Posts Tagged ‘Defoe’

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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.