Places Discussed


*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. 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. 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

The American Colonies and the English Economy
In the novel, Moll sails to Virginia twice: first as the wife of a plantation...

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Literary Style

Picaresque Novel
Moll Flanders is considered an example of a picaresque novel. These novels usually employ a first-person...

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Compare and Contrast

1700s: London’s population reaches 550,000, up from 450,000 in 1660. Despite losing as many as 100,000 citizens to the Great Plague...

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Topics for Further Study

Create a time line showing the major political, religious, social, scientific, and cultural events that occurred while Moll Flanders and...

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Media Adaptations

In 1965, Paramount adapted Moll Flanders as a film entitled The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders, starring Kim Novak and...

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What Do I Read Next?

The setting is London in the 1750s in Paula Allardyce’s novel Miss Philadelphia Smith (1977). This romantic novel looks at class...

(The entire section is 193 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

Anonymous, Review in The Flying Post; or, Weekly Medley, March 1, 1729.

Backscheider, Paula...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

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...

(The entire section is 199 words.)