If Moll Flanders is Defoe’s most highly regarded fictional narrative, Moll Flanders is probably Defoe’s most memorable narrator, with her compelling account of a life spent largely in attempts to survive in a society hostile to unattached women.
Born to and abandoned by a convicted felon, Moll Flanders is reared first by Gypsies and then as a ward of the parish of Colchester. At fourteen, she is hired as a servant to a kind family who educates her along with their daughters. Moll, believing she is loved, loses her virtue to the oldest son, who later pays her to marry the youngest son, Robin. Widowed after five years, Moll is married four more times, to a draper who spends all of her money, to a sea captain who turns out to be her half brother, to a roguish Irishman (from whom she separates when he decides to continue highway robbery), and to a bank clerk (with whom she finds happiness until his death). Between the brother and the highwayman, she spends six years as the mistress of a gentleman whose wife is insane. Moll also bears several children to husbands and lover, but she seems ill-suited to motherhood. In the end, she is reunited with the great love of her life—Jemmy E., the charming Irishman—with whom she resolves to live respectably.
Because she has no social status and no real financial possibilities, Moll Flanders, like so many eighteenth century women, is dependent to a great degree on men—as husbands or keepers or employers—and on her own industry for survival. Her adventures following Robin’s death are focused on marrying profitably: Moll learns to say little about herself, to pretend to wealth in order to attract men, and to behave like a lady in order to appear worthy of gentlemen. Like so many women of the middle class and the aristocracy, her principal objects are money and security, and she employs all of her energy in the pursuit of a financially lucrative marriage. She has two embarrassing failures and achieves only modest success with the bank clerk, and when he dies, she...
(The entire section is 833 words.)