Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe: Classic Breaking Eighteenth-Century Moulds

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Rating:

Category: Classics

Format: Audiobook

Content Warnings: Sexual assault, incest, poverty, references to prostitution, death of a loved one, death penalty, colonialism

What It’s About:

“I am giving an account of what was, not of what ought or ought not to be.”

Born in Newgate Prison, but raised by a wealthy and charitable family, Moll Flanders dreams of rising above the lowly position in which she entered the world. However, she soon learns that society is not built for the survival of a woman, especially when she lacks a husband to depend on.

If she’s to get on in the world, Moll Flanders must rely only on her own wit, toughness and experience. And, as one misfortune after another is thrown her way, that’s precisely what she intends to do…

Review:

First Page Impressions

I was immediately drawn to the character of Moll Flanders, who is rather unconventional for a book written and set in early 18th century British society!

Defoe puts a female-centric spin on the traditional picaresque novel, presenting in Moll a strong woman who does what she has to do to survive in a society that has been against her since birth.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Janet Suzman and I would highly recommend it, as the narrator created a very authentic feel, as if I was sat in a drawing room with Moll Flanders herself recounting her life story.

Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe Book Review Pinterest Graphic

Final Page Reflections

The character growth of Moll Flanders was definitely my favourite element of the book. It was deliciously subversive to watch her move away from innocence, towards experience and grit.

However, once our protagonist reached this point some parts of the novel began to feel repetitive, despite the fact that it’s not particularly long: around 400 pages. The story also started to stretch the bounds of realism, with Moll Flanders marrying (often dubious) men five times in pretty quick succession!

Mood

Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe Mood Cloud

Diversity and Representation

Fund Literacy, Care for the Environment

Moll Flanders is a refreshing challenge to misogynistic narratives of the 18th century. She is openly defiant of social control, including the unspoken laws surrounding morality and sexuality. The novel was even banned for obscenity in the USA in 1873!

Yet the narrative is framed in a way that takes the edge off this defiance – Moll’s tale is presented as autobiographical, recalled by a penitent old woman who wishes her sins to serve as a warning to young ladies. Could this framing be a satirical cover that allowed Defoe to get his novel published in the first place?

Themes

  • Marriage
  • Money and wealth
  • Crime
  • Sexuality and gender
  • Social class
  • Family
  • Honour/reputation

Beyond the Book

The character of Moll Flanders has become written into popular imagination. The most famous film version, released in 1996, stars Robin Wright and Morgan Freeman, plus there have been a number of stage adaptations too!

Discussion Questions

  1. What do you think Defoe is trying to say about morality? Is morality a luxury?
  2. Is Moll Flanders, in your opinion, a satirical novel? Is the protagonist held up as a moral warning, or is she really a role model of female power in the face of injustices?
  3. Did you find Moll Flanders a sympathetic character? Did your opinion change throughout the book?

Favourite quote:

“She is always married too soon, who gets a bad husband, and she is never married too late, who gets a good one.”

Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe Quote

Read if: You’re keen to read a classic that breaks so many 18th century moulds.

Buy Now from Better World Books:

Moll Flanders

If you enjoyed Moll Flanders, I can highly recommend Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy.


Have you read Moll Flanders? What’s your favourite classic novel featuring a strong female lead? Let me know in the comments – I would love to hear from you!

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11 thoughts on “Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe: Classic Breaking Eighteenth-Century Moulds

    1. Thank you so much Jessica! 🥰 I’d recommend it if you’re in the mood for a classic with a female lead. The writing style isn’t laborious to read and quite a lot happens so I found it fast paced for a classic! I listened to the audiobook which was good, I find it particularly suits first person narratives. You’ll have to let me know what you think if you do decide to read it! 📚❤️ X x x

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Mol herself was a fascinating character, certainly within the context of 18th century culture and literature, but I have never been the world’s greatest fan of the Piccaresque Adventure, and from what I recall, the adventures in this became tedious after a while. I’m glad you got something from it, but I can’t see myself wishing to read it again. xx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent review, Florence! 🥰 It is really fascinating to hear about the character of Moll and how she defies the conventions of social attitudes and the literature of that era! It is mostly contemporary historical fiction books that contain that sort of strong female protagonist. Interesting question too about whether it could be a satirical novel. Shame that it got a bit repetitive but I’m glad there were parts you enjoyed and it gave you lots to talk about! 🥰

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Stephen! 🥰 Moll was a great character and definitely very subversive for the time the book was written in. You’re right that a female read is rare in classic books, so I appreciated this element even if the plot didn’t quite measure up! 📚❤️ X x x

      Liked by 1 person

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