Moll Flanders: Initial reactions

The first thing that made me pause and write notes in the margins is the whole concept of Moll Flanders. It’s supposed to be this redemption story of sorts. Moll does all these bad things but in the end she turns her life around and God rewards her for it. Theoretically that is how it is supposed to work but not in practice. God never said if you suddenly start to live a good life I will bless you. Just because you live a godly life doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen to you and that life might just suck all the time. You aren’t going to wake up one day say sorry and suddenly life is perfect for you.

I’m not sure how I feel about the first person narrative. Obviously it is being set up as some kind of true account, that Moll Flanders really did exist and this is her account of her life. I think it lends itself to the idea that novels are more “true” and are about real people who lived during that time. However, I am not used to this style and it frustrates when fiction pretends to be nonfiction.

Sleeping with the your brother-in-law in my eyes is not necessarily incest because while you are related through marriage you aren’t related by blood. Incest to me is two people sharing a very similar genetic code sleeping together and then producing deformed children. I read a really great book over Christmas break last year called  The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman.  In it the main character falls in love with her husbands nephew and in the eyes of the Jewish faith they were committing incest even though they were not blood related they were still considered family. However, in the bible it does say something to the effect that if your brother dies you should marry his widow and they don’t consider that incest so I find the definition of incest in this novel interesting.

I would define this as a novel not because of it’s length but because of quickly we come to understand the character of Moll Flanders and come to feel for her. She’s reflecting back on life and I am speaking specifically of her encounter with the two brothers-her first lover and her first husband. Looking back she sees how dumb she was to believe that the eldest brother was interested in marriage and that by paying her he was turning her into a prostitute. She clearly didn’t care for the younger brother but she realized her situation and the only way out of it was to marry the younger brother. Comparing this encounter with DE and Amena in Love in Excess I can’t help but think despite Moll being naive she is smarter when it comes to the ways of love. Perhaps because this was written for a different audience or written with a different purpose. Haywood was writing to entertain whereas I think Defoe was going for a redemption story so if Moll wasn’t feeling somewhat guilty for her crimes then she wouldn’t need redemption. Haywood’s novel looks at love in a very different way than Defoe’s does.




2 thoughts on “Moll Flanders: Initial reactions

  1. I can agree with you that if you are married it is in-law, and therefore not incest. I too have heard the part from the Bible about taking the brother as a husband to keep it in the family. Back then I thought it was weird to force someone to marry their brother’s wife because he died? Though, times were much different back then so who am I to judge? I too see it as a novel with character development, but… I do not feel for Moll Flanders. She gets redeemed for what she feels she needs penance for, but I just had a hard time following the story through. The full title in itself tells the whole story in a more interesting way than the book does. As for the fiction reading as nonfiction it raises the question of how much of it is true, and is she a reliable narrator? As we see with Gulliver’s Travels it reads the same, but is no where near the truth though we are supposed to take it as such.


  2. You are both making some important observations. Courtney, I love the connection ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ (can I say how much it frustrates me to not be able to italicize!). It reads differently than what I’m sure that you’re both finding in ‘Pamela.’ The questions that you raise about religion are quite interesting. We haven’t spent much time discussing that this semester, but review your notes from Brit. Lit. A to get a sense of what’s happening right now. There was still a fair amount of religious turmoil. There are also various sects of Protestantism suggesting a variety of things about religion at the time. Hold onto these questions as you make it ‘Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded,’ because she is rewarded for it. There a definite biblical references throughout that novel, and it may be worth considering how those views intersect with the rise of the novel, C18 views on the individual, and C18 perceptions of sex and gender.


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