Moll Flanders
Overview
 
The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders (commonly known simply as Moll Flanders) is a novel written by Daniel Defoe
Daniel Defoe
Daniel Defoe , born Daniel Foe, was an English trader, writer, journalist, and pamphleteer, who gained fame for his novel Robinson Crusoe. Defoe is notable for being one of the earliest proponents of the novel, as he helped to popularise the form in Britain and along with others such as Richardson,...

 in 1722, after his work as a journalist and pamphleteer
Pamphleteer
A pamphleteer is a historical term for someone who creates or distributes pamphlets. Pamphlets were used to broadcast the writer's opinions on an issue, for example, in order to get people to vote for their favorite politician or to articulate a particular political ideology.A famous pamphleteer...

. By 1722, Defoe had become a recognised novelist, with the success of Robinson Crusoe
Robinson Crusoe
Robinson Crusoe is a novel by Daniel Defoe that was first published in 1719. Epistolary, confessional, and didactic in form, the book is a fictional autobiography of the title character—a castaway who spends 28 years on a remote tropical island near Trinidad, encountering cannibals, captives, and...

in 1719. His political work was tapering off at this point, due to the fall of both Whig
British Whig Party
The Whigs were a party in the Parliament of England, Parliament of Great Britain, and Parliament of the United Kingdom, who contested power with the rival Tories from the 1680s to the 1850s. The Whigs' origin lay in constitutional monarchism and opposition to absolute rule...

 and Tory
Tory
Toryism is a traditionalist and conservative political philosophy which grew out of the Cavalier faction in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. It is a prominent ideology in the politics of the United Kingdom, but also features in parts of The Commonwealth, particularly in Canada...

 party leaders with whom he had been associated; Robert Walpole
Robert Walpole
Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford, KG, KB, PC , known before 1742 as Sir Robert Walpole, was a British statesman who is generally regarded as having been the first Prime Minister of Great Britain....

 was beginning his rise, and Defoe was never fully at home with the Walpole group.
Encyclopedia
The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders (commonly known simply as Moll Flanders) is a novel written by Daniel Defoe
Daniel Defoe
Daniel Defoe , born Daniel Foe, was an English trader, writer, journalist, and pamphleteer, who gained fame for his novel Robinson Crusoe. Defoe is notable for being one of the earliest proponents of the novel, as he helped to popularise the form in Britain and along with others such as Richardson,...

 in 1722, after his work as a journalist and pamphleteer
Pamphleteer
A pamphleteer is a historical term for someone who creates or distributes pamphlets. Pamphlets were used to broadcast the writer's opinions on an issue, for example, in order to get people to vote for their favorite politician or to articulate a particular political ideology.A famous pamphleteer...

. By 1722, Defoe had become a recognised novelist, with the success of Robinson Crusoe
Robinson Crusoe
Robinson Crusoe is a novel by Daniel Defoe that was first published in 1719. Epistolary, confessional, and didactic in form, the book is a fictional autobiography of the title character—a castaway who spends 28 years on a remote tropical island near Trinidad, encountering cannibals, captives, and...

in 1719. His political work was tapering off at this point, due to the fall of both Whig
British Whig Party
The Whigs were a party in the Parliament of England, Parliament of Great Britain, and Parliament of the United Kingdom, who contested power with the rival Tories from the 1680s to the 1850s. The Whigs' origin lay in constitutional monarchism and opposition to absolute rule...

 and Tory
Tory
Toryism is a traditionalist and conservative political philosophy which grew out of the Cavalier faction in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. It is a prominent ideology in the politics of the United Kingdom, but also features in parts of The Commonwealth, particularly in Canada...

 party leaders with whom he had been associated; Robert Walpole
Robert Walpole
Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford, KG, KB, PC , known before 1742 as Sir Robert Walpole, was a British statesman who is generally regarded as having been the first Prime Minister of Great Britain....

 was beginning his rise, and Defoe was never fully at home with the Walpole group. Defoe's Whig views are nevertheless evident in the story of Moll, and the novel's full title gives some insight into this and the outline of the plot:
The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, etc. Who was Born in Newgate, and during a Life of continu'd Variety for Threescore Years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own Brother), Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv'd Honest, and died a Penitent. Written from her own Memorandums.

Plot summary

Moll's mother is a convict in Newgate Prison
Newgate Prison
Newgate Prison was a prison in London, at the corner of Newgate Street and Old Bailey just inside the City of London. It was originally located at the site of a gate in the Roman London Wall. The gate/prison was rebuilt in the 12th century, and demolished in 1777...

 in London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 who is given a reprieve by "pleading her belly", a reference to the custom of staying the executions of pregnant criminals. Her mother is eventually transported to America, and Moll Flanders (not her birth name, she emphasizes, taking care not to reveal it) is raised until adolescence by a goodly foster mother, and then gets attached to a household as a servant where she is loved by both sons, the elder of whom convinces her to "act like they were married" in bed, yet eventually unwilling to marry her, he convinces her to marry his younger brother. She then is widowed, leaves her children in the care of in-laws, and begins honing the skill of passing herself off as a fortuned widow to attract a man who will marry her and provide her with security.

The first time she does this, her husband goes bankrupt and flees to the Continent, leaving her on her own with his blessing to do the best she can and forget him. The second time, she makes a match that leads her to Virginia
Virginia
The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

 with a kindly man who introduces her to his mother. After three children (one dies), Moll learns that her mother-in-law is actually her biological mother, which makes her husband her half-brother. She dissolves their marriage and after continuing to live with her brother for three years, travels back to England, leaving her two children behind, and goes to live in Bath to seek a new husband.

Again she returns to her con skill
Confidence trick
A confidence trick is an attempt to defraud a person or group by gaining their confidence. A confidence artist is an individual working alone or in concert with others who exploits characteristics of the human psyche such as dishonesty and honesty, vanity, compassion, credulity, irresponsibility,...

s and develops a relationship with a man in Bath whose wife is elsewhere confined due to insanity. Their relationship is at first platonic, but eventually develops into Moll becoming something of a "kept woman" in Hammersmith
Hammersmith
Hammersmith is an urban centre in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham in west London, England, in the United Kingdom, approximately five miles west of Charing Cross on the north bank of the River Thames...

, London. They have three children (one lives), but after a severe illness he repents, breaks off the arrangement, and commits to his wife.

Moll, now 42, resorts to another beau, a banker, who while still married to an adulterous wife (a "whore"), proposes to Moll after she entrusts him with her money. While waiting for the banker to divorce, Moll pretends to have a great fortune in order to attract another wealthy husband. She becomes involved with some Roman Catholics in Lancashire
Lancashire
Lancashire is a non-metropolitan county of historic origin in the North West of England. It takes its name from the city of Lancaster, and is sometimes known as the County of Lancaster. Although Lancaster is still considered to be the county town, Lancashire County Council is based in Preston...

 that try to convert her, and she marries one of them, a supposedly rich man. She soon realises he expected to receive a great dowry which she denies having, leading him to admit that he has cheated her into marriage, having himself lied about having money that he does not possess. He is in fact a ruined gentleman and discharges her from the marriage, telling her nevertheless that she should inherit any money he might ever get (finally, she mentions his name). Although now pregnant again, Moll lets the banker believe she is available, hoping he returns. She gives birth and the midwife gives a tripartite scale of the costs of bearing a child, with one value level per social class.

Moll's son is born when the banker's wife commits suicide
Suicide
Suicide is the act of intentionally causing one's own death. Suicide is often committed out of despair or attributed to some underlying mental disorder, such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, alcoholism, or drug abuse...

 following their divorce, and Moll leaves her newborn in the care of a countrywoman in exchange for the sum of £5 a year. Moll marries the banker now, but realises "what an abominable creature am I! and how is this innocent gentleman going to be abused by me!" They live in happiness for five years before he becomes bankrupt and dies of despair, the fate of their two children left unstated.

Truly desperate now, Moll begins a career of artful thievery, which, by employing her wits, beauty, charm, and femininity, as well as hard-heartedness and wickedness, brings her the financial security she has always sought. Only here does she take the name Moll Flanders and is known thereby. On the downside, she stoops to robbing a family in their burning house, then a lover to whom she becomes a mistress, and is sent to Newgate Prison (like the book's author 20 years prior).

In Newgate she is led to her repentance. At the same time, she reunites with her soulmate, her "Lancashire husband", who is also jailed for his robberies (before and after they first met, he acknowledges). Moll is found guilty of felony, but not burglary, the second charge; still, the sentence is death in any case. Yet Moll convinces a minister of her repentance, and together with her Lancashire husband is sent to the Colonies
Thirteen Colonies
The Thirteen Colonies were English and later British colonies established on the Atlantic coast of North America between 1607 and 1733. They declared their independence in the American Revolution and formed the United States of America...

 to avoid hanging, where they live happily together (she even talks the ship's captain into not being with the convicts sold upon arrival, but instead in the captain's quarters). Once in the colonies, Moll learns her mother has left her a plantation and that her own son (by her brother) is alive, as is her brother/husband.

Moll carefully introduces herself to her brother and their son, in disguise. With the help of a Quaker, the two found a farm with 50 servants in Maryland
Province of Maryland
The Province of Maryland was an English and later British colony in North America that existed from 1632 until 1776, when it joined the other twelve of the Thirteen Colonies in rebellion against Great Britain and became the U.S...

. Moll reveals herself now to her son in Virginia and he gives her her mother's inheritance, a farm for which he will now be her steward, providing £100 a year income for her. In turn, she makes him her heir and gives him a (stolen) gold watch.

At last, her life of conniving and desperation seems to be over. When her brother/husband is dead, Moll tells her (Lancashire) husband the entire story and he is "perfectly easy on that account... For, said he, it was no fault of yours, nor of his; it was a mistake impossible to be prevented". Aged 69 (in 1683), the two return to England to live "in sincere penitence for the wicked lives we have lived".

Film, TV, or theatrical adaptations

  • The 1965
    1965 in film
    The year 1965 in film involved some significant events, with The Sound of Music topping the U.S. box office.-Top grossing films : After theatrical re-issue- Awards :Academy Awards:...

     film adaptation titled The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders
    The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders
    The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders is a 1965 British historical comedy film directed by Terence Young and starring Kim Novak, Richard Johnson and Claire Ufland...

    starred Kim Novak
    Kim Novak
    Kim Novak is an American film and television actress. She began her career with her roles in Pushover and Phffft! but achieved greater prominence in the 1955 film Picnic...

     as Moll Flanders and Richard Johnson
    Richard Johnson (actor)
    Richard Johnson is an English actor, writer and producer, who starred in several British films of the 1960s and has also had a distinguished stage career. He most recently appeared in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.-Life and career:...

     as Jemmy (in roles originally considered for Sean Connery
    Sean Connery
    Sir Thomas Sean Connery , better known as Sean Connery, is a Scottish actor and producer who has won an Academy Award, two BAFTA Awards and three Golden Globes Sir Thomas Sean Connery (born 25 August 1930), better known as Sean Connery, is a Scottish actor and producer who has won an Academy...

     and Diane Cilento
    Diane Cilento
    Diane Cilento was an Australian theatre and film actress and author.-Biography:Cilento's parents, Sir Raphael Cilento and Lady Phyllis Cilento, were both distinguished medical practitioners....

    ), with Angela Lansbury
    Angela Lansbury
    Angela Brigid Lansbury CBE is an English actress and singer in theatre, television and motion pictures, whose career has spanned eight decades and earned her more performance Tony Awards than any other individual , with five wins...

     as Lady Blystone, with George Sanders
    George Sanders
    George Sanders was a British actor.George Sanders may also refer to:*George Sanders , Victoria Cross recipient in World War I...

     as the banker, and Lilli Palmer
    Lilli Palmer
    Lilli Palmer , born Lilli Marie Peiser, was a German actress. She won the Volpi Cup, the Deutscher Filmpreis three times, and was nominated twice for a Golden Globe Award.-Life and career:...

     as Dutchy. Some of the scenes were shot in Castle Lodge, Ludlow
    Castle Lodge, Ludlow
    Castle Lodge is a medieval Tudor and Elizabethan architectural transition period house in Ludlow near Ludlow Castle where scenes from the 1965 film version of Moll Flanders were shot. Castle Lodge has some of the largest collection of oak panelling in England and dates from the early 13th Century,...

    , a Tudor
    Tudor style architecture
    The Tudor architectural style is the final development of medieval architecture during the Tudor period and even beyond, for conservative college patrons...

     house in the centre of Ludlow
    Ludlow
    Ludlow is a market town in Shropshire, England close to the Welsh border and in the Welsh Marches. It lies within a bend of the River Teme, on its eastern bank, forming an area of and centred on a small hill. Atop this hill is the site of Ludlow Castle and the market place...

    , Shropshire
    Shropshire
    Shropshire is a county in the West Midlands region of England. For Eurostat purposes, the county is a NUTS 3 region and is one of four counties or unitary districts that comprise the "Shropshire and Staffordshire" NUTS 2 region. It borders Wales to the west...

    .

  • A 1975
    1975 in television
    The year 1975 in television involved some significant events.Below is a list of television-related events in 1975.For the American TV schedule, see: 1975-76 United States network television schedule.-Events:...

     two-part BBC
    BBC
    The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

     TV
    Television
    Television is a telecommunication medium for transmitting and receiving moving images that can be monochrome or colored, with accompanying sound...

     adaptation, Moll Flanders, adapted by Hugh Whitemore
    Hugh Whitemore
    Hugh Whitemore is an English playwright and screenwriter.Whitemore studied for the stage at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where he is now a Member of the Council. He began his writing career in British television with both original teleplays and adaptations of classic works by Charles...

    , directed by Donald McWhinnie, and starring Julia Foster
    Julia Foster
    Julia Foster is a British actress.Foster's credits include the films The Bargee with Harry H. Corbett, Alfie with Michael Caine, Half a Sixpence with Tommy Steele, and Percy with Hywel Bennett...

     as Moll and Kenneth Haigh
    Kenneth Haigh
    Kenneth Haigh is a British actor. He played the central role of Jimmy Porter in the very first production of John Osborne's seminal play Look Back in Anger in 1956. His performance in a 1958 Broadway theatre production of that play so moved one young woman in the audience that she mounted the...

     as Jemmy.
  • A musical adaptation was recorded in 1993 starring Josie Lawrence
    Josie Lawrence
    Josie Lawrence is a British comedienne and actress best known for her work with the Comedy Store Players improvisational troupe, the television series Whose Line Is It Anyway? and more recently her role as Manda Best in EastEnders....

     as Moll Flanders, with Musical Direction by Tony Castro.
  • A later American adaptation, Moll Flanders (1996)
    Moll Flanders (1996 film)
    Moll Flanders is a 1996 film starring Robin Wright and Morgan Freeman. The film was directed by Pen Densham. The original music score was composed by Mark Mancina...

     starred Robin Wright Penn as Moll Flanders and Morgan Freeman
    Morgan Freeman
    Morgan Freeman is an American actor, film director, aviator and narrator. He is noted for his reserved demeanor and authoritative speaking voice. Freeman has received Academy Award nominations for his performances in Street Smart, Driving Miss Daisy, The Shawshank Redemption and Invictus and won...

     as Hibble, with Stockard Channing
    Stockard Channing
    Stockard Channing is an American stage, film and television actress. She is known for her portrayal of First Lady Abbey Bartlet in the NBC television series The West Wing; for playing Betty Rizzo in the film Grease; and for her role as Ouisa Kittredge in the play Six Degrees of Separation and its...

     as Mrs. Allworthy. This adaptation took many liberties with the original plot, and most elements of the original novel are missing.
  • A second British television adaptation, broadcast by ITV
    ITV
    ITV is the major commercial public service TV network in the United Kingdom. Launched in 1955 under the auspices of the Independent Television Authority to provide competition to the BBC, it is also the oldest commercial network in the UK...

     in 1996
    1996 in television
    The year 1996 in television involved some significant events.Below is a list of television-related events in 1996.For the American TV schedule, see: 1996-97 United States network television schedule.-Events:-Debuts:-1950s:...

    , titled The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders, with Alex Kingston
    Alex Kingston
    Alexandra Elizabeth "Alex" Kingston is an English actress. She is most widely known for her roles as Dr. Elizabeth Corday on the NBC medical drama ER and as River Song in Doctor Who.-Early life and education:...

     starring as Moll and Daniel Craig
    Daniel Craig
    Daniel Wroughton Craig is an English actor. His early film roles include Elizabeth, The Power of One, A Kid in King Arthur's Court and the television episodes Sharpe's Eagle, Zorro and The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles: Daredevils of the Desert...

     as Jemmy. This film is one of the closest adaptations to the novel, though it ends when she is still a relatively young woman.
  • In Desperate Housewives
    Desperate Housewives
    Desperate Housewives is an American television comedy-drama series created by Marc Cherry and produced by ABC Studios and Cherry Productions. Executive producer Cherry serves as Showrunner. Other executive producers since the fourth season include Marc Cherry, Bob Daily, George W...

    , Katherine Mayfair
    Katherine Mayfair
    Katherine Mayfair is a fictional character created by television producer and screenwriter Marc Cherry for the ABC television series Desperate Housewives...

    is seen reading Moll Flanders whilst incarcerated in a mental institution in the sixth season of the show.

Selected quotations


"...and let any one judge what must be the anguish of my mind, when I came to reflect that this was certainly no more or less than my own mother, and I had now had two children, and was big with another by my own brother, and lay with him still every night."


"I was now the most unhappy of all women in the world. Oh! had the story never been told me, all had been well; it had been no crime to have lain with my husband, since as to his being my relation I had known nothing of it."
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