Last Updated on February 15, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 511
The novel Moll Flanders depicts the tale of an attractive, intelligent, and self-serving woman who endeavors to break free from the poverty and subjugation imposed by her lowly birth. Despite having no material resources, Moll resolves from a young age to elevate herself to the status of a "lady." She manages to obtain an education and level of sophistication well beyond what is expected of her social standing and shrewdly exploits both her talents and physical allure to secure a string of husbands. Among Moll's numerous scandalous relationships, the most startling is her union with her third husband, whom she lives with contentedly for a short time in Virginia until she discovers that he is actually her sibling.
Moll's various marriages don't satisfy her desire for material wealth, and as she ages and loses her beauty, she turns to a life of crime as a means to obtain riches. With time, she becomes skilled at her illegal activities, and word of her exploits spreads throughout England, earning her the nickname "Moll Flanders" among her criminal peers. Moll is understandably annoyed by this label, as "Moll" was typically used to refer to a female criminal, while "Flanders" was associated with both stolen Flemish cloth and highly regarded Flemish prostitutes. Moll does not provide any other name for herself, but instead stresses that the severity and number of her offenses make it impossible for her to reveal her true identity.
Moll is able to evade capture for an extended period of time by assuming various disguises and using a false identity. Throughout this time, she primarily spends time with her governess, who previously assisted her during one of her pregnancies. The governess proves to be a trustworthy companion and a valuable contact for selling stolen goods. She not only helps Moll generate significant profits from her illicit activities, but also notifies her of new opportunities for theft. With the assistance of her clever yet dependable friend, Moll gradually rises to become the wealthiest and most infamous thief in England.
Moll becomes increasingly reckless and disregards her own safety, leading to her eventual capture and return to Newgate Prison, where she had predicted she would end up. Fearing execution, she seeks guidance from a prison minister and appears to express remorse for her past misdeeds. With the minister's help, Moll's death sentence is commuted to transportation to Virginia. Before leaving for America, Moll reunites with her beloved husband Jemy, a highway robber, and convinces him to accompany her on the voyage.
Moll discovers that her brother-husband, who is both blind and insane, is living with one of their sons in the United States. She desires to acquire a legacy from her mother, so she tells her son about the unnatural relationship that led to his birth. Her son is thrilled to reunite with his mother and, after obtaining the inheritance, he lavishes her with gifts and kindness. Moll and Jemy eventually become affluent landowners and, following many years in Maryland, they go back to England where they lead a life of penitence and prosperity.