To what extent can Moll Flanders be considered a feminist novel?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One of the most striking aspects about Moll Flanders as a character is the way that in spite of being a female at a time when patriarchy was a force to be reckoned with, she demonstrates considerable intelligence and independence and is determined to do anything in order to achieve her goals in life. There is something to be admired in the way that she shunned traditional roles that were forced upon women to live her life as she wanted, even though this leads her to commit extremely questionable actions and to act immorally. However, it is her ability to come out on top no matter what fate throws at her that shows her to be such a strong feminist character. She prefers to be reliant only on herself, and although she certainly does use men in order to gain security, she does not do this if she cannot be self-reliant. Note, for example, how she deliberately uses gender and her identity as a woman to get what she wants in the following situation by using tears to persuade a man to do her bidding:

I used the utmost of my endeavour to persuade him, and joined that known woman's rhetoric to it--I mean, that of tears.

This novel therefore can be shown to be feminist in the way that Moll Flanders is happy to use the gender stereotypes of her day but refuses to be bound by them. What is most intriguing about Moll Flanders as a character is the way that she actually seems to be most free and liberated when she occupies the lowest social classes, and arguably she shows most flair and confidence in these sections of the novel. She is an early feminist in the way that she uses men and seeks to define her own life rather than have men define her life for her. 

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