Published by Wordsworth Editions on October 5th 1993
Genres: Classics, Historical Fiction
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The Fortunes & Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders (aka Moll Flanders) is a novel by Daniel Defoe, 1st published in 1722. It purports to be the true account of the life of the eponymous Moll, detailing her exploits from birth until old age. By 1721, Defoe had become a recognised novelist, with the success of Robinson Crusoe in 1719. His political work was tapering off at this point, due to the fall of both Whig & Tory party leaders with whom he had been associated; Robert Walpole was beginning his rise. Defoe was never fully at home with the Walpole group. Defoe's Whig views are nevertheless evident in the story of Moll. The novel's full title gives some insight into this & the outline of the plot: "The Fortunes & Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, &c. Who was Born in Newgate, & during a Life of continu'd Variety for Threescore Years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own Brother), Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv'd Honest, & died a Penitent. Written from her own Memorandums."
This book was amazing. I loved it. Much more than I thought I would—it was written in 1722, and I usually find older works difficult. But this…this was a masterpiece.
I’m not even sure I can say that it was due to affection for Moll herself that I liked it. I found her rather difficult to relate to. She had a very bland personality and related her story quite objectively. Yes, there were some emotional moments, but it was mostly lack thereof. I mean, she went through men like crazy. She had to have been through at least ten of them by story’s end. And she liked each one, but hopped so quickly from one to the other it was hard to believe she had any real love for any of them. And of course she was religious too, and repented the uglier side of her past, which included being a very successful thief. She knew she could have retired after a while, but she just couldn’t stop when she should have, and thus was her (almost) ruin. All in all, she was just not my type of person.
But there’s no denying that she was skilled at what she did, and very lucky too. She knew how to manage people very well, those she did know—she often complained about having no friends, but found very valuable ones quickly in every case. She knew how to manage money and stretch a pound (or shilling or guinea). She knew how to make money, even if it came to stealing, and that she did very well (becoming the infamous Moll Flanders in the process). But she was able to live pretty honestly before that, even though she relied mostly on men supporting her. She was just insanely lucky that whenever she fell into misfortune, it turned ‘round again pretty soon. Sometimes it was by her own hand and sometimes it was just plain luck, but it always turned out more than well. She made the right friends and outlasted most of them—many of the people she knew died or were sent to Newgate. She was much more fortunate than she deserved. Even at her lowest point—when she was in Newgate sentenced to death—View Spoiler » she was still saved by being penitent and having the right friends. « Hide Spoiler Not many were as lucky.
Yes, I do think that she got far better than she deserved, but I think the whole story was a darn good one. This was more of a plot story than a character story. There were so many adventures, one after the other, and I had to keep reading to see how she would get out of this scrape or that one. The historical aspect made it interesting because it was unpredictable. I didn’t know the avenues for escaping a sentence in 1600s London. I didn’t know how much money was worth and how useful letters were—they solved so many problems. I mean, I’m sure a phone call would do that today, but it was just so different. Things were so easily achieved, especially if you had money. Someone convicted of a felony would be treated like a king with most people if he had the right attitude and a fat wallet. And good friends.
I also like how Moll is using her story to impart a message to us. She frequently stops and reflects on certain parts of her adventures, theorizing on human nature and the difference between the sexes. She considers her place in her own life and recognises that there are other people outside of herself (even when it is hard to tell from her actions). Her main point is to get the reader to see her tale as one of caution—don’t do what she did because all this harm might befall the reader. Even though it turned out quite well for her, it’s not worth all the evils of her past. Like I said, she was insanely lucky, and she knows it.
But I would recommend this to anyone in the mood for a rousing, page-turning series of adventures and misadventures.
reaction upon finishing
Pretty much perfect!
this book in one word