Moll Flanders

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Besides encapsulating the plot, the subtitle also provides a clue to the book’s moral irony: Moll is one of the few literary figures who has her cake and eats it too. Far from being punished for her crimes, she is instead rewarded for them.

Purportedly Moll’s memoirs, written in a lively, plain, and colloquial style, the narrative is an example of the picaresque novel, a series of rambling, often disconnected episodes concerning the picaro, a young, homeless scamp who lives by his wits on either side of the law as the opportunity arises.

As a female picaro, Moll survives the perils of the outcast in 18th century London. She steals, she seduces, she marries if necessary. The realism of Moll’s adventures and of her character is the secret to the book’s greatness. For all her materialistic ambitions, for all her hardheaded concern for things--watches, handkerchiefs, silks, petticoats, coins--Moll is filled with vitality; life is never depressing but strangely exciting and exhilarating.

Her gusto is largely the reason for her success; when she finally attains respectability, Moll can enjoy the luxury of repentance. Thus Defoe offers an ironic commentary on the rise of the middle class.


Backscheider, Paula R. Daniel Defoe: Ambition and Innovation. Louisville: University of Kentucky Press, 1986. Provides biographical data and critical interpretations of Defoe’s novels, placing emphasis on his innovative point of view.

Bell, Ian A. Defoe’s Fiction. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1985. Studies the elements of Defoe’s writing style and characters. Discusses the problem of morality in Moll Flanders.

Boardman, Michael M. Defoe and the Use of Narrative. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1985. Discusses Daniel Defoe’s narrative technique. Focuses on how Defoe structures his stories.

Defoe, Daniel. Moll Flanders. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991. A good version of the original text.

Novak, Maximillian. Realism, Myth and History in Defoe’s Fiction. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983. An excellent starting place. Discusses the author’s use of realistic characters, such as Moll Flanders, and discusses how Defoe overcomes the myth of female inferiority by having Moll succeed in realistic situations.

Richetti, John J. Daniel Defoe. Boston: Twayne, 1987. Examines Defoe’s process of writing and plot development.

Starr, G. A. Defoe and Causitry. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991. Discusses Moll Flanders and how Moll creates her many problems by her own choices and bad decisions.

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Critical Overview