Would I recommend this book? Defo!! (sorry couldn’t resist) I read this after The Hunger Games trilogy, Katniss Everdeen and Moll Flanders are both feisty heroines, who overcome almost impossible odds just to survive.
“Moll”, whose true name is never revealed, is born in Newgate Prison around the end of the 17th Century, her mother is transported to Virginia and Moll is brought up with a family, where the elder son seduces her. Moll is not naturally bad but her poor circumstances lead her into wicked ways “the vice came in always at the door of necessity and not at the door of inclination“. “Moll” is essentially a working girl on the make but really she’s just trying to pass herself off as a gentlewoman and find Mr Right and settle down with a nice respectable fellow in order to get a bit of financial security. Life in the late 17th century and early 18th century was no picnic after all, especially if you’re a lady with a bit of a reputation and not two coppers to rub together. Social services were not around to step in, help you into a small flat and give you advice about being a job seeker. Moll finds a few husbands, she marries five times in the book, but there are always problems, the men slip away, are taken to an early grave or in one case by a Dickensian coincidence, it turns out poor Moll married her brother. Her fate waxes and wanes. She tries to go straight but the temptation for thieving and opportunistic cons is too great. The shadow of Newgate hangs over her, and just as some of Katniss’s fellow tributes meet with grisly ends, so too do Moll’s occasional partners in crime.
Flanders’ story unlike Katniss’s encompasses several decades. The book is told in the first person and may serve as a warning to those who might follow in her footsteps “every branch of my story, if duly considered. may be useful to honest people, and afford a due caution to people of some sort to guard against the like surprises, and to have their eyes about them when they have to do with strangers of any kind“. One of the great problems for Moll is her lack of any true friends she can trust, so time and again she is forced back onto her own limited resources.
Defoe knows about problems of limited resources, he was a merchant whose merchandise sank when two of the ships carrying his cargo were holed by the warring French. Defoe narrowly escaped debtor’s prison. He was also a Dissenter at a time when such practises were frowned upon. Defoe furnishes the book with a lot of realistic details of prices and the cost of living in those times. Moll’s floundering fortunes aren’t just based on the gold in her pocket but also in other commodities like linen and lace. Almost three hundred years after its first publication (1722) it is still an engaging tale.
My rating : 4 out of 5