Moll Flanders | Study Guide

Daniel Defoe

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Moll Flanders | Section 2 | Summary

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Summary

The two sons of Moll's adopted family notice her good looks. The elder brother flirts with her and although she resists at first, his constant flattery finally seduces her: "But that which I was too vain of was my ruin, or rather my vanity was the cause of it." She gives in to his advances because she believes he will marry her, and they engage in a clandestine affair, during which he gives her money.

When the younger brother, Robert (called Robin by the family), also proposes marriage, she refuses. Robin is quite open about his infatuation with Moll, and he shares his plans with his mother and sisters. The family believes Moll is a fortune-hunter and begins to treat her like an outsider. Afraid she might be asked to leave, she discusses the situation with her lover. She tells him she cannot turn down the proposal without causing suspicion, since, after all, why would a poor orphan turn down a rich young man. Fueled by his own desire to keep his illicit affair with Moll a secret, her lover suggests she accept the proposal. Moll refuses, reminding him she is an honorable woman and that their secret relationship was always based upon her belief that he would make her his wife.

Moll's predicament upsets her to the point she falls ill with a fever. When the family asks about her relationship to Robin, she assures them her gratitude towards them would never allow her to marry him without their consent. When her lover finally tells Moll their affair is over no matter what, Moll has no other choice but to consent, lest she be turned away by both brothers. On their wedding night, Robin is so drunk that Moll can hide she is no longer a virgin. Although her affair with the older brother is indeed over, she keeps thinking about him, betraying the husband she does not love in her fantasies. After five years of marriage and two children, Robin dies. The two children go to live with his parents, and Moll is left with little more than the money she received during her affair.

Analysis

Moll's desire for independence and self-sufficiency notwithstanding, she lives at a time when women had no chance but to rely on men. Given Moll's humble beginnings and her lack of income, she has to find a husband. So when the older son courts her, she naïvely believes his intentions are noble and is easily seduced with compliments.

In retrospect, Moll understands she was naïve, and she should have understood that the older son's promise to make her his wife was empty. The novel ably plays upon the tension inherent in first-person narration. Calling herself "a fool" for falling for the oldest trick in the book, Moll—the narrator—looks back upon Moll—the young woman who experiences the events—from a supposedly older and wiser point of view. After all, the reader is led to believe Moll is telling this story in her seventies.

By losing her virginity outside of marriage, Moll becomes a fallen woman. Moreover, when her lover rewards her compliance with money, he essentially makes her "a whore." When Robin, the younger brother, asks to marry her as well, she is trapped. She cannot turn him down without causing suspicion, for someone of her humble background would never turn down such a good catch, and she cannot marry him because that would make her one man's wife and another man's whore. When she sees the older brother will not stand up for their relationship and make her his wife, Moll says, "I began to see a danger ... I was in ... of being dropped by both of them and left alone in the world." Having lost her virginity, she would no longer be marriage material for a respectable man. She has no choice but to marry the younger brother to conceal the fact she is no longer a virgin. Her marriage to Robin is a sham, a union made to survive. Being the respectable wife to a man she does not love is not much different than being the whore of a man she does.

Moll's predicament ably illustrates the role class and gender played in 17th-century England. Although for all intents and purposes, she grew up like the third daughter in the wealthy family that took her in, her humble beginnings are held against her the moment Robin expresses interest in making her his wife. Although Robin loves and marries her, the moment he passes away, her children are taken from her to be raised with his family. Admittedly, Moll expresses relief at being freed from this responsibility. Class distinctions matter greatly, and Moll, a woman of humble birth, does not have the luxury of looking for, and living, a romance. The romantic scenes of seduction in this section are not repeated in later chapters, suggesting her future relationships have less to do with love and more with the practical matters of survival. No wonder she coldly weighs her marriage in currency and calls herself "a widow with about £1200 in my pocket."

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