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Moll Flanders | Study Guide

Daniel Defoe

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Moll Flanders | Section 4 | Summary



On her passage back to England, Moll loses much of her belongings, and once again she has to start over. She stays in a boarding house in Bath and befriends the owner. She muses, "Men find a mistress sometimes, but very rarely look for a wife." And indeed, her hostess introduces her to another guest, a gentleman who turns out to be married to a woman who, by his own account, is mad. At first their relationship is respectable and purely platonic. Moll even resists his financial support in exchange for her company even though her finances are running low, despite the fact she still receives help from her half-brother and her mother in Virginia. When the gentleman falls ill, she nurses him to health, which deepens their friendship. On a trip to Bristol they have to share a room, and they become lovers. Exchanging "the place of friend for that unmusical, harsh-sounding title of whore" starts a long and harmonious relationship.

After two years Moll finds herself pregnant, and her lover promises to take care of her and the boy. However, Moll is quite aware "such things as these do not always continue," and she tries to be prudent with the money he gives her. Years later she is proved right; when seriously ill he finds God, can no longer justify an adulterous relationship, and leaves her. Finding herself without a secure future yet again, Moll appeals to her lover's guilt and asks for a final sum of money before signing a general release. Once again she leaves her son behind, trusting that he will be cared for by his father. For the first time Moll considers that she is an adulteress as well, given she is still married to the draper, and—at least legally—to her half-brother. Incidentally, right around that same time her half-brother is also asking for a release, yet she delays signing it, also trying to extract additional payments from him to stock up for an insecure future.


Like a cat with nine lives, Moll starts from scratch yet again. She relies on her good fortune and her own adaptability to whatever the future might bring: "I expected something or other might happen in my way that might mend my circumstances, as had been my case before." While not referring to it outright, she is talking of another relationship with another man. Although Moll's sense of respectability might not allow her to seek out an illicit relationship, her financial situation seems to leave her little choice. When she meets a man who seems financially secure, she is willing to sleep with him because she needs "his help and assistance, and ... knew no other way of securing him than that." Yet again, love has little to do with her relationships—economic necessity drives her into this "happy but unhappy condition." Her practical approach to this relationship becomes clear when her lover falls gravely ill and she fears he may die: "This was heavy news for me, and I began now to see an end of my prosperity." Moll does not worry for his health as much as she does for her own financial future. Her lover is her meal ticket.

Moll herself admits, "I was not without secret reproaches of my own conscience for the life I led ... yet I had the terrible prospect of poverty and starving." She justifies acting against her own conscience because women had very little recourse other than marriage or prostitution to make ends meet. Seen in this light, even marriage is little else than legalized prostitution.

Always aware "that such things as these do not always continue," Moll maximizes opportunities as they present themselves. She saves as much money as she can to secure her own future. This, too, is not morally questionable to her. On the contrary, mistresses who fail to protect themselves are, in her mind, "justly" ruined—not because they engaged in immoral affairs, but because they failed to show economic foresight.

Although to Moll, financial security is the ultimate arbiter of virtue, she claims to "leave the readers of these things to their own just reflections." Implicitly referring back to the Author's Preface, in which Moll Flanders's supposedly real story is presented as an educational tale, Moll makes her case by admitting the vice of her ways, yet providing the social context that leaves her little choice, given that she is a woman of humble birth in a class society that favors men.

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