Thursday, March 28, 2013

Review: Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe

Title: Moll Flanders
Author: Daniel Defoe
Genre: Classics
Publisher: Penguin Classics
First published: 1722
Pages: 244

Rating: 6 out of 10

Moll Flanders is the tale of an innovative woman who will stoop to the lowest of trades in order to be a "lady." Married five times, Moll is at varying times a thief, a whore, a convict, and a prisoner.

This book was interesting, though not exactly a page turner. Defoe, as is to be expected, is quite fond of rambling on about every little detail, which is accentuated due to a lack of chapters or page breaks.

Few characters are given a name, which can also make the book a bit confusing. Even Moll never reveals her true name, always insisting to the reader that Moll Flanders is just a nick name she is given later in life.
I got more than a few of Moll's many husbands confused at different points, because they were all "him." Eventually everyone just became "that guy" in my mind.

I liked the character of Moll, because she was different, and certainly unique for a book written in Defoe's time. She seems shameless and unscrupulous from the very beginning, which she seems to justify in her mind as a way of survival.
When her friends and comrades in crime are hung, Moll voices no sorrow over their deaths, only fear that she may soon share the same fate.

There is no doubt that Moll is not exactly a blameless character. She uses her beauty to snare potentially rich husbands, and she mentions a few times having children and then they are never mentioned again. In fact, I remember her saying that she had "gotten rid of" her children, or some similar phrasing, by giving them to a friend or family member. She has a few very low moments, such as when she steals a piece of jewelry from a young child, or when she steals a family's things while their house is burning down.

However, there is something likable to Moll, and I would never classify her as one of those hero-villain types.
Perhaps it is how clever and innovative she is, just trying her best to make her way in the world the best that she knows how.
Her schemes becoming increasingly creative as the book progresses, and I loved when she began her disguises - a man, a lady, a beggar, a widow, a foreigner.

Though Moll is always calling herself "wicked" or "sinful," she seems unwilling to fully acknowledge it.
Such as, just after she has stolen something, she says:

"I confess the inhumanity of this action moved me very much, and made me relent exceedingly, and tears stood in my eyes..., but I could never find in my heart to make any restitution."

When Moll is at least caught in her schemes and locked in Newgate Prison, I felt that I knew her for the first time in the story. Defoe's writing style doesn't exactly allow you to become all that close to Moll through out the story, but we feel that we have seen her entire life leading up to this point when at last she is thrown into the jail.

She seems to fear Newgate more than anything, perhaps because it forces her to think of herself as not a great lady, like she always strove to be - but a common criminal.

I loved how even after thrown in jail and sentenced to death, Moll never ceased her scheming, and rather than sink into despair over the verdict, she immediately begins planning a way out of it.

*Mild spoilers in the next paragraph*

The ending surprised me a little, as I had honestly expected Moll to meet as unfortunate an end as the rest of her life reflected. But the ending was, instead, a happy one, and I closed the book smiling.

This is a good character study about a very interesting, notorious woman.