Moll describes the dark fate of children of criminals. Without any system to protect them, they are thrown into the world with no training in any subject and no goal other than starvation or the same life of crime that ended so badly for their parents. Moll’s mother had been sentenced to death for having stolen three pieces of cloth. Moll herself was very lucky to be taken in: the parish, the area served by one church, were under no obligation to take care of penniless children who were not born there, or had no other particular claim to charity: “I was not a parish charge upon this or that part of the town by law.
” Indeed the parish officers tried to find the gypsies in order to send Moll back to them, even though they were unrelated to her and she did not like them. Legally, they could have sent her out to starve: she was saved only by their compassion. Once Moll was taken in, her troubles had not end. An eight-year old child could be made to work all day as a powerless “drudge to some cook maid,” learning no useful skills and earning no more than an almost suitable income. Sewing and spinning was not much better: even working all the time, a woman could not earn a living.
Moll’s pay, “three pence when I spin, and four pence when I work plain work,” would not even pay for her food, much less room or clothing. When her nurse died, she could not afford to set up shop for herself, and had no choice but to go into service, which she no longer protested: “The fright of my condition had made such an impression upon me, that I… was very willing to be a servant, and any kind of servant they thought fit to have me be. ” During Moll’s period of innocence, then, we can see that, despite her hard and honest work, she is dependent on the charity of the powerful, which can be taken from her at any moment.
She is lucky to be a charming child, thus gaining favor: perhaps it is better not to wonder about the fates of the ugly and charmless children. Moll’s natural wish is for security, and simple virtue and labor cannot give this to her. Although Moll’s seduction is described in an almost unfriendly way, it is quite exceptional, by what it lacks as well as what it contains. For Moll Flanders, it is really not that important: she does not immediately change from an innocent maid to a wicked prostitute.
The effect that sex has on Moll is to deeper her feelings for her lover: before, she does not seem to care for him very much out of the ordinary, and afterwards she is so in love. On this topic the author’s broad-minded approach can be seen in 3 perspectives on women. He does not necessarily understand women quite well, but at least he can perceive a middle area between “angel” and “whore,” a concept not easily understood by some even today. It seems to me that the subject matter which provides material for Defoe is the position of female servants in 18 century aristocratic houses.
Maids were generally young girls, attractive prey for lustful gentlemen. A maid who resisted (if she could) or complained might be thrown out by the Master of the house. A maid who submitted might be thrown out by a jealous wife or a protective mother. A maid who became pregnant might easily be thrown out, and, unable to find a job in another house, she, then, might be forced into prostitution, where she would be at a very high risk for getting “the French pox,” or syphilis. Again Moll was lucky to escape with only a broken heart… and a profitable marriage!
One should realize that Moll gives no attention or even ignore uneventful periods: the five years of her marriage take less than a page to describe. I never hear about her children, or what her birth was like, or any domestic issue. Moll’s lack of attachment to her children is striking: it appears to me that children are only an unwanted charge for an attractive widow with no steady economical income. She is, however, careful to find homes for them. Much of this book deals with people who spend and waste their wealth. Moll’s second husband appears to be a nice fellow, with the good manners that Moll approves.
(Gentleman behavior, in the book, is closely associated with treating women well. ) She does not even become particularly upset at having all her money spent on pleasures: she looks back on the marriage with irony, but without dislike. Indeed, Moll herself enjoys their little masquerades. Moll gives a great deal of importance on social status at this time in her life: she prefers to lose her money married to a nice gentlemen who can behave like a Lord, than to enrich herself as the wife of good, but insufferably commercial tradesman. She has a natural ability for happy shinny romance.
Thus it is not enough to dismiss Moll as a woman motivated by the money-lust, who profits off of men whose lust is less abstract. (Remember that her profitable marriage to Robin was not what she would have chosen anyway). The behavior of the debtors she finds in the Mint has quite a different effect on her: whereas her attitude towards her ‘Mr. Spent’ husband is of annoyed tolerance, she is horrified by these. She uses words like “sin” and “wickedness” to describe their activities. The description of them suggests, in my own point of view, that this kind of behavior is a particular interest of Defoe’s work:
“… when he has thought and pored on it till he is almost mad, having no principles to support him, nothing within him or above him to comfort him, but finding the same darkness on every side, he flied to the same relief again, viz. to drink it away, debauch it away… ” Moll’s narrative can exist perfectly well without this extract, which involves almost no action whatsoever. It would appear to me that Defoe thought it was important to describe how money troubles could lead to complete despair. This book is an interesting variety of social commentary.
The notion that London marriages are based on money rather than love is apparently not surprising enough in itself to add much spice to the novel, but Moll’s reaction to it certainly does. Rather than complain about the immorality of mercenary marriages (she learns this lesson by heart as it was taught by the behavior of her first lover), she reasonably investigates techniques that will improve women’s positions within the corrupt system. She and her female friends are all notably women on their own: the stereotype of young girls being married to young men according to the arrangements made by their powerful parents does not hold.
High mortality, especially among sailors, led to a big number of widows who needed to marry again in order to establish themselves comfortably (and one can imagine that death in childbed also left many widowers). A young girl living at home might be completely controlled by her parents, but a widow with some money of her own is in a completely different situation. She must look out for herself and negotiate for herself. Living in an urban environment also adds to the relative independence of an able to marry widow: a widow in London would be unlikely to own any land or even a house.
Her wealth would be money, and she could easily move to a different neighborhood among entirely different people. Moll’s advice has nothing to do with love, and everything to do with business. Men start out with better matrimonial credit: they are not under the same time pressure to marry as women are, and there are fewer of them because of “the wars, and the sea, and trade. ” At the same time, property laws favored men in marriage: unless other provisions were carefully made, the wife’s wealth would be under the husband’s control, without the opposite being true.