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Moll Flanders Research Papers

Moll Flanders research papers illustrate that Daniel Defoe provides a very dark character that elicits tragedy with little relief or hope.  The themes of love and money and the economics of rising out of poverty by marriage are the focal point in Moll Flanders.

Moll Flanders

Defoe deploys Moll's lovers in an assault on the eighteenth century gentility.

  • Moll describes herself as "one that has lain with thirteen Men".
  • She has had five husbands and three lovers that the reader is aware of.
  • The five lovers buried in the text may have been members of the middle-class, and therefore, not worthy of note, or as part of the middle-class are overshadowed by the gentry.

Defoe chooses to expound on only three of Moll's lovers and of these three all are members of the gentry; the picture Defoe paints of them is not particularly flattering.

Moll's love affairs were figured by economics at least as often as it did with her husbands. There were few self-supporting occupations available to eighteenth century women. Whoring was one. Therefore, it is no accident that in this novel, the language of sexual conquest is decidedly economic in character and a gesture toward balancing patriarchal politics; "Beauty will steal a husband . . ." and a maid can make "a good Market," if she be, "Handsomer than the Mistress". Moll refers to her "Stock of Vanity" as an economic asset. She says of her first lover, he "had too much Judgment of things to pay too dear for his Pleasure".  Yet, he pays and pays. Finally as "an Earnest," he pays her "a silk purse with an Hundred Guineas in it" and offers another for every year until they are married.

To Moll, money is more exciting than sex; it sweeps her off her feet and seduces her throughout her life.  On another level, it may be her substitute for the lack of love she associates with marriage and love.  Moll takes for granted that one must make a financial assessment of a partner before marriage.  It is noteworthy that after each relationship, she tallies whether she has more money or less.

Sir Walter Cleave presents irony in the ending of his life. At the beginning of her affair with him, Moll plainly states it "was because I wanted his help and assistance". For six years she lives "in this happy but unhappy condition". This is illustrated by her feelings when she discovers that he is lying on his deathbed, which were about the loss of her own "prosperity" instead of the life she had with him. Her summation of the whole affair is, "This was… all a cheat… but the business was to get this last fifty pounds of him". In this bit of irony, Moll achieves a power reversal in the deathbed of a man as prosperity, rather than the bed as a place of prostitution.

Eighteenth century marriage was foremost an economic arrangement. Due to the patriarchal nature of English society marriage was far more beneficial to the man than the to woman. Exacerbating this condition of society was Charles Darwin adding biological theory to the injustice of Moll Flanders’ world. Darwin did much to damage society during his day, women in particular. Victorian assumptions of the inevitability and rightness of a woman's role of domestic moral preceptor and nurturer and man's role of free-ranging aggressive provider and jealous patriarch were enshrined in Darwin's reconstruction of human evolution. Our female progenitors were maternal, sexually shy, tender and altruistic, while our male ancestors were "naturally" competitive, ambitious and selfish. Not unlike Darwin himself who wrote in The Descent: "Man is the rival of other men; he delights in competition." It was the natural order of things, just as man was "naturally" more intelligent than woman, as Darwin demonstrated to his satisfaction through the dearth of eminent women intellectuals and professionals. "The chief distinction in the intellectual powers of the two sexes is shown by man's attaining to a higher eminence in whatever he takes up, than can women – whether requiring deep thought, reason, or imagination, or merely the use of the senses or hands".

The age of Moll Flanders was a particularly cruel to women and Defoe exhibits keen understanding of this fact in his blatant rebuke of social injustice.  It is quite clear how Darwin perpetuated stereotypes and created conflict between the genders in his day.  One would think that time and science would have moved today’s society far beyond thoughts of natural selection and survival of the fittest in the battle of the sexes.  However, these premises are still affecting our culture today and tainting the attitudes of men and women in their roles in society.  Men are still viewed as the main providers of families.

Within the confines of this structured society, Moll was keenly aware that the system left her disenfranchised. She possessed no family, no money, no connections, but nonetheless was required to survive and prosper. As she states, "Men made no scruple to set themselves out, and to go fortune hunting when they had no fortune themselves….  A Woman was scarce allow'd to enquire after the character, or estate". A marriageable woman was made agreeable only by money, family and connection. Without them, like Moll, a woman was left to fend for herself. Defoe obviously disapproved of this arrangement. Through Moll's Colchester sister-in-law, the author offers his view; "Beauty, Wit Manners, Sence, good Humour, good Behaviour, Education, Vertue, Piety, or any other Qualification whether of Body or Mind, had no power to recommend but were requisite for a whore". One of Defoe's projects for Moll Flanders is to highlight the inherent hypocrisy of the laws pertaining to marriage and prostitution and in so doing, he calls for reform. Moll tells us that "Woman had lost the privilege of saying No, that it was a Favour now for a Woman to have THE QUESTION ask'd, and if any young Lady had so much arrogance as to counterfeit a negative, she never had the opportunity given her of denying twice". Moll marries five times, having "been trick'd once by that cheat call'd love". She is aware that she plays the game as she states, "I played with this Lover, as an Angler does with a Trout". Each time, she attempts to play the "Game" by its prevailing rules. But the cards are stacked against her; she says, "Marriages were . . . the Consequences of politick Schemes, for forming Interests, and carrying on Business, and that Love had no Share, or but very little in the Matter". Each time she finds her circumstances worse off than the before.  Moll notes the consequence of the game "serves to make a Woman miserable allher Days".

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