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Moll Flanders | Study Guide

Daniel Defoe

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Moll Flanders | Section 5 | Summary



Now in her early forties, Moll is left to her own devices yet again, looking for a "settled state of living." She meets a woman who suggests she move north to find a rich husband. Moll agrees but claims she needs to find someone to settle her financial affairs in London first. While somewhat true—as she does not intend to travel with all the money she saved from her illicit affair in Bath—the comment is also meant to make her seem richer than she is. Moll meets a banker, whose wife left him for her lover. She receives financial advice and a marriage proposal. However, since he is already married, what he really offers is an affair. Moll turns him down, promising to consider his offer once he actually gets a divorce.

In the meantime Moll follows her friend's advice and travels north, where she meets James (whom she also calls Jemy), her friend's brother, a wealthy landowner from Ireland. After an elaborate courtship, they get married. It turns out Jemy is neither her friend's brother nor a wealthy landowner. The two are actually a pair of con artists who had assumed Moll was worth a fortune. When Moll and Jemy realize they "married here upon the foot of a double fraud," each having agreed to the union hoping to garner financial security from the other, they break up. Moll is devastated because "he was a man that was ... well qualified to make [her] happy." Jemy, equally smitten with Moll, comes back, and they live together for a month on the meager means they have left, yet eventually they break up and go their separate ways.


Twenty years have passed in which Moll has learned to use her allure over men rather prudently and with cunning: "I took care to make the world take me for something more than I was." She laments the loneliness of this situation because she cannot confide to anyone lest she reveal too much of herself and lose promising prospects: "To be friendless is the worst condition, next to being in want." Once again, the novel stresses this is particularly true for women: "When a woman is ... left desolate ... she is ... like a bag of money ... which is a prey to the next comer." Women are powerless unless connected to a man, and men are known to take advantage of the situation. Although Moll seems to take advantage of the men she meets, she insists she is a virtuous woman forced to misstep out of economic necessity: "The vice came in always at the door of necessity not at the door of inclination." Female virtue falls prey to economic need, and virtue seems a luxury of the upper classes—a truth explored throughout the novel.

As if to offer proof of her ultimate decency, this section introduces a female antithesis and a male match to Moll's (acceptable) immoral behavior. Unlike Moll, the banker's wife "is a whore not by necessity ... but by inclination." Also unlike Moll, who claims she would be true in a marriage to a decent man, the banker's wife ran off with someone else even though the banker took good care of her. Although he now wants a union with Moll, she has obviously learned from her experience with the older son of her adopted family, and she refuses unless he gets a divorce first. However, her motives are not necessarily respectable. On the one hand her insistence is designed to make her seem more honorable, and therefore more desirable to the banker, while at the same time allowing her to pursue other, potentially more lucrative unions in the meantime. Clearly she is after the best deal in town.

Moll believes she has found such a deal in Jemy, who claims to be a rich landowner from Ireland, and accepts his marriage proposal. Jemy marries Moll, believing she is an independently wealthy woman—that "bag of money" ripe for the picking. The con woman falls for the con man, who is duped by the con woman. Although they realize they have met each other's match, they genuinely seem to care for each other. Moll's willingness to share a life of uncertainty with her fourth husband suggests her honest emotional involvement. When they finally break up, Moll is heartbroken for the first time: "Nothing that ever befell me in my life sank so deep into my heart as this farewell."

At the same time, Moll's willingness to stay with Jemy shows she may have had a choice after all, suggesting her questionable decisions may not have been forced upon her by the fate of women in this society, but by a calculating philosophy of convenience. As long as she is still pretty enough to attract a man, she might as well use her allure to find a man who can offer her a comfortable life in return.

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