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Moll Flanders | Plot Summary

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Summary

Childhood

Moll Flanders is born out of wedlock to a woman imprisoned at Newgate prison in London, England, her death sentence temporarily suspended due to her pregnancy. Once Moll is born, her mother's death sentence is reduced to time as an indentured servant. Moll stays with gypsies until age three, when she runs away and is picked up and raised by the town nurse and teacher. Moll's outspoken desire to be a financially independent gentlewoman rather than a servant attracts the attention of a wealthy family in town, who take her in after the nurse's death. Moll grows up with her "adopted" sisters, receiving the same education in reading, writing, music, and foreign language that prepares her for a life of leisure fit for an upper-class woman.

First Lover and Marriage

Moll's older adopted brother shamelessly flirts with Moll, as she is smart, educated, well-behaved, and beautiful. She falls in love, eventually caves to his promise of marriage, and becomes his secret mistress before he fulfills his promise. His younger brother also falls in love with her and asks her to marry him. She confronts her lover and realizes he will never marry her. Realizing she is one brother's whore, she has no choice but to accept the younger brother's marriage proposal to keep up the appearance of an honorable woman. When her husband dies five years later, she leaves her two children with her husband's parents and leaves because her former lover has also married.

Second Marriage

With a modest sum of money to her name—in part inherited from her husband, in part saved up from the money she received from her lover—Moll attracts the attention of a draper or dealer of cloth. They marry and enjoy a lavish lifestyle beyond their means. Soon her husband has to leave the country to escape his creditors. Moll, too, needs to go underground and takes on a new name—Mrs. Flanders.

An Incestuous Relationship

Once again in dire need of economic security, and fully aware that a woman's financial standing is at least as important as her beauty—if not more so—in attracting a suitable suitor, Moll lets others believe she is a lady of fortune. A plantation owner from Virginia shows interest, and Moll tricks him into promising he will marry her regardless of her background. He does, but when he finds out Moll has no means of her own, he asks her to come to Virginia to live with him and his mother. Moll reluctantly follows. They live on the plantation for several years, during which she has three children but only one son survives. In a conversation with her mother-in-law, Moll realizes the woman is actually her birth mother, which means Moll unwittingly married her half-brother. She reveals herself to her mother but not to her husband. Unable to continue the incestuous relationship, Moll leaves Virginia under a pretense and returns to England.

A Kept Woman

Once again in search of economic security, Moll goes to Bath and becomes the mistress of a rich married man. Living as a kept woman, she bears him a child. When in a near-death experience her lover finds God, his conscience no longer allows for a mistress, and he ends their relationship. Leaving her child behind to be cared for by her former lover, she leaves Bath and goes to the country.

True Love

Alone again, Moll falls in love with James—whom she affectionately calls "Jemy"—in Lancashire, and they get married. Soon they both realize they conned each other and that they are both poor. Although they love each other and seem to be a good match, Jemy leaves her. Once again alone, and this time pregnant from a man who did not stick around long enough to help care for the child, Moll returns to London to live with a governess and midwife who caters to unmarried women in precisely Moll's predicament. She gives birth to another boy and gives him up to a woman who will raise him in the country.

The Banker

Moll's next husband is a banker who takes care of her finances, but who knows nothing about her past and present romances, or children. The two live a quiet and contented life for several years, until a business deal gone bad ruins them financially. Humiliated by the business failure, her husband does not survive, and Moll finds herself alone and penniless yet again.

A Life of Crime

Moll returns to the midwife. Under her guidance, Moll begins living as a thief. Although she continuously claims to regret her life of crime, Moll seems to enjoy it greatly, managing to make a name for herself as a gifted criminal. After years of many close calls, Moll is caught and sent to Newgate prison to await her trial—the very prison in which she was born. The horrendous conditions of prison life harden Moll's resolve, until a benevolent minister helps her confess her crimes and repent of her sins. He also manages to change her death sentence to transportation to America. Moll follows her mother's footsteps.

Reunions

Before she leaves, Moll realizes her husband Jemy is at Newgate as well. She convinces him to seek transportation, and they both sail to Virginia, where the money she made as a criminal pays for their freedom. Moll seeks out her relatives and learns several things—her mother passed away and left her an estate, her brother-husband is near blind, and her son is tending the plantation. She writes a letter to her husband, which is intercepted by her son. He immediately visits her in a joyful reunion. He ensures she will receive yearly earnings from her mother's estate. When her brother-husband passes away, she finally tells Jemy about the true nature of her relationship to her brother-husband and introduces him to her son, finally putting an end to her web of lies and deceit. Jemy and Moll return to England, where they live out their lives in financial security.

Moll Flanders Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action

Introduction

1 Moll is born out of wedlock in Newgate prison.

Rising Action

2 At age three, Moll begins to live with a nurse.

3 Moll moves in with a wealthy family.

4 Moll sleeps with the older son, but marries the younger son.

5 Moll marries a draper and they live beyond their means.

6 Moll moves to Virginia with her third husband.

7 Moll becomes the lover of a married man, who leaves her.

8 Moll marries Jemy, who leaves her pregnant.

9 Moll lives with a midwife until the child is born.

10 Moll marries a banker, but he dies after losing his money.

Climax

11 Moll becomes a master criminal.

Falling Action

12 Moll is caught and sent to die in Newgate prison.

13 Moll and Jemy are deported to Virginia.

14 Moll reunites with her son.

Resolution

15 Moll and Jemy return to England.

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