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Moll Flanders | Study Guide

Daniel Defoe

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Moll Flanders | Quotes


The pen employed in finishing her story ... put it into a dress fit to be seen.

Narrator, Author's Preface

A fictional version of Defoe explains that the story about to unfold is not a novel, but a true story told by the person who lived it. Given this person, Moll Flanders, is of questionable moral standing, and the story contains morally questionable behavior, the author claims he merely edited the story to make it acceptable to the upstanding citizens who it was intended for.


I had ... been left a poor desolate girl ... brought into a course of life ... scandalous in itself.

Moll Flanders, Section 1

Moll justifies the trajectory of her life—several marriages, affairs, incest, and crime—because of the disadvantage of her lowly birth in Newgate prison as the daughter of a convicted felon, who was transported soon after her birth. Thus left alone and with no support system, Moll has to fend for herself. Claiming she had no other choice but to use one man after another as her meal ticket, she defends her opportunist attitude and behavior, and introduces the moral ambiguity that permeates the novel.


But my new generous mistress, for she exceeded the good woman I was with before, in everything, as well as in the matter of estate.

Moll Flanders, Section 1

Referring to the woman who takes her in after the nurse who raised her died, Moll recounts her first move up the social ladder. Despite the fact her mother abandoned her because she had no choice, Moll benefits from positive female role models. The woman who first raised her—a single hardworking nurse, teacher, and seamstress—represents the working class. The woman who takes her in afterwards—a married woman of wealth—represents the upper-middle class. The governess, who runs a brothel and becomes a pawnbroker, represents the criminal element.

In the course of her life, Moll plays all these roles. However, having tasted the good life with her adoptive family, she aspires to remain a gentlewoman.


But that which I was too vain of was my ruin, or rather my vanity was the cause of it.

Moll Flanders, Section 2

Moll suggests her allure to men was both her ticket to social advancement and the cause of her moral decline. Her beauty attracts the attention of the older son of her adoptive family, yet although he promises to marry her, he does not follow through, and instead makes her his whore. Having lost her virginity, Moll has no choice but to accept a loveless marriage to his younger brother, thus beginning a long list of opportunist relationships.

Moll's beauty attracts one man after another, and she offers her female companionship in exchange for financial stability. While she does not walk the streets, as wife and mistress Moll essentially engages in legalized prostitution.


Marriages were here the consequences of politic schemes.

Moll Flanders, Section 3

Used by the older son of her adoptive family, Moll has shed her naïveté and decides to use her assets to her advantage. Aware of her beauty and sex appeal, she begins to view her relationships with men as business transactions. Financial gain is her driving force. Only men who can provide, and provide well, are considered acceptable marriage material. Social advancement and profit are the ends that justify her means.


Money only made a woman agreeable.

Moll Flanders, Section 3

At the time, a woman's property became the husband's after marriage, and, consequently, the richer the woman, the better her marriage prospects. Women were viewed as objectified assets, as "bags of money" or "jewels" that fall "prey" to the men in their lives. Moll ascribes monetary value to herself when gauging her chances for a good match each time she finds herself alone, objectifying herself as a commodity on the marriage market.


My two children were ... taken happily off of my hands.

Moll Flanders, Section 3

Moll is not exactly a model mother. After her first husband dies, she leaves her children behind because she feels she is too young and beautiful to live out the rest of her life as a widow and mother. In her defense, as a single—albeit widowed—woman, it likely would have been difficult to provide for her little family and keep up the standard of living she had become accustomed to.

However, this is not the last time she will abandon her offspring. In fact, this begins a pattern of abandonment. Time and again Moll leaves her children behind the moment they become a financial burden and an obstacle in her search for a new provider. Her opportunism trumps any sense of responsibility or emotional attachment to her children.


This I did effectually, for I ... dressed up in the habit of a widow, and called myself Mrs. Flanders.

Moll Flanders, Section 3

Given that Moll's second husband, the draper, left her to evade his creditors, Moll finds herself in a predicament. She is married, yet she does not have a husband by her side to protect and provide for her. At the time, divorce meant a woman could never remarry. Moll finds an easy solution—she takes on a new identity. The need and desire to find a new husband who can provide social standing and financial stability supersedes all sense of attachment and responsibility.

This is the second time Moll simply takes off to start a new life, thus establishing a pattern of behavior that allows her to shift, change, and adjust to a new set of circumstances without bringing any baggage. She has begun to spin a web of lies and deceit that will eventually send her on a downward spiral.


I studied to save ... knowing well enough that such things as these do not always continue.

Moll Flanders, Section 4

Referring to her status as a mistress to the gentleman in Bath, Moll shows she has shed all naïveté and is fully aware her status as a married man's mistress is temporary. This is her second extramarital affair—the first being her relationship to the older son of her adoptive family—and she is prepared for it to end the same way: cast aside in favor of a wife of higher social standing.

As a woman, particularly as a mistress, Moll is at the mercy of the man who provides for her. She is wary of the situation, not because an extramarital affair is morally questionable, but because the economic stability is but temporary. Her pragmatism takes over and with prudent foresight, she lives frugally to save as much money as she can for the future in which she will inevitably find herself alone and without a steady income.


She is a whore not by necessity ... but by inclination.

The banker, Section 5

Referring to his first wife, the banker—Moll's future husband—justifies his desire for a divorce. Although he took good care of his wife, and thus fulfilled the terms of the marriage contract, she left him for another man. Unlike Moll's escapades, always prompted by necessity when she finds herself without the support of a man, the banker's first wife's unfaithfulness was unprompted, and hence entirely immoral.


A strange testimony of the growing vice of the age ... and yet ... I never saw ... the least indecency.

Moll Flanders, Section 6

Referring to the Mint, a seedy section of London, Moll condemns the amoral lifestyle of the criminals and prostitutes who mingle there, while at the same time testifying to the fact that the people who live at the fringes of society are as decent as they come. She seems to distinguish between behavior forced upon them by economic necessity and their heart, soul, and character, which, despite questionable behavior, remain pure. In short, Moll claims there is honor among thieves.


Poverty brought me into the mire, so avarice kept me in, till there was no going back.

Moll Flanders, Section 7

Economic necessity is Moll's excuse for all her decisions, good or bad. She engages in a string of loveless marriages and affairs to avoid the poorhouse. She callously leaves many children behind, in part because she fears she cannot provide for them without a man by her side and in part because they might hinder her chances to find a new man to provide for her. She even excuses her descent into crime, claiming it provides financial security.

However, Moll also admits she enjoys her criminal activities. After all, they turn out to be more lucrative than a hard day of honest work. Crime pays, at least for a while, and her desire for a higher profit margin not only keeps her from turning her back on a life of crime, but also entices her to actively learn the trade and become a master criminal.


She would give a hundred pounds ... to deliver me from this dreadful condition I am in.

Moll Flanders, Section 8

Moll is convinced the governess is devoted to her and will not abandon her, despite the fact Moll has been transported to America. The governess takes on the role of the mother Moll never had, the trusted friend who sticks by her side no matter what.

Along with the nurse who raised Moll as a child, and the woman who takes her in after the nurse dies, the governess provides a model of loyalty that Moll never follows. Rather than steadfastness and devotion, Moll's driving force is self-reliance.


A secret of moment should always have a confidant.

Moll Flanders, Section 9

Moll has changed her identity and spun an elaborate web of lies and deceit so often that she has not been able to fully confide in anyone, not even the one husband she truly loves, Jemy. Isolation and loneliness are natural consequences of choosing opportunism and self-reliance over responsibility and emotional attachment.

The pragmatism that placed sheer survival over companionship finally catches up with Moll, and she laments her loneliness. Finally financially secure, she decides to clean house and stop lying to the people around her. Introducing her son Humphrey to Jemy, Moll allows parts of her past and her present to come together, allowing her to be herself.


We resolve to spend the remainder of our years in sincere penitence.

Moll Flanders, Section 9

Repentance is an important element of the novel. Time and again Moll professes her shame and regret over her wicked ways, but time and again she indulges in immoral behavior. It is only in times of financial stability that she even considers whether her lifestyle might have consequences. While the novel ends with Moll's desire to atone for her sins, this desire coincides with her age—Moll is in her seventies, and hence opportunities for wickedness are likely few and far between—and relative wealth.

Throughout, the novel seems to suggest that repentance, like morality, is the privilege of the rich, and never quite answers whether her remorse is real, or but a narrative stance necessary to make the novel acceptable reading material in 18th-century English society. In other words, even her remorse seems tainted with opportunism.

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