What apology does Daniel Defoe make about Moll Flanders content?

Quick answer:

In the Author's preface to Moll Flanders, Defoe expresses the hope that the contents of the book will not offend "the chastest reader" or "the modest hearer." This is because he's aware that the racy subject matter of the book may offend quite a few people. Defoe further claims that he's written the work in a language fit to be read and that its many unpleasant incidents have been put there for the purposes of moral instruction.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

To understand the reason for Defoe's anxiety not to offend, we need to look at the historical and cultural context in which the work was written. At the time the book was first published, in 1722, it was widely considered indecent to write about the seamier side of life, about disreputable characters such as thieves, prostitutes, and murderers.

Yet that is precisely what Defoe is writing about in Moll Flanders. As he knows this is likely to be highly controversial, he comes up with the idea of assuring his readers in the preface that he's toned down Moll's language to make the book more palatable. He also reassures his readers that all of the many lewd, immoral, or downright criminal incidents in the book are only there to provide moral instruction. In other words, they've been included to warn people of the dangers of the sinful activities in which Moll regularly indulges herself.

Defoe is at particular pains to point out that nowhere in the book does crime pay. Every single wicked action is punished, every villainous character brought to an unhappy end. Throughout the author's preface Defoe makes it clear that he's merely describing a particularly sordid segment of society rather than in any way endorsing its values—values that most of Defoe's readers would've found morally repugnant.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial