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Moll Flanders

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Moll Flanders

Moll Flanders

Modern Library
In 1771, a synopsis for the Chetwood edition of Moll Flanders reads: "The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, Who was Born in Newgate, and during a Life of continu'd Variety for Threescore Years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Years a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own Brother), Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Years a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv'd Honest, and died a Penitent."
It was this promise of scandal and intrigue that prompted readers to visit bookstalls and delve into a world of vice and redemption in print.

I read the Chetwood edition, presented by Modern Library Classics, and found it to be highly entertaining and insightful. Now and then, I had to re-read passages, because Daniel Defoe's sometimes-archaic English syntax at times confounded me. However, the language is not always so archaic that it's not possible to figure it out without consulting the 447 notes.

About "Moll Flanders"

Defoe presents "Moll Flanders" in the guise of an autobiography, written by a woman of advanced years. Defoe was adroit at creating a narrative, relaying the details of this life from a woman's point of view. In fact, his female persona is so realistic that the reader would willingly truste that the book was written by a woman, if the book was published with an "Anonymous" byline.

Moll's discourse reveals that Defoe was a keen observer, endowed with an intuitive knowledge of a woman's psyche. It is worth mentioning that Defoe championed the cause of equality for women living in a rigid patriarchal society.

Moll often moves in a caste of society, in which a woman's station in life counts more than her personality. Since she was born poor, and since she has ambitions to rise above her poverty, she resorts to questionable ploys to improve her station. In retrospect, she admits to her own hypocrisy and scheming, realizing that she sacrificed her personal virtue to achieve her goals.

However, even in that somewhat retrospective and sentimental mode, she believes she has behaved as virtuous as possible. Of course, throughout many pages, the reader comes to understand that Moll has a liberal definition of virtue. While it is true that Moll has a conscience, she does not often listen to the admonishments of her inner voice. Nevertheless, she has a multitude of excuses to justify bygone actions.

What It's All About

The novel strikes me as a book that instructs readers on how not to behave. I think Defoe intended for the book to have a didactic value, and his pedagogy in words is delivered by Moll, who is one of the most complex teachers I've ever encountered in books. And, her I want to emphasize that Moll is one of the most intriguing characters in English literature. She is so life-like; in her character, we discover fragments of ourselves, and bits of others. Every sentence of the novel exhales the breath of the believable; we have just to inhale. It is especially after reflecting upon a reading of this book that this thought takes hold.

One of the most charming and finest features of the book is the art of cultivated conversation, found in the moments when Moll and her (usually male) counterparts are expressing their honest feelings and thoughts. It's not just the stilted jargon of snobbish highbrows; it appears to be enviably natural and refined.

"Moll Flanders" is fiction-made-credible; the novel ranks as a milestone of 18th-century English literature, and it continues to find favor. For someone who is keen on encountering a spectrum of human motivations this book undoubtedly delivers the colors of the many facets of conduct.

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