MOLL FLANDERS by Daniel Defoe
Daniel Defoe’s satire is drier than Canary sack, and credulous readers have ere been known to swallow it whole. His pamphlet, The Shortest Way with the Dissenters, called for the crucifixion of Presbyterians, a suit so glaringly ironic that it could have been taken in earnest only by High Churchers; and so it was. These gullible Tories, to redress their embarrassment, felt justified in committing Mr Defoe to Newgate, standing him three times in the pillory, and bankrupting his brick-&-tile-works. I wonder how they will wear Moll Flanders, a true account concerning the decency of sinners and the doubtful purpose of the church in a mercantile society.
The frontispiece proclaims that the heroine of this biography was born in Newgate Prison, was twelve year a whore, five times a wife, and twelve year a thief, after all of which she repented. Throughout these travails she is used with great kindness by all she consorts with, whether bankers or low criminals, gentlemen or debauchers, sea-captains or prostitutes. It is the world that is wicked, not these that dwell in it, and their goodness derives from fellow-feeling, not the pulpit.
In the case of marriage, Moll finds that she is but a commodity in a market place, and an under-valued one at that; yet the world says she can not live without a husband, or money, and if she lacks one, she must get the other. Moll seeks out men in order to live; yet she cares for them all, though rarely so far as to grieve for them after. These good-hearted souls, her husbands, variously dying, deserting, or turning out to be her brother, leave Moll alone at the age of fifty, upon which she utters a feeble prayer: ‘Give me not poverty, lest I steal,’ before becoming the most accomplished thief in all London.
It is a sure walk, though not a short one, nor a straight one, from there back to Newgate, where she was born, and now lies under sentence of death. At this low ebb she finds God, and begins to look back at her life with abhorrence, and finally repents of it. This, at least, until she is reprieved and meets up again with an old husband, upon which she charms and dissembles her way to Virginia, where she and the husband become rich without ever setting foot in church nor opening a Bible. Defoe revisits the notion of penitence, for an ironical sting in the tail, while being content meerly to have left Moll well set up at home, which is all she had long strived for.
Moll Flanders is printed by Mr W. Chetwood, at Cato’s-Head in Russel-street, Covent-Garden, and costs ten Our Fathers at any High Anglican confessional.