Moll Flanders | Study Guide

Daniel Defoe

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Moll Flanders | Section 6 | Summary

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Summary

When she returns to London, Moll is pregnant by her fourth husband, Jemy. Her landlady connects her with a midwife, who takes her under her wing and into her house, which is set up to provide refuge for women in similar circumstances. Although Moll insists she is married, and thus a virtuous woman, the midwife—whom she comes to call her governess and even her mother—insists this makes no difference to her. Many of the women under her care are prostitutes. While under the midwife's care, Moll receives letters from the banker, relating he has since been able to divorce his wife and wants Moll to marry him. Given that she is pregnant, she stalls him because she "knew there was no marrying without entirely concealing that [she] had had a child." She offers a yearly allowance for a country woman to take care of her son in exchange for being allowed to see him once in a while.

Now ready to marry the banker, Moll arranges to meet with him in the country between London and Lancashire to keep up the pretense that she had been out of town. They get married in a country inn. The next day, Moll notices her fourth husband, Jemy, is at the inn across the way. She manages to conceal herself until they leave. Later, she hears that three men fitting the description of Jemy and his companions are suspected of highway robbery. Moll, to put the authorities off their trail, declares that she knows one of the men to be a gentleman of high standing in Lancashire.

Moll returns to London, where she lives in "a house well furnished and [with] a husband in very good circumstances." Five years later, her husband (the banker) loses his business in a deal gone bad, falls into depression, and passes away. Moll, the mother of two children, is destitute again.

Analysis

Moll's pregnancy is a solemn reminder of the fact women carry the sole consequences of illicit or failed relationships. Although she is married to the father of this child (Jemy), he has left her, and she alone carries the responsibility. Moral scruples won't allow her to get an abortion: "I would have been glad to miscarry, but I could never ... entertain so much as a thought ... of taking anything to make me miscarry." Lack of financial means to support herself and a child—let alone the social stigma that goes with being an unwed mother—won't allow Moll to raise the child on her own. And she cannot bring the child into a marriage with the banker because she would have to admit she betrayed their arrangement to wait for each other until he can get a divorce. She is both embarrassed and genuinely distraught over her predicament. In a happy—and yet unhappy—arrangement similar to the one with her rich lover in Bath, Moll pays a country woman to take care of her child provided she can see her son once in a while.

The novel illustrates that at the time, women often ended up with the raw end of the deal. Married or not, if the husband was not there to help the woman through pregnancy and childbirth, all women shared the fate of a whore. Only a man who provided financially for his wife and child could shield a woman from the social stigma that went with a pregnancy outside of marriage. Moll is appalled at the "growing vice of the age," evidenced in the underworld of immoral and criminal behavior at the house of the midwife, who also supports the "ladies of pleasure" who service the supposed gentlemen of society. In another illustration of moral conduct and decency compromised by financial needs, these prostitutes hold superior morals. Moll never notices "the least indecency in the house the whole time [she] was there."

Rueful over what she calls her wicked ways when she realizes how honorable a man she is about to marry in the banker, Moll ponders whether her life could have turned out differently: "How happy had it been ... if I had been wife to a man of so much honesty and so much affection from the beginning!" Going back to her first relationship with a man who used her as his mistress, forcing her to learn deception as a means to survive, Moll refuses to take responsibility for her lack of virtue. However, Moll's reflections are aided by the security of her life with the banker, and she seems to hint that her virtuous ways might be temporary should she find herself in a financial predicament again.

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