Posts Tagged ‘eighteenth’

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.


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.