Parts 8-10 - Adventures in Crime
Part Eight: Early Success
After the banker died, Moll sold most of her possessions and took rooms in a cheap boarding house. She managed to live there for about a year by stretching out her savings, but she came perilously close to complete impoverishment. In her misery, she took to reciting a prayer, “Give me not poverty lest I steal.” Despite her appeals to God, she was soon subjected to a temptation that she found impossible to resist.
While wandering around the city, she passed a shop and spied a white bundle lying on a stool. Realizing that nobody in the shop was watching, she snatched the bundle without attracting notice from any of the clerks. After she arrived home and found that she had gotten away with some fine cloths, six silver spoons, a silver mug, and three silk handkerchiefs, as well as a small bag of coins and paper money, she shrank back in horror at the gravity of her crime. However, when she compared her conduct to the specter of starvation, she admitted that her sense of repentance would probably not last very long.
Some time later, Moll encountered a pretty little girl outside a dancing school. After speaking to the child in a friendly way, Moll took her by the hand and led her into a narrow alley. Then, pretending that she was adjusting the girl’s clothes, Moll removed a string of gold beads from the child’s neck. Moll recognized that robbing a child should have inspired her to castigate herself for stooping so low, but the prospect of her own poverty deadened her conscience and hardened her heart.
Thanks to the many opportunities that came her way, Moll quickly developed her talents as a thief. One day, just as night was falling, a man bolted by her and threw a bundle into an alley near where she was standing. A few moments later, a small crowd of men also ran by, some of whom were yelling and shouting, “Stop Thief!” When Moll saw that the men had captured the fugitive and were dragging him away, she stood by and waited for the crowd to pass. All she had to do at that point was to pick up the bundle and walk away. Looking over the expensive collection of goods she had netted, she congratulated herself for taking advantage of a particularly discriminating robber. Though adventures such as these always made her worry that she might be arrested, her early success convinced her that she had chosen exactly the right career.
Moll’s evaluation of her criminal endeavors parallels her thoughts about her sexual exploits. Just as she admits that she might have avoided losing her virtue, cheating her lovers, and lying to her husbands if she had managed to muster more inner strength, she acknowledges that she took to stealing before absolute necessity had actually arrived at her door. When she was seduced by the elder brother, for instance, she confesses that she never truly tried to resist his advances. Likewise, she became a robber, not when she was starving, but when an opportunity to steal presented itself.
Moll was, moreover, just as proud of her talent for stealing as she was vain about her ability to manipulate men. Her earlier contention that she had handled the banker just like “an angler does a trout” is mirrored in the way she congratulates herself every time she pulls off a clever or lucrative crime. These expressions of vanity illuminate one of the most indefensible aspects of Moll’s character: even when her misdeeds get her into trouble, they bring her positive pleasure. Thus, in line with the ambiguous tone of the entire novel, the gratification Moll derives from doing evil makes it hard to accept at face value Defoe’s assertion that his book was designed to show that crime does not pay. In Moll’s case, crime turned out to be a fairly consistent source of both psychological satisfaction and economic gain.
Part Nine: Close Calls
As Moll became an increasingly busy thief, she built up a stockpile of stolen property that obliged her to find someone to help her find a...
(The entire section is 3,335 words.)