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Moll Flanders And Society Essay, Research Paper

written by umut altan


One of the earliest social novels in English , Moll Flanders features one of the most lively , convincing , and delightful rogues in literature .In the novel , through the harsh life of a woman , Daniel Defoe shows the reader how life was in the 18th century England .

Moll Flanders is a story about the fall and rise of a woman who was born in Newgate Prison . Her mother was saved from the gallows because “she pleaded her belly”, and soon after Moll was born , her mother was shipped to the colonies to work out her sentence . Left behind , Moll was raised for three years by gypsies . Moll worked her way out of that , disgusted that England did not have orphanages , and she was allowed to live with a nurse. At a young age she decided she did not want to be a servant , but a gentlewoman . Her defination of a gentlewoman was a woman who worked and supported herself .It was like an utopia in the 18th century England as most of the women were dependent to a great degree on men as they had no social status and financial power . We clearly see this dependence in Moll . Moll’s nurse, and a wealthy matron of the town , found entertainment in this , and Moll was allowed to sew for people to earn her keep . After her nurse died , she lived with the wealthy matron and her family . She was their servant . Moll learned what the daughters learned , French , dancing , singing , and how to read and write . Her talents and beauty surpassed theirs , but she would never have the same advantages as she was poor and of low social standings .One of the daughters states that :

If a young woman have Beauty ,Birth ,Breeding ,Wit , Sense ,Manners ,Modesty and all these to an Extream ; yet if she has not Money , she is nobody , for nothing but Money now recommends a woman ; the Men play the Game all into their own Hands ( I- 11 )

This quotation shows us the strict class distinction in the 18th century England and how women were dependent to men . The elder brother made Moll his mistress, much to protests at first, but won her over with proclamations of love and promises of marriage once he came into his inheritance. He says :

My Dear , I have not broken a promise with you yet ,I did tell you I’d marry you when I was come to my Estate; but you see my Father is a healthy Man and you never proposed my Marrying you sooner . ( I – 24 )

In that period becoming wealthy was usually through inheritance as we see in the quotation .

After a while the younger brother, Robin, told Moll his love and plans of marrying her. After weeks of unbalance and uneasiness of this, their marriage was approved . Robin died five years after the marriage . Moll gave her children to Robins parents, and she went off to start her new life.

In her new life she spent twelve years as a whore , twelve years as a thief , was married five times , committed incest , was sentenced to death , but given a reprieve, and was transported to Virginia were she finally prospered . Moll chose her life as a prostitute . She states on page 138 :

Well , let her life have been the way it would then , it was certain that my life was very uneasy to me ; for I liv’d , as I have said , but in the worst sort of whoredom , and as I cou’d expect no Good of it , so really no good issue came and all my seeming prosperity wore off and ended in misery and destruction …

This choice , however , was an instinct to survive . In the 1800’s, the legal system was not in a woman’s favor .According to this legal system , women would not inherit anything when their husbands died .Therefore Moll became a prostitute and then resorted to a life of crime after she no longer looked good enough to make a living as a prostitute .

As a result Moll Flanders is a rogue novel that involves a woman’s expedition from a poverty stricken lower class to a middle – class station in life . The novel is regarded as one of the earliest social novels . Therefore it gives the reader information about the life in the 18th century England.


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