Moll Flanders is the story of a woman trying to survive in the 1600’s. I was required to read this for one of my classes this past semester and I didn’t manage to finish it until a few weeks ago, not because it’s long or difficult, but because school keeps me too busy to even finish the assigned books.
The style this book is written in is completely fascinating. It’s passed off as a true account of Moll Flanders, which Defoe (author of Robinson Crusoe) allegedly ‘cleaned up’ for public consumption, according to the preface of the story. It’s written in what could be considered free indirect discourse, or stream of consciousness. There are all these pieces that are skipped over though! There is a scene where Moll Flanders mentions that the ship she was on was attacked by pirates and that many horrible things happened, but she and her husband made it safely to America eventually. But she glosses over it as unimportant and a story for another time. Then the story moves on to her time in America and never returns to this story of the pirates.
Moll Flanders’ tale is one of debauchery, trickery, deceit, and thievery, and it’s pretty awesome. She details her life, how she found husbands and how she lived to support herself. One of the questions in my class was “Is this a feminist text?” which I would answer with a resounding yes.
Despite using the means of the time to survive (aka husbands) Moll Flanders boasts her own agency. She makes her decisions for her own benefit; she is not the pawn of men. They are her pawns. At one point in the novel she goes on a little tirade to say that if women didn’t fear becoming old maids so much, they wouldn’t be as hasty to enter into a bad match. They wouldn’t let the men call the shots; they would play the game with a clearer head and therefore catch the guy they desired. This, for the 1600’s is a pretty big step. Moll Flanders doesn’t think that women should fear growing old without a husband and that they should use intelligence and strategy if they really want one, rather than desperation.
And for a man to write a book like this, well, Daniel Defoe seems like a pretty awesome guy.
Another thing this book plays with is the idea of corruption versus redemption. In the preface by Defoe, he claims that it is more satisfying to read about someone else’s corruption, decay, and bad choices, than about their sweet redemption. I think I have to agree, at least in part. The redemption of a character wouldn’t be as sweet if we hadn’t seen the depths to which they sank. Even then, sometimes, we’d prefer to see a character come to a tragic end instead of gain redemption and forgiveness.
But read the preface and give me your own opinion.
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