Daniel Defoe published Moll Flanders in 1722 after a long career of writing nonfiction. Many critics have speculated that Defoe’s story of a beautiful and greedy woman who turns to crime is not a novel in the true sense but a work combining biography and fiction. Defoe (and others) wrote numerous accounts of various women in early eighteenth- century London named Moll who made their fame as thieves and pickpockets, and the criminal records of that period in London reveal the accounts of women who were arrested for stealing. Many critics and historians argue that a woman named Elizabeth Atkins, a notorious thief who died in prison in 1723, was one of Defoe’s inspirations for the character of Moll Flanders.
Whatever the sources of Defoe’s popular work may have been, the novel has endured nearly three hundred years of changing tastes and mores and has secured its author’s position as one of the most well-respected English writers and, some say, as the father of the novel form.