Moll Flanders: A Review

The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, Etc. Who was born in Newgate and during a Life of continu’d Variety for Three-score Years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own Brother), Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv’d Honest, and died a Penitent.

That about sums it up.

Moll Flanders is Daniel Defoe’s novel of a debauched life. Moll is orphaned after her mother is imprisoned in Newgate. Although she lives with caring families, her situation is precarious. Without an inheritance, Moll has few choices in life. A good marriage is unlikely. She could train to be a servant but she does not like the idea of this, having grown up rather spoilt. She finds her life about to change, when the eldest son of her benefactor seduces her. Somehow (I’m still not sure how) she marries his brother. Her story should end happily here but upon his death she must set out to make a new life for herself. Through a series of bad luck and bad marriages, she finds herself in lower and lower positions. The lowest being a transported felon to Virginia. Finally, she finds repentance and becomes a well-to-do and happy woman.

I try to keep in mind that this is the birth of the modern novel. Thank goodness the genre has improved since. Defoe tries to write the novel as a memoir of a 17th century woman’s life, but most of the time it reads like a laundry list of dead husbands, neglectful lovers and abandoned children. The novel has no chapters and little dialogue. I found it monotonous and often repetitive.

Although it’s supposed to be an apology of sorts, I found that the moral of the story is that it’s easier to be good when you’re rich. I suppose it’s also easier to be good if you’re a man, as well. The society that Moll lives in is set up for the Molls of England to behave as they do. There is very little choice for a woman in those times. Moll is unfortunate enough to have outlived so many of her husbands leaving her poor. Critics of Moll say she was greedy, and she often was, but more often she just wanted to survive.

It has soap operatic moments, like her unknowingly marrying her brother (what a small world), whoring and thieving. I suppose Defoe hoped to titillate his readers while telling them a story with a moral.

I was at times bored with this book and read it more as an artifact of a bygone era.


  1. Thanks for the review. I didn't have time to read Moll Flanders with everything going on at work. Your review makes me feel better about opting out of this read. I'm looking forward to Lolita. I'm sure it will generate quite a discussion.

  2. No, I don't think you missed much. At least Lolita will be a change for the group.

  3. Maybe I'll stand out on this post because I actually liked Moll Flanders. I liked the soap opera-like drama. I liked the scandal of it all. It just seemed fun to me. I did read it for school, and I don't remember what the overall concensus was about...maybe I'm an oddball...or maybe it helped that I loved the Masterpiece Theatre version of Moll...but it just sticks out as a 'fun' book from my English lit days in college.


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