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BOOK REVIEW – DANIEL DEFOE – MOLL FLANDERS 1722 Penguin Books.

 

Moll Flanders is one of the great anti-heroes of Western Literature. Raised in poverty and as an orphan, she is forced to do anything she can to survive in a male dominated dog eat dog world, and she does so by resorting to crime and manipulation on the grand scale, but her fortunes frequently fail and she often finds herself plunged back into the direst of circumstances.  Much of her evil is an act of necessity and circumstance, and accident. At times she sets out to do well, but fails. At other times, she is more wantonly mischievous and cunning.  Ultimately, captured, imprisoned and exiled to the colonies as a convict, she repents and sets out her book as a statement of repentance from her wicked ways.

 

Moll’s birth saves her mother from the gallows, as a pregnant woman cannot be hanged. Moll is sent into an orphanage, but her mother is transported to America.

Moll, cast out when the funding for her orphanage keep dries up, tries to make herself more lady like and manages to seduce a wealthy man into marrying her, though she is also seducing his brothers. 

 

Another marriage, (bigamous on her part), nets her a wealthy husband, who has a plantation estate in America, but once there, Moll is shocked that her husband is in fact her brother, as his mother is also Moll’s old mother. The relationship is incestuous.  Moll returns to England, and allows her husband to write her off as dead. She finds other men to take care of her, but as the relationships collapse, she is desperate enough to resort to street theft. She even robs a burning house.  Her life of crime gets increasingly professional, and many fellow criminals she associates with get caught and hanged at Newgate. Moll is terrified of sharing their fate. She does get captured when a shoplifting trip goes wrong but on the brink of execution, her genuine repentance moves a priest to petition for leniency towards her. She gets deported to the colonies, but now that she is good and godly, everyone is kind and everything works out for the best. Defoe works unconvincingly to a happy ending over the last fifty or sixty pages. There are few of the real horrors of the plantation transportations, which made slaves of all who were subjected to them. This is in stark contrast to the vivid descriptions of Moll’s plight and downfall, which dominates most of the book. 

 

Arthur Chappell

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