First published in 1722 with a narrative dated 1682, this novel is surprisingly readable. Sometimes I had to read a sentence more than once to grasp the meaning, but generally I understood it. Here’s the full title: The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous MOLL FLANDERS Who was born in Newgate, and during a life of continu’d Variety for Threescore Years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Years a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her brother) Twelve Years a Thief, Eight Years a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv’d Honest and died a Penitent – Written from her own Memorandums.
In those days, they clearly didn’t worry about spoilers.
This was my second time reading the novel and I still liked it. It’s presented as a real memoir of a woman who goes by the assumed name of Moll Flanders. She narrates her life from childhood until her sixties. We can see the story as a warning, that crime doesn’t pay, because criminals are always caught in the end. However, I prefer to see it as a ‘social novel’ which highlights how poverty and patriarchy force women into crime. Moll is born in the notorious Newgate Prison and later in life she returns there as a felon. She can’t escape her origins.
Moll is an extraordinary narrator because she’s very clever (exemplified by all her disguises and ways of extracting money out of honest people), resourceful and incredibly lucky. You can’t help but root for her, even though she’s so deceitful. I lost track of all her husbands and lovers. Moll herself seems to forget about her children; she has several with different fathers, but they are mentioned once and never again, except for two sons in particular. It’s not quite as sensational as the title suggests, but I find the language to be bold and the meanings clearer, compared to novels from later in the century and beyond.
My edition was published by Wordsworth Editions in 2001 with introduction and notes by R T Jones.