The Fortunes and Misfortunes and Absence of Strength of Moll Flanders

English: Brereton Hall Grade 1 listed 16th cen...

English: Brereton Hall Grade 1 listed 16th century building – front elevation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I began this year with a promise. I was to watch the many movies and read the many classics that I had placed on a list that I had drawn up when I was only eighteen. Well it took me a while to get started but last week I picked up a copy of the first book on my list. That book being The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders.

Anybody who is a lover of classic literature already has an understanding of what the book is about. With the many television and movie adaptations that have been made of the novel over the years, it only stands to reason that most would have knowledge of what the story details. In short, the novels author, Daniel Defoe, famous also for his tale of Robinson Crusoe, tells the tale of a lady he later calls the original moll. She is a woman whose life is so criminally active and scandalously shocking, that any reader would be taken aback by what they saw within the pages of the book. Defoe later went on to state that the piece was actually based on memoirs he found within his possession. With this being the case, many have speculated that the novel is in fact based on a true story. Although this is questioned to this day, the author was right in stating how the book would shock when first published in 1722.

The story of Moll Flanders is not a light-hearted one. Born to a thief in Newgate prison, her life is a continuous journey of twists and turns, ups and downs, highs and lows. Coincidence features heavily but in a sense helps complete the circle of life which is her own. Her romantic encounters begin when she is eighteen and in love with one brother but marries the other. He soon leaves her a widow. She later marries a spend thrift, a gentleman, her own brother (by mistake and coincidence). She falls in love with a highway man, marries a banker, becomes a thief and a prostitute, but later repents and goes on to live out her life finally at peace and with the wealth she has always wanted with the man she loves. Oh yes, this tale is jam-packed with plots to make your head spin, tales to make you cry and exploits to make you draw your breath in astonishment. However, what this classic lacked for me was the ability to make me feel any empathy for Moll.

I do not know why but regardless of whether things were going right or wrong for her, I simply just did not care. The amount of crazy occurrences that filled her life, and I just could not be bothered. I literally finished reading the book, simply because I had started it. My problem with Moll is not that she delved into criminal activity, or lay on the wrong side of the bed, (quite literally) but rather she seemed to have no true conviction to be anything. Yes, she wanted to be rich and so set off at an early age to con and trick any wealthy man into becoming her husband. And, (even though it may sound wrong) I applaud her for that. The reason for my praise is because this is the only real aim Moll ever had in her life, and one she worked hard towards. However, everything else that happened to her seemed to simply be what life brought her way. She became a great thief, because that is where life took her. She became a prostitute because that is where life took her. She went to America, because that is where life took her. I would have empathized so much more with a woman who aimed at becoming a great criminal, or aimed at being the best at the oldest profession known to man, or who aimed at going away and making life better for herself. I totally understand that the book was written in a time when women had to simply deal with the life they received, but if Moll was able to have the intentions of becoming a con woman to bag a rich man, and worked towards it, could she not have made a conscious decision to become the other things also? Circumstance does have an effect on life, but Moll was ruled by circumstance.

I would hate to think that my feelings towards the protagonist may be because this version of a strong woman was penned by a man in the 1700’s, but to my thinking, a strong woman is a strong woman throughout. She makes decisions. She says, ‘yes, this is what I am going to do!’ A strong woman always has intention, no matter how low or unobtainable that intention might be, it is always there. Moll simply lacked that, and with her being the main protagonist… the book for me was lacking…..

I have waited years to read this classic and in all honesty, it let me down, but I will not be swayed from my endeavour and I will continue down my list of classics. The next being The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy. Until next time.