For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
Q & A
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be.'
Locksley Hall, Tennyson
Virginia Woolf said that Moll was one of the most empowered literary feminists ever created.’
There is much debate about women’s representation in Moll Flanders. Personally I feel like this is a novel that lends itself to female empowerment. Moll’s story explores the different classes and roles of women; wives, whores, thieves, mothers and laborers. After all, Moll has been said to be a projection of Defoe’s self hence the typically unfeminine attitude she displays at times, such as leaving her children in various locations around the country. Now in the 18th century, she was supposed to look after them and not drop them off like she’s dropping sweet wrappers.
“Defoe’s identification with Moll Flanders was so complete that, despite a few feminine traits, he created a personality that was in essence his own.” Ian Watt
Her shrewdness, cunning, deception and boldness are all qualities not typically given to females of the time. Her successes, overcoming of obstacles typical for women and ability to fend for her are some of the more masculine ideas of the time. Her role as a thief is significant; she stands alone without reliance on men or their money and becomes very skilled at what she does. It is as a thief, the name Moll Flanders comes to prominence. It’s the title of the novel as well and we know her as Moll therefore the whole way through. So, her identity comes from her thieving profession, thus we know her as an independent and successful woman. “Moll discovers that immorality and criminal activities bring her more money, security, and respectability than any traditional feminine occupation could.”
However, the fact she spends most of her leftover fortunes from these marriages on clothes and appearance could be an area of controversy, highlighting the frivolous nature of woman. This again is shown near the start where she delights in ‘the common vanity of her sex’. Defoe’s gone a bit sexist there. I think Moll’s dedication to appearance is for other reasons. She uses it to cheat the marriage market. Women are defined by their wealth and not the qualities that Moll possesses. ‘If a young woman have beauty, birth, breeding, wit, sense, manners….yet is she have not money, she’s no body.’ So who they are is irrelevant; it’s class and wealth. This is why Moll dresses so lavishly; she’s though ahead and knows this is how she makes her catch. Thus fashion has an ulterior motive other than for looking nice.
Defoe through the character of Moll is presenting a social commentary on the role of women. By using Moll as the medium, he is making women take more interest; they perhaps would not be so connected to a male character because he wouldn’t have a believable enough voice. Moll serves to warn readers of the dangers facing women. One critic, Swaminathan, supports this, seeing the novel as a handbook with a purpose of guiding women. ‘The novel answers the question of how a woman copes when she falls outside the purview of women and family.’ He argues men prove to be unreliable providers. This is true. Jemmy, the highway man, turns out to be a fraud like her, the banker does Moll the indignity of dying, and the cheek of it, so does Robin the first husband and one husband is her brother. The ultimate argument Swaminathan makes is that women have limited economic resources – they cannot provide for themselves like the men can do .
“Let the ladies see that the advantage is not so much on the other side as men think.”
“Tis nothing but the lack of courage, the fear of not being married at all.’
He encourages women to be more like Moll; to face their fears and not allow men to rule over them, strongly highlighted in the scene between Moll and her companion in the mint. She allows her friend who is being wooed to turn ‘the tables’ upon the man, playing him back at his own game.’ Thus through cunning and an unwillingness to submit, she manages to obtain the man as a husband and secure fortune. Defoe is saying that things are possible to woman if they work at it.
Matriarchal Mirror: Women and Capital in Moll Flanders - Lois A. Chaber
Defoe’s Alternative Conduct Manual: Survival Strategies and Female Networks in Moll Flanders - Srividhya Swaminathan
 Love and Money in Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders, Ya-huei Wanghttp://www.ijhssnet.com/journals/Vol._1_No._8;_July_2011/29.pdf
Moll first reveals to us that she was born in the most charming of places, Newgate Prison, to a mother who, because of Moll, was able to plead her belly and gain a sentence of transportation rather than capital punishment. She then wanders about ‘with a crew of the people they call Gypsies’. When they reach Colchester, she is left and taken in by a poor woman, whom she is with till she is eight. At this age she is threatened into service but she does not want to comply, begging the woman to let her stay. Her wish is granted until the old woman dies and a wealthy family take her in.
Here, young, beautiful, she is seduced by the elder son of the household and they have a brief whirlwind affair before the younger brother, who is pining after her, asks his father for her hand in marriage. Roland, the elder, essentially gives Moll away to his brother, despite Moll’s protestations that she loves him. Cruel man.
She marries, has two kids and then he goes and pop his clogs so considerately. Moll is left with a small fortune and decides to move, looking for her next marriage victim. Turns out to be a linen draper with a substantial sum. Newly married, the husband and wife lavishly spend their money until the bailiffs comes a’calling. Hubby no 2 scarpers and once again, Moll is on the prowl.
Husband number 3 is a sea captain with plantations in Virgina. She goes to his estate and here she discovers to her absolute disgust, she really has married her brother and had kids by him. Ew. Eventually, hubby finds out, everyone’s upset and Moll scarpers back to England.
Another involvement with a banker, no kids, he’s married and she presses him for divorce. Meanwhile she buggers off to rugged Lancashire.
Moll travels through Lancashire with the pretence she has far more money than she actually has. Next husband has far more money than her, they marry, then they discover they both have outwitted each other. Uh oh. They are forced apart, unable to manage, but their parting is fond and pretty good.
Back to London, discovers she is pregnant and eventually gives the child up for adoption. Then she marries the banker who now has divorced, has kids and lives with him for 5 years. Then he dies.
Moll returns to the midwife who helped her with banker man’s offspring and turns to a life of crime, desperate for money. Despite fellow criminals being caught, she always manages to escape and becomes a notorious figure. Eventually though, she is caught for stealing a bolt of silk and sent to Newgate. Oh poo.
In prison, she finds her Lancashire hubby who also turned to a life of crime as a highwayman. They both face death sentences but then have their sentences changed and are sent to Virginia where they start a new life and become rich. Their ending is a very happy one indeed.
1. Daniel Defoe 1660-1731
- Lower middle class
- A dissenting Protestant - this was the belief that the RC church was corrupt. Led to Defoe believing that we are all born in a state of sin, an idea presented very strongly in Moll Flanders. Also had the idea that the circumstances of life bring about sin.
- Wanted readers to understand that salvation was possible
- Staunch political activist
- Tradesman, reflected in MF,
- Imprisoned twice, financial difficulty - insight into the criminal underworld present in MF, insight
- Made the novel respectable, new, imaginative but the novel’s popularity came later on
As you probably gathered from the summary, there really are only two main characters: Fantomina and Beauplaisir. Makes my life a bit easier.
1. Fantomina – okay to make this clear, Fantomina isn’t actually her real name, we never discover what this actually is. This lends to the whole feminist strand that as a woman, she is insignificant and not worthy of having a name. Fantomina is her adopted name and it suggests she is a phantom, which she really is to Beauplaisir; after he has finished with her, she fades in importance. It would be cool if she were a ghost but that’s just me going off on an imaginative tangent. At the start of the novel, she’s naïve, conscious of her ‘virtue’ and ‘breeding’, treating her first role play as a trivial matter. Obviously she is uneducated in what follows and is very reluctant, ‘her quality and reputed virtue kept him from using her with that freedom which she now expected he would do’. However, once she’s jumped the first hurdle, she realises there is nothing left to lose and goes for it. During the story, she becomes bolder, manipulative, displaying wit and cunning. She becomes so ‘admirably skilled in the art of feigning’ she is able to use her sexuality to get what she wants. Gone is the seemingly reluctant, naïve heiress. It does lead to the question, has she become a prostitute? She isn’t paid, granted, but she could well be on the road to prostitution. My thoughts. In the end though, she once again returns to the imprisoned heiress we catch a glimpse of at the start, a mother and is disowned by her mother. Essentially, she represents women who are unable to pursue sexual freedom. I don’t dislike her character, I think she has admirable qualities such as determination, wit, and is clearly a great performer. It does annoy me though how she doesn’t give up, she is a bit of a stalker. Why won’t she learn? Then again, it could be part of Haywood’s message that women have to go to great lengths to get what they want, and to succed they have to display what men think they don’t have. 18th century society, sounds great.
2. Beauplaisir - so he’s the man that drives Fantomina to do what she does. He clearly is a lusty young man, the first image we get of him is ‘making his way through the crowd as fast as he is able’…don’t really need to explain what drives him. He uses his charm, masculine power and general cunning to get what he wants from the innocent Fantomina, and seeing her distress afterwards, attempts to pay his way into her affections. No. Just no. Fantomina rightly protests. ‘Can all the wealth you are possessed of, make reparation for my loss of honour?’ You go girl…until she falls in love with him. Personally, I think she could do better but then for a young man to woo an aristocratic lady involved meetings, suppression of desires and generally a lot of effort. For all his activity, Beauplaisir can’t be bothered with all that. So he takes what is available, aka the prostitute, the maid, the widow and he wants a bit of the heiress too. He does not commit to relationships, growing ‘tired’. There is nothing wrong about him casting the prostitute aside, as a male in a patriarchal society he won’t be condemned. He moves on and moves on and moves on. In the end, he’s just lucky, getting away with the promise to provide finance for his child but displaying a lack of affection. He’s been cheated, wronged and thus has no fault. Blame the woman mate, that’s acceptable. Yes it is partially her fault but he has a lot to account for himself. I don’t like him. He’s the figure that Haywood dumps all her anger about the male society she lives in. It’s going to be an exaggeration but the exaggeration has to come from something to begin with. Beauplaisir provides brief moments of beautiful pleasure and then goes on his way, an 18th century LAD.
Fantomina or Love in a Maze
This short story or novella (depending on where you stand for a 30 page story) follows the sexual adventures of one ‘young lady of distinguished birth, beauty, wit and spirit’. A young heiress, she sits in a box at a theatre and looks on upon the pit beneath her, brimming with prostitutes and men eager to take up what is being offered. The play clearly isn’t that interesting and she muses what it would be like to be down there with them. So she decides to follow her whim and the next night returns as prostitute. Immediately she attracts the attention of one certain gentleman, Beauplaisir. There’s a bit of playful banter but when the heiress realises what inevitably is to come of her little role playing, she makes an excuse and runs away. By the next night, she has everything sorted, lodgings and allows her man to walk her home. He is after one thing, and she highly conscious of not running risk to her ‘virtue’, does not want things to go further. Inevitably she caves under the pressure and Beauplaisir, like his name suggests, takes his pleasure.
After this Fantomina falls in love and then embarks on a mission to keep him for herself, even though he grows ‘tired’ of her. She cannot handle this rejection and it can be argued, veers towards the obsessive route. Her second disguise is that of a serving girl called Celia, who attracts the eye of her beloved and has her way. Score. Then he grows tired of her and she turns to a new disguise, that of a poor, sorrowful widow who ‘counterfeits a faint’ and thus has her needs sated once more. By now, Fantomina realises his infidelity and concocts a final disguise, Incognita, a rich woman, basically who she is. Great name.
At the end of it all, Fantomina finds the ‘consequences of her amorous follies’ by becoming pregnant. Whoops. She somehow manages to conceal her bump for a while but whilst at a party, she falls prey to contractions, is rushed home and a doctor is sent for. Her mother thinks she is dying until the doctor politely tells her, it is a midwife she needs. Her mother is not impressed, interrogates her daughter to find the father. Who can that be? Oh Beauplaisir. He denies raping Fantomina, ‘the fault is wholly hers’. He gets off free and Fantomina is sent to a monastery.