It never fails to etch a smirk on my face whenever I recall the old wives’ warning: “Steer clear of relations with the opposite sex. It spells trouble, especially when initiated early.” And Defoe’s Moll Flanders calls that to mind. Moll’s men clearly defined her years as a wife, a mistress, a whore and as a thief from the time she had her first love to the point when her marriage to the banker ended.
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If we examine the novel at an arm’s length, we know that Moll’s life is a documentation of survival and isolation – her inclination towards crime is just a byproduct of the two. She starts out as an orphan and remains alone throughout the bulk of the story despite her countless relationships, which cannot exactly be described as romantic as they are heterosexual (Defoe, Moll Flanders, section 1). Early on Moll is left to her own devices and learn from, often, unforgiving experiences. Thus it can be held true that she learned her own set of morals from the men she encountered.
From her first love, sparked by the elder of the two brothers in the family that took her in after her nurse died, she learns that there are “Mischiefs which attend an early Knowledge of [their] own Beauty,” referring to the likeliness of a young woman taken for granted by a more experienced man (Defoe, Moll Flanders, section 2). One, in the end, can’t be fooled if one isn’t, as they say. From her first affair, Moll learns that she should have been more practical instead of hasty. It was what appeared to have more concerned her instead of the fact that it was premarital and thus considered immoral during that period.
Her brief marriage with the Draper moved Moll to consider herself with “a Husband, and no Husband” when he disappeared to France in his attempt to avoid the law (Defoe, Moll Flanders, section 3). The alliance taught her always move forward and pretend that a recent painful past never happened. Moll did so by donning different made-up identities to make people believe that she still has a fortune to spare which in turn would make her appear more marketable as a wife, for the purpose of security. This is the manner how she secured her third husband (Defoe, Moll Flanders, section 3). Unfortunately, this marriage ended up with her in the same predicament as the one with the Draper when she discovers that she married her half-brother.
This view of marriage as an alliance of security rather than of love is further affirmed when she became the mistress of a married man whose wife has gone mad when Moll confesses that “that from the first hour I began to converse with him, I resolv’d to let him lye with me if he offer’d it; but it was because I wanted his help and assistance, and I knew no other way of securing him than that” (Defoe, Moll Flanders, section 4). It is at this point that she becomes most conscious about saving money for the rainy days, “knowing well enough that such things as these do not always continue, that Men that keep mistresses often change them, grow weary of them or Jealous of them, or something or other happens to make them withdraw their Bounty” which was often the case (Defoe, Moll Flanders, section 4). In this recourse, she justified committing adultery just as she would have her premarital relations with her first lover had she been more careful before as she is now.
Moll’s reserve and meticulous financial planning extended unto her postponement of the Banker’s – her next suitor – proposal by keeping her options open while she waited for him to divorce his cheating wife, as she brags “I play’d with this Lover as an Angler does with a Trout” (Defoe, Moll Flanders, section 5).
And as she proceeds to wait, it was about time that Moll met her match in Jemy, saying “I really believe…that he was a Man that was as well qualified to make me happy, as to his Temper and Behaviour, as any Man ever was” (Defoe, Moll Flanders, section 5). It can also be attached to her affections that he is Moll’s only lover who was prominently named in the novel, and thus, he is given more humanity and preempted to be with whom our protagonist is likely to end up with. And from this character Moll learns that in this business which she devices, she can just as easily become the victim as she continues to manipulate as Defeo writes in her voice “We are married here upon the foot of a double Fraud, you are undone by the Disappointment it seems, and if I had had a Fortune I had been cheated too, for you say you have nothing” (Defoe, Moll Flanders, section 5).
Moll Flanders portrayed how one can possibly approach morality as an individual whom the times wouldn’t normally agree with. Her lot may be considered extreme as a general impression considering her luck with her lovers however, each episode gives us an occasion to debate upon our own options at hand, our stakes and the entailing consequences to such choices and decisions. According to the morality of her time, it is hinted that Moll tries to abide as much as she can, especially in the second section when she was appalled about the idea of marrying the brother of her first lover, and yet another instance in the third section when she realizes that she has married her half-brother, and lastly when she discovers in the fifth section that she was pregnant with Jemy’s child. However, it is also clear that since she had no one else to depend on apart from herself, it may have been expected of her to consider the best possible options notwithstanding whether her motives are moral or not. Beyond considerations on what the general public would think appropriate, the individual has to try and survive first and foremost. In my opinion, it would certainly be hypocritical to say otherwise.
Ultimately, had Defoe not shared with us Moll’s sentiments through the first person point-of-view, her manipulations to be properly married with stability and support can be found to be politically correct. They are manifested in any woman on the streets. All that Moll learned from her men are very basic – even physiological – education, especially when one’s survival is to be considered. The only difference is, law-abiding or morally prudent people prefer to cloak such intentions with ceremony whereas Moll Flanders was straightforward regarding her status and was aggressive enough to device her solutions.
Defeo, Daniel. “Moll Flanders.”