International Writers Magazine:
To emphasise how politically
incorrect it was to write a novel of such topics, the author spends
a healthy part of the preface apologising for the content, stating that
he had no part in it and was merely retelling it how it happened. This
clever evasion allowed him to actually publish the book, and at the same
time permitted the people of the eighteenth century to read something
dark without feeling guilty or impure.
Flanders, by Daniel Defoe (1722)
(Norton Critical Editions, £9.99)
tells us everything that could not be spoken about in the eighteenth
century. Pretending to be factual truth, this novel explores the
taboos of the time.
The novel is well written in a comically subtle style that says everything
without ever actually saying it. Moll Flanders, the stage name of the
anonymous heroine, is the daughter of a convict in Newgate prison. When
she reaches adulthood in society, she understands how women are treated
as objects and uses this to her advantage. Described as anything from
a mid-wife, to a thief, to a whore, Moll throughout the novel uses her
wit and deceit to survive by gaining wealth. For her, the price of wealth
is her body and her lies.
Because of the period it was set in, there was no form of contraception
whatsoever short of chastity. As a whore, Moll has many children
along the way, all of which she abandons to keep moving to the next wealthy
Money and commerce is one of the major themes of the novel, especially
because of the wealth obsessed protagonist who puts a monetary value on
everything, not only on physical items and property, but on people too.
This is said to reflect the authors need for money at the time as
well, which is why he went to such great lengths to write something he
knew everyone would want to read, while also putting it "into a Dress
fit to be seen, and to make it speak a Language fit to be read".
To counteract the sheer lack of morals that Moll apparently has, the novel
grips a strong theme of redemption towards the end of the book, as if
it were a message to all sinners that no one is beyond correcting their
mistakes. It is arguable whether this book can seriously be used as a
moral guideline, or whether it just needed to justify itself to be read.
Despite the deviancy of the novel, it also returns to much more classic
themes, such as the true love Moll supposedly feels once and
is allowed to continue again towards the end of the book. It also uses
marriage as a symbol of sacredness, showing its audience how terrible
it is to marry for anything other than love and religion. It constantly
employs this technique of using Moll to show people what not to do, which
only serves to pique their interest and compel them to read on.
Moll Flanders provides an insight into a more realistic side of eighteenth
century society, whilst also excusing the reader if they ever decided
to try this lifestyle for themselves.
© Daniel Alves, November 2007
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