Study Guide

Moll Flanders

by Daniel Defoe

Moll Flanders Themes

Themes

Money
Truly, in Moll Flanders, money makes the world go around. Hardly a page goes by in the novel without a mention of money. Moll’s money worries begin at the age of eight when Moll must figure out a way to avoid being placed in servitude. To do this, she tells the nurse who has taken her in that she can work, and that eventually she will earn her own way in the world. When the nurse expresses doubt that Moll can really earn her keep, Moll responds, “I will work harder, says I, and you shall have it all.”

Though Moll is easily flattered by men commenting on her beauty, she is even more flattered at their attentions if the men are wealthy. When she and the elder brother are discussing their future, he shows her a purse full of coins that he claims he will give her every year until they are married, in essence for remaining his mistress. Moll’s “colour came and went, at the sight of the purse,” and at the thought of the money he had promised her.

Moll complains after the death of her first husband that no one in the city appreciates a beautiful, well-mannered woman, and that the only thing a man is looking for in a wife is her ability to bring money into the relationship. She notes that “money only made a woman agreeable” when she wanted to become a wife, and that only whores and mistresses are chosen because of their personal and physical qualities—and, of course, these relationships are built upon money, as well.

Ultimately, most of Moll’s actions are precipitated by the need or desire for money. She searches for husbands who have money and usually tries to give them the mistaken impression that she is wealthy. She plots and schemes because she believes that all that matters in life is the acquisition of wealth. Even when she becomes the richest thief in all of England and her fame threatens her ability to continue stealing, she cannot stop her hunt for more money. Her greed is ultimately her downfall, for she gets sloppy and is caught stealing from a house where she cannot pretend to have been shopping.

Sexuality
Defoe is not shy about making clear that Moll is fairly free with sexual favors, and that they are often tied to receiving money. In fact, on the novel’s original frontispiece, Defoe states that Moll is “twelve year a whore.” She loses her virginity to the elder brother and remains his mistress in return for a promise of marriage and money. Although she and the gentleman she meets in Bath both insist on remaining platonic companions, she eventually initiates sex one night after they have shared a large amount of wine: “Thus the government of our virtue was broken, and I exchang’d the place of friend for that unmusical harsh-sounding title of whore.” They go on to have a long affair, and he supports her financially for a number of years.

One of the more dramatic uses of Moll’s sexuality comes after Moll has had good success as a pickpocket. She goes to a fair to see if she can lift any gold watches and meets up with a baron. They end up in bed together that evening, and because he is so drunk, she is able to relieve him of his money and jewelry. The next day, the governess concocts a scheme in which she and Moll sell back to the baron his own stolen valuables and Moll becomes his mistress for a year. This saves Moll the trouble of having to steal for her living for a while.

Secrets and Lies
Moll’s life is filled with secrets and lies. She is cagey from the beginning as to her real name. She begins her story indicating that she has lived under a variety of names, but that the book’s readers should refer to her as Moll Flanders “till I dare own who I have been, as well as who I am.” Nearly every time she moves from one...

(The entire section is 1548 words.)