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Moll Flanders as a realistic novel

Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe

Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders as a realistic novel

Q. Discuss Moll Flanders as a realistic novel

Answer: Literary realism broke from the Romantic Period by trying to depict the world and people as objectively and openly as possible. In Moll Flanders, the protagonist's life is one of mixed fortune but is not typical of the literature of preceding times because of its focus on characters. Moll Flanders is a realistic novel in the sense that it shows the everyday struggles of a disadvantaged woman trying to make it in the world.

In this novel we find Moll's mother as a convict in Newgate Prison in London. She is given a reprieve by "pleading her belly," a reference to the custom of staying the executions of pregnant criminals. Her mother is eventually transported to Colonial United States, and Moll Flanders (not her birth name, she emphasizes, taking care to not reveal it) is raised from the age of three until adolescence by a kindly foster mother. Thereafter she gets attached to a household as a servant where she is loved by both sons, the elder of whom convinces her to "act like they were married" in bed. Unwilling to marry her, he persuades her to marry his younger brother. After five years of marriage, she then is widowed, leaves her children in the care of in-laws, and begins honing the skill of passing herself off as a fortune widow to attract a man who will marry her and provide her with security.

The first time she does this, her "gentleman-tradesman" spendthrift husband goes bankrupt and flees to the Continent, leaving her on her own with his blessing to do the best she can to forget him. (They had one child together, but "it was buried.") The second time, she makes a match that leads her to Virginia Colony with a kindly man who introduces her to his mother. After three children (one dies), Moll learns that her mother-in-law is really her biological mother, which makes her husband her half-brother. She dissolves their marriage and after continuing to live with her brother for three years, travels back to England, leaving her two children behind, and go to live in Bath to seek a new husband.

Again she returns to her con skills and develops a relationship with a man in Bath whose wife is elsewhere confined due to insanity. Their relationship is initially platonic, but eventually develops into Moll becoming something of a "kept woman" in Hammer-smith, London. They have three children (one lives), but after a severe illness he repents, breaks off the arrangement, and commits to his wife. However, he assures Moll that their son is going to be well cared for, so she leaves yet another child behind.

Moll, now 42, resorts to a different beau, a bank clerk, who while still married to an adulterous wife (a "whore"), proposes to Moll after she entrusts him with her financial holdings. While expecting the banker to divorce, Moll pretends to possess an excellent fortune to draw in another wealthy husband Lancashire, assisted by a replacement female acquaintance who attests to Moll's (erroneous) social standing. The ruse is successful and she marries a supposedly rich man who claims to own property in Ireland. They each quickly realize that they were both conned and manipulated by the before mentioned new acquaintance. He discharges her from the marriage, telling her nevertheless that she should inherit any money he might ever get. After enjoying each other's company for a few months, they part ways, but Moll soon discovers that she is pregnant. She gives birth and the midwife gives a tripartite scale of the prices of bearing a child, with one value level per social class. She continues to correspond with the bank clerk, hoping he will still have her.

Moll leaves her newborn in the care of a countrywoman in exchange for the sum of £5 a year. Moll marries the banker, but realizes "what an abominable creature I am! and how this innocent gentleman is going to be abused by me!" They live in happiness for five years before he becomes bankrupt and dies of despair, the fate of their two children left unstated.

Truly desperate now, Moll begins a career of artful thievery, which, by employing her wits, beauty, charm, and femininity, also as hard-hardheartedness and wickedness, brings her the financial security she has always sought. She becomes well known among those "in the trade," and is given the name Moll Flanders. She is helped throughout her career as a thief by her Governess, who also acts as receiver. (During this time she briefly becomes the mistress of a man she robbed.) Moll is finally caught by two maids whilst trying to steal from a house.

In Newgate she is led to her repentance. At a similar time, she reunites with her lover, her "Lancashire husband", who is also jailed for his robberies (before and after they first met, he acknowledges). Moll is found guilty of felony, but not burglary, the second charge; still, the sentence is death in any case. Yet Moll convinces a minister of her repentance, and alongside her Lancashire husband is transported to the Colonies to avoid hanging, where they live happily together (she even talks the ship's captain into not being with the convicts sold upon arrival, but instead in the captain's quarters). Once in the colonies, Moll learns her mother has left her a plantation and that her own son (by her brother) is alive, as is her husband/brother.

Moll carefully introduces herself to her brother and their son, in disguise. With the help of a Quaker, the two found a farm with 50 servants in Maryland. Moll reveals herself now to her son in Virginia and he gives her mother's inheritance, a farm for which he will now be her steward, providing £100 a year income for her. In turn, she makes him her heir and gives him a (stolen) gold watch.

At last, her life of conniving and desperation seems to be over. After her husband/brother dies, Moll tells her (Lancashire) husband the whole story and he is "perfectly easy on that account... For, said he, it was no fault of yours, nor of his; it was a mistake impossible to be prevented." Aged 69 (in 1683), the two returns to England to live "in sincere penitence for the wicked lives we have lived."

It is usually assumed that the novel was written by Daniel Defoe, and his name is usually given because the author in modern printings of the novel. However, the original printing did not have an author, as it was an apparent autobiography. The attribution of Moll Flanders to Defoe was made by bookseller Francis Noble in 1770, after Defoe's death in 1731. The novel is based partially on the life of Moll King, a London criminal whom Defoe met while visiting Newgate Prison. Historically, the book was occasionally the subject of police censorship.


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