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Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Colchester

*Colchester. Town in southeastern England’s Essex district, in which Moll’s narrative begins by moving quickly through her early years. After being orphaned, she is taken into a home in Colchester in which she first is seduced by one brother and then married by the other, in a loveless relationship.

*London

*London. England’s capital city and mercantile center, to which Moll goes after her husband dies. Now wiser about the ways of the world, she schemes to make a rich match for herself, only to connect with a gentleman-tradesman who proves to be as much a fraud as she is. Moll takes a greater hand in determining her own fate in London, where, as she learns, everything is business.

After having brief relationships with men in the countryside, Moll returns to London on her own and becomes a prostitute and a thief. The bulk of the book concerns her second sojourn in London, where, from her point of view as a storyteller, she is near to full-bloom.

*Virginia

*Virginia. British North American colony where Moll lives for eight years with her third husband, a gentleman-planter whom she marries after her second marriage fails. She is initially content in this new situation, but when she is given reason to believe that she may have a blood-relationship to her husband, she is aghast at the possibility of having committed incest and returns to England on her own.

After another sojourn in England—where she lives in Bath—Moll comes back to North America, finds that her third husband has died, and inherits his land. She thus returns to Virginia a landowner. Although it is doubtful the local courts would uphold her claim if someone were to challenge it, Moll knows that she has a better chance to own land in America than she could ever have in Europe. The novel ends with her making a formal claim to the Virginia land, thereby declaring to her readers that she has, at last, substantially the same rights as a man.

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

The American Colonies and the English Economy
In the novel, Moll sails to Virginia twice: first as the wife of a plantation owner, and second as a convicted criminal sentenced to serve time as a slave. In the late seventeenth century and early eighteenth century, Virginia was an English colony, evidence of expanding English overseas interests in the name of trade and political power. Settled in the early 1600s, Virginia was a thriving and important complement to England’s economy by the early 1700s.

During this period, wealth came progressively more from merchants’ capital, creating a powerful and prosperous business class. Business was booming in England, fostering an attitude that there was lots of money to be made. England’s major manufactured export product during this period was cloth, which, along with other manufactured goods, was shipped to the American colonies in exchange for an increasingly valuable commodity, tobacco.

The Role of Women
While the philosophy of the eighteenth century Enlightenment period addressed such issues as individual liberties, social welfare, economic liberty, and education, these concerns did not translate into major changes for women between the late 1600s and early 1700s. In fact, there are indications that the status of women declined during this period; in 1600, more than two-thirds of the businesses in London were reported to be owned by women, but by the end of the eighteenth century, that rate had been reduced to only ten percent.

Because the English economy at this time was based on the family unit, financial success determined that most people live within a family unit. In such an environment, society looked upon individuals who lived outside of a family unit with suspicion and assumed they were probably criminals, beggars, or prostitutes. Moll, when she finds herself in particularly difficult situations, frequently bemoans the fact that she does not have any family or friends whose household she could join. Essentially, her eternal search for a husband is a search for a...

(The entire section is 2,648 words.)