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Elizabeth McKinney

Dr. Kanwit
British Novel
2 February, 2013
Unholy matrimony and one of societys most successful pathological liars
Moll Flanders, by Daniel Defoe, serves as a critique of society in that the main character
portrays a sort of rebellion against societys spoken and unspoken rules, especially concerning
marriage, social class, and womens role in society. Moll Flanders is a very independent woman,
with her own goals and well-being constantly at the front of her mind. She does everything
possible to avoid the deadly snare of poverty (back cover). Everything, in Molls case, includes
thievery, trickery, and strategic marriages. These minor insurgences help her succeed in her
desires, thus finalizing and even justifying her actions as a victory against the seventeenthcentury English society.
Moll Flanders, as the title page describes, is about a woman who was married five times,
one of which was to her own brother. She spent her whole life devising plans that she would
profit from, regardless of who it would hurt. Even as a child, she had already decided that she
would be a gentlewoman, explained by her as a woman who never had to do housework, because
she hated doing housework. Instead, she would live with her Nurse Mistress and be a
gentlewoman (10-11). Of course, Moll didnt get the chance to be a gentlewoman. After her
Nurse Mistress died, she was taken in by the Mayoress (16). By the time she had turned
seventeen, she had caught the eye and captured the hearts of both of the brothers who lived there:
Robert wished to marry her, but his older brother regarded Moll as a prostitute, and treated her as
such. The older brother promised Moll marriage once he came into his fortune, but as soon as

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Robert announced his desire to marry Moll, the elder brother encouraged Moll to marry Robert,
because it would be an easy escape for him, since he didnt actually want to marry her. Moll
eventually marries Robert and has two children with him. After his death, however, she sends the
children to live with Roberts family and leaves the area.
Moll accepts his proposal mainly because she sees no way out of it, but it becomes a
good thing for her. She wont have to pretend she is a virgin anymore, since she has a
respectable, and even expected, reason for why she is not. She even left the marriage 1200
richer. With this money in pocket, Moll marries a draper, but when he is arrested, she is left both
technically single and technically married, with just 500 of goods she appropriated from her
husbands shop. After this marriage, she goes into the countryside and meets a plantation farmer
and tricks him into thinking she has 1500. Indeed, this is the reason he first begins to court her,
but during one of their discussions, Moll tricks him into saying he would marry her even if she
had no fortune at all. When he finds out she really doesnt have any money, he promises to marry
her anyway and they move to Virginia, where he owns plantations and will be able to make more
money to support them. While in Virginia, Moll learns that she has actually married her halfbrother and has had several children by him. When she reveals this to their mother, both women
agree Moll should return to England. The societal issues with this marriage are many, other than
the moral of marrying your sibling. Another discrepancy is that Moll was still legally married
when she married her brother. Still others include lying about her wealth and stealing from her
second husband in order to obtain the small amount of wealth she did have.
Moll arrives back in England and returns to her search for a husband. She meets a
married man; his wife is mentally insane, but he is still married, and he and Moll carry on a
platonic relationship for several years, until she allows him to seduce her. Moll ends up having a

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child with this man, who remains married throughout their entire relationship. Moll, too, is still
legally married to the draper, though she and her brother were divorced since that marriage.
Obviously, this is a complex situation that society would certainly look down upon, for the same
reasons and more, since this man is also married. At the end of her relationship with this man, he
stops visiting her for many months. He finally tells her he cant see her anymore, because he was
given a second chance at life after recovering from an illness, and he has decided to stop living in
sin (113). Moll is very upset about this, because now she has no way to support herself. She
sends a letter to her lover, telling him she needs money to go back to her mother in Virginia. Moll
herself admits that this was indeed all a cheat. . . I had no intention to go to Virginia . . . but the
business was to get this last 50 of him if possible (115).
Once Moll has her money, she considers herself a single person again, except my
husband the linen-draper, who I having not now heard from in almost fifteen years nobody could
blame me for thinking myself entirely freed from (116). Legally, however, she is not single, but
this does not stop her from befriending yet another married man. This man is a banker whose
wife has cheated on him. The banker courts Moll, and reveals that he wants to marry her, but she
wont consider marrying him until his divorce has been finalized. This is just another comment
on the morals of society: people pretend that they are upstanding citizens, but behind closed
doors, there are many secrets, tricks, and lies that prove that no one is actually a model citizen.
Moll often commented on the integrity of this man, but he defies her words by courting her and
not telling her from the beginning that he is married. Moll, too, lies to him about not having any
relations in England, when in fact she has several children in England. Their entire relationship,
other than the financial matters, is based on deceit.

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Moll leaves him and heads north and meets a man named Jemy. He pretends to be the
brother of one of Molls friends, and implies that he is very wealthy. Molls friend leads Jemy to
believe that she, also, is wealthy. In reality, neither of them have very much money at all, and
they realize this soon after they are married (133). Jemy leaves Moll because of the money
situation (140), so Moll goes back to marry the banker. This situation reveals to the reader the
greediness of people; both Jemy and Moll were just looking for money out of this relationship,
and when he realized it wasnt there, Jemy left in order to earn money. Todays society
encourages people to marry whoever they love, regardless of their bank account, but in the
1600s, people were encouraged to marry someone with a similar amount of money, or someone
in their social class.
Moll constantly lied about her money throughout her life, and it was almost always in
order to marry someone with even more wealth. Had any of her husbands been aware of her
financial state before they were intimately involved with her, they probably would have left her
before they were married. On the other hand, if she had known that Jemy didnt have any money,
she wouldnt have become intimately involved with him, either. The fact that Jemy did this to
Moll further exposes the social transgressions so many people committed. Moll went against
many of societys standards, including honesty, byverballychanging her class with every
marriage and divorce she went through. Since her marriages were all devised to work out in her
favor, she had to lie about her social class consistently.
Not only are all of these actions considered social misbehavior, Moll was certainly ahead
of her time when it came to womens roles in society. When Moll is young, she refuses to learn
to do housework, something she was expected to do as a female member of her current social
class. She is, in some respects, a very independent woman. She relies on her own mind and her

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own schemes to deliver her into wealth and prosperity, although she sometimes relies on others
to help her get there, and these people are almost always part of lies and secret plans. She lies to
a lot of female friends to get them to introduce her to upper class men, but she also depends on
her husbands, who she also lies to, to carry her up into the upper classes.
When she turns to pickpocketing and thievery she works with another woman to make a
living, she again rebels against society. Women were not supposed to have jobs other than
sewing or running a home for children or as a midwife, and they definitely werent supposed to
be successful thieves. Moll does succeed, though, for twelve years, because of her adeptness at
lying. She doesnt let anyone know her real name and she never lets anyone know where she
lives in order to protect herself from being arrested. She is quick to throw another person under
the bus, even if it means they will be put in Newgate or even executed, in order to save herself.
She is ruthless and merciless when it comes to other thieves. She seems to have to compassion
for others who are struggling to make a living just a she is.
Moll Flanders is societys greatest fear: she did everything she wasnt supposed to do and
she came out of it as the victor. She beat society by doing right everything that is wrong. If every
person were to realize they could be successful if they acted like Moll did, society would fall
apart, because it wouldnt have a firm ground to stand on. Her final stab at society was her
second marriage with Jemy. On the ship to America, they are given special treatment because
they show off the wealth they have acquired, and after landing in America, they receive even
more goods and land from Molls son and others there. Molls story, and thus the novel, shows
the holes in societys blanket of control over its people.

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Defoe, Daniel. Moll Flanders. New York City: New American Library, 2005. Print.

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