a mother and had a father she would have had a stable life without the prostitution, stealing and multiple failed marriages.

Throughout the book, Moll is trying to find a husband. Her young beauty helps her attract men but ends up only hurting her because the men only want to use her as a prostitute. She wants to find a man with money but in doing so she finds deceitful men. She explains that “…[men]made no scruple to set themselves out as Persons meriting a Women of Fortune, when they had really no Fortune of their own; it was but just to deal with them in their own way, and if it was possible, to Deceive the Deceiver”(63).

Once in America, Moll finds out that has married her brother and meets her mother. Moll blames her up bring without a real mother to the incest that she has committed by marring and having children by her half-brother. Also, she relates to the stories of her mother “…in her younger Days she had been both a WHORE and THIEF…” (73). Moll follows a very similar path to that of her mother’s path in life. Moll believes and shows that because of a lack of friends and family she had little support, which in turn sent her down a path of prostitution and later on, theft.

Degraded Necessities

January 11, 2010

Moll Flanders was crafted by Defoe as a work “of which something may be learned…by which the Reader will have something of Instruction, if he pleases to make use of it” (5).  Similar to the discordant characteristics of the plot, Defoe’s moral instructions are aimlessly thrown into the story, oftentimes, to moralize one of Moll’s experiences.  Two perhaps contradictory moral instructions hold the most significant weight in the beginning the work: the lessons drawn from repentance and necessity.

            Appearing first on the facsimile of Moll Flanders is the idea of repentance.  In essence, the plot, ignoring Defoe’s instructional component, can be abridged to a story of a woman who, after experiencing great difficulty, dies wealthy yet penitent of her previous iniquitous actions.  In other words, Moll has regrets regarding her sinful past.  At odds with her penitence, however, is Moll’s justification for her sinful actions.  For Moll, “the Vice came in always at the Door of Necessity, not at the Door of Inclination” (103).  Disregarding the political aspects of the work, Moll’s opposing ideologies raise the core question of Defoe’s commentary on human nature. Should mankind bemoan actions done on the basis of necessity?

            Clearly, Moll regrets the immoral actions of her life even though all her base actions were driven by necessity.  An online dictionary defines a necessity as “something necessary or indispensable: food, shelter, and other necessities of life.”  Given such a definition, Defoe’s true satire is revealed.  Moll lives “twelve year a whore” because of the necessity of excessive wealth (1).  In eighteenth century London, it seems that the true necessities of human life were blended with the superficial necessities found in wealth and appearance.  Defoe comprehended the changing values of his society and used his writings to admonish the public of his observances.  It is, therefore, not a coincidence that a majority of Daniel Defoe’s works deal with instruction and moral guidance given his pessimistic view on society’s degradation.

            Satire characterizes a majority of the major works of the eighteenth century; Moll Flanders is no exception.  Not often considered a satirical work, when closely evaluated, Moll Flanders expresses congruent sentiments with Alexander Pope’s Rape of the Locke.  Moll’s loss of virtue on the basis of desiring the necessities of wealth and status, or just that wealth and status are necessities, is quite analogous to the satire found in writing an epic about pieces of hair. 

            Moll’s first experience with true repentance comes through her lover from Bath.  After a close encounter with death, her lover decides to break off his relationship with Moll.  Although devastated, Moll understands why her lover must stop being with a whore for “when ever sincere Repentance succeeds such a Crime as this, there never fails to attend a Hatred of the Object; and the more the Affection might seem to be before, the Hatred will be the more in Proportion” (99).  Inevitably, Moll will experience the same sort of repentance upon nearing death as her lover. The idea of only becoming penitent on a deathbed raises perhaps another point of Defoe’s satire.  If one finds sorrow for one’s actions only when nearing a place where those actions will result in consequences, then how valid is such penitence?

             Moll Flanders consists of commentary as diverse as the work’s audience.  On the surface, for the laymen and barely literate audience, Moll’s story is one of entertainment.  For the slightly more educated, Moll’s life can function as a moral guidebook (especially for women).  More importantly, Moll Flanders provides social commentary on crime, politics, and other aspects of England.  Deserving the most emphasis, however, is Defoe’s commentary not on England, but the inhabitants of England. London has become home to individuals who hold the artificiality found in wealth and appearance above not only their virtue and values, but also worthy of the ignominious acts sometimes necessary to achieve such superficiality. 

Female Shenanigans; They Work

January 11, 2010

Throughout Moll Flanders Daniel Defoe makes a social commentary on the world that Moll lives in. Moll makes many errors in judgment and tries to advise the reader on how to avoid her mishaps. This advice gives the novel a didactic tone but still the novel should be read more as a what not to do manual, rather than what to do. One function of society that Defoe calls out is the obscure process of arranging matches. This occurs in Moll’s middle age years and unlike the rest of the novel it is not highlighted through her own actions. Moll shares her wisdom, which she has attained through her experiences with several husbands, and helps a wealthy friend take control of her courtship. In the circle that they both are moving, there are many aspiring Captains who need money to finance their business. Moll and her friend are widowers and so are responsible for the business of their matches, rather than their relatives.

It is rather odd to imagine Defoe writing this advice for a woman, but could likely be what he has been subjected to through his courting efforts with women. Moll instructs her friend in how to take control of the situation after the discovery is made that her suitor was “not the man as to Estate he pretended to be” (57). Through slander and well-planted rumors her friend manages to make the man half crazed, and suddenly she is in control of the situation. Even though it has been recognized that her suitor was interested largely in her assets, she decides still to stay with him. This reveals the limited prospects that widowed women, even young moneyed women, must make advantage of. Making advantage of this situation turned out to be through subterfuge: “that tho’ she resolved to have him, and that indeed having him was the main bent of her design, yet she made his obtaining her be [to him] the most difficult thing in the World…” (60). These female shenanigans secure him as an affable husband, but more importantly reveal the hidden duplicity in a very conduct conscious society. In order for the man to save his reputation and secure his funds it was necessary for him to appease the woman who was attempting his ruin. Defoe accurately describes the perfect balance necessary for an eighteenth century romance.

Money as an Evil

January 11, 2010

Evil lurks in every corner of our lives and we use it to our advantage, but it is also quite necessary for our survival.  In Daniel Defoe’s novel, Moll Flanders shows that evil is successful over good in man’s struggle for survival in England’s society.  The main character Moll Flanders shows the way that evil becomes beneficial for survival through manipulation of others, gains valuable life experiences, and is successful for survival.  One evil that is clearly stated in almost every page is money.  Moll’s life revolves around how much money she can make at a young age through her adult years.  She tells the nurse who has taken her in at age 8 that she can work, and that eventually she will earn her own way in the world.  When the nurse is in doubt that Moll can really work for her, Moll responds, “I told her that if she wou’d keep me, I wou’d Work for her, and I would Work very hard” (12).  With money as an evil that surrounds her, Moll struggles her whole life to be part of the upper class society. 

Most of Moll’s actions are revolved around the cravings and desires for money.  She searches in need of money husband after husband who has money so that she can use it for herself.  She disguises herself to give men the impression that she is also wealthy and uses her beautiful looks to seduce her future husbands.  Moll even says, “He [potential husband] was surpriz’d at my Discourse; for we made it the whole Subject of our Conversation for near a Week together, in which time I laid it [where the money is going] down in black and white…”(125).  She knows what she wants and how she is going to get the money. 

Not only in this relationship, but also in all of Moll’s other relationships are built upon money as well, which becomes an evil or temptation for her.  This focus on making more money instead her new husband is always the downfall for her relationships, which end up with a divorce or leaving town in search of new people.  Moll’s plots and schemes are constantly in the back of her mind because she believes that all matters in life are directed towards the achievement of wealth.  This evil is a desire for more money takes over her life throughout the novel because it is Moll’s ambition to become rich.  She is willing to do anything to be in the elite society of England and obtain as much money as possible.

Moll Flanders as a Mother

January 10, 2010

Defoe’s Moll Flanders does more than draw “from every part…some just and religious Inference” (5). In fact, more often than not, Defoe provides only the unjust and leaves it to his readers, with the occasional help of Moll, to understand the lesson or, in some cases, the attack. Of particular note is Defoe’s brevity in all cases dealing with Moll’s children. Moll’s overall lack of concern for her offspring satires the importance of the social hierarchy despite its obvious flexibility. Essentially, Moll often severs what should be intimate and primal bonds with her children in order to continue her matrimonial climb through society.

The crux of Moll’s continuous abandonment of her children is summarized well by her joint husband and brother: “…he call’d me not only an unkind Wife, but an unnatural Mother, and ask’d me how I could entertain such a Thought without horror as that of leaving my two Children…without a Mother, and to be brought up by Strangers, and never to see them more?” (75). While Moll justifies her actions in this particular situation on account of incest, she fails to realize that she acts equally unnatural with all her other children. Not until her seventh birth and fifth child does she show any natural emotions toward her progeny. Even then, Moll ultimately abandons the son, once her “fine Boy” and “charming Child,” with the excuse of not having “a Maintenance to support him” (95, 100).

When, over the course of her experiences, did Moll loose her drive to become a gentlewoman—a woman who can take care of herself and find her own maintenance? Certainly as she discovers the mobility available through marriage Moll no longer concerns herself with physical work. Her job, in essence, becomes finding a man who can provide for her, and when he fails, finding a new one. Such a job would be sorely difficult with the luggage of previous children and the labeling that they would give an unmarried woman.

The idea of leaving her children out of love, while reasonable, does not apply to Moll’s situation. Due to her repeat offenses of abandonment and her lack of guilt and remorse, Moll is much more likely only concerned with herself. At one point, she claims that she is in no condition to get married yet (synonymous with improve social standing), “not being so foolish to marry him [the banker] when I knew myself to be with Child by another Man” (127). The child is a mere nuisance, a hindrance to her earning a few hundred more pounds.

Also, a major factor in Defoe’s satire of this situation is Moll’s own biography. She, of all people, should empathize with her children considering that she grew up in the same unnatural condition described by her brother. Moll, who was once so very frightened to be taken by authorities, subjects many of her children to situations eerily similar to the one in which she was raised. Basically, if Moll is doing these unnatural things, many others are too.

Ultimately, through Moll’s treatment of her children, this revolutionary novel highlights the extremes to which people of the eighteenth century would resort to in an attempt to climb the potentially rewarding yet equally devastating social structure that Defoe himself experienced.

Defoe as a Politician

January 10, 2010

Throughout Moll Flanders, Daniel Defoe expresses his political views through satire. In eighteenth century London, transportation was a relatively new process and Defoe used Moll Flanders as an opportunity to advertise it. Defoe advocates transportation, stating that it gives convicts a fresh start while also keeping future generations from becoming corrupt, like Moll Flanders did. His support of transportation is demonstrated when Moll is talking to her mother and she says “many a Newgate bird becomes a great man…” (71).

In his life, Defoe was a Renaissance man; he was involved in politics, economics, religion, and most notably a writer. He was imprisoned from 1692-1703; thus, he was familiar with London’s legal system. He was aware that many people, once imprisoned, were unable to integrate themselves back into society, and he felt that there needed to be an alternate solution. This solution came with the Transportation Act of 1718, which stated that prisoners were allowed to get a fresh start in North America, if they could pay there way there. Defoe was familiar with this process as he had previously transported felons to North America in 1688.

Many felons, once released, opted to be executed rather than being transported, or simply couldn’t afford to be transported. Throughout Moll Flanders, Defoe advertises transportation by stating that “the best men in this country are burnt in the hand…” (71). He is trying to tell the audience that they have a better chance of success in North America than they do in London. Moll’s mother was transported after she was convicted and she is one of the success stories that Defoe uses as evidence.

Defoe also demonstrates the advantages of transportation by satirizing Moll’s conquest for money. Moll believes that had she not been left a “poor desolate girl” (10), then she would be a gentlewoman, and not have to marry for money. Instead, she marries and remarries multiple times. The most important thing in every marriage was the fortune of the man she was with. She can’t support herself because she never had a chance since her birth; thus, she has to find a man that can support her. The only man that is able to support her is the man she goes to Virginia with. The only reason she didn’t stay with him was because the man was her brother. It is no coincidence that the only man that is able to support her lives in North America. Defoe satirizes her conquest for money in order to strengthen his argument that people will succeed in North America.

Although Defoe was known for his entertaining writing, Moll Flanders contains obvious political messages from Defoe. In the preface, Defoe stated that this is “a work from every part of which something may be learned” (5). Defoe stated his believes about what the country should do with its felons, and he believed that transportation was the correct solution. Defoe displays his political background when he uses satire to communicate his beliefs about transportation throughout Moll Flanders.