Parts 11-14 - Repentance and Prosperity
Part Eleven: Newgate Prison
The minister: a clergyman who visits Moll in prison and convinces her to repent
When Moll first came to Newgate and found herself trapped in the noise, stench, filth, and gloom of the place, she was filled with terror. The complete disorder she encountered, along with the utterly depraved characters she saw drinking and playing cards in the wretched rooms, convinced her that she had truly descended into hell. Gradually, however, as she reflected on how long she had expected to be placed there and saw how many of the inmates had likewise been expecting her arrival, she began to adjust to her new home.
As horrible as Newgate was, Moll observes, time and experience taught the prisoners there to become so inured to the place that, “at last they become reconciled to that which at first was the greatest dead upon their spirits in the world, and are as impudently cheerful in their misery as they were when they were out of it.” Moll likewise admits that she cannot comprehend “how hell should become by degrees so natural,” but she remembers, nevertheless, that she began to find her situation, “not only tolerable, but even agreeable.”
The routine Moll fell into so soon after she arrived in prison was suddenly interrupted when she caught sight of Jemy, her Lancashire husband, in the men’s section of the common yard. From her fellow prisoners, she learned that Jemy and two other men had been taken to Newgate after a highway robbery. The three men were the objects of a great deal of awe and admiration among the inmate population, because they had reportedly valiantly resisted arrest. Moll could not speak with her former husband, but she inwardly begged his forgiveness for her role in advancing his life of crime. Jemy, she believed, would never had ended up in a place such as Newgate if the two had never met.
As the day of her trial approached, Moll regretted some of the harm she had caused to the people she loved, but she felt little remorse for her crimes. She did pray that she would be released from prison, but she concluded that the only way her prayers might be answered would be for the governess to bribe the jurymen who had been selected to decide her case. Unfortunately, the governess’ efforts to convince the members of the jury to show Moll mercy proved unsuccessful. After spending several weeks waiting for her case to be heard, Moll was found guilty of thieving and sentenced to death.
The governess was so distressed by her inability to help Moll that she sought comfort from a minister and, with his encouragement, swore to remain an honest and upright Christian for the rest of her life. Then, hoping that her friend would also repent of her sins, she arranged for the minister to visit Moll in Newgate Prison. During her long meeting with the minister, as he spoke of the salvation of the souls of the wretched, Moll began to feel the first pangs of repentance. When he came to see her again, and filled her head with thoughts of divine mercy and infinite goodness, Moll felt a profound sense of shame for all of her sins and, at the same time, began to contemplate the benefits she might derive if she portrayed herself as a true penitent. The minister was so impressed by Moll’s apparent repudiation of all her sins that he intervened with prison officials in an attempt to get her a reprieve. Thanks to his intercession, Moll’s sentence was ultimately reduced from death to transportation to the American colonies.
Moll’s relatively easy adjustment to life in Newgate can be construed as a sign that she had ended up exactly where she belonged. The fact that she not only felt comfortable among her fellow inmates, but also re-encountered Jemy, the only man she had ever loved, suggests that Newgate, the place of her birth, provided her for the first time with a kind of family. Likewise, having finally been captured, Moll was relieved of her deepest source of anxiety. From a...
(The entire section is 3,691 words.)