Moll Flanders was originally written as though it were a memoir, although it is actually fiction. I think this was a habit of Defoe's, and a trend at the time.
Moll is born into poverty, being the child of a convicted criminal, she was born in Newgate Prison and raised in a sort of poorhouse. But at a young age determined that she wanted to become a gentlewoman, her idea of such being that a gentlewoman is simply a woman that can look after herself. And Moll pretty much holds herselfs to this ideal throughout her life.
Many people find the young Moll amusing for her strange ideas, and she attracts a lot of attention, and fortunately for her ends up being taken into the home of a rich family. Thus getting her first taste at a fine life. Then when Moll grows up a little bit she attracts the attention of both of the sons of the household. The elder son seduces her and showers her with money, but never makes good on his promise to marry her. Instead Moll ends up marrying the younger brother, basically for lack of any other option rather than love. When he dies 5 years later, Moll doesn't take it too badly, but sorts out her money and possessions and sets off to find another man to keep her in the lifestyle she's now accustomed to. And her life basically continues on as a sort of series of fortunes and misfortunes, with Moll carrying on regardless, using only her goodlooks and quick thinking to support herself.
I can't say I truly enjoyed this novel, it was a little difficult to get into. Not so much the old language or spelling, but the manner of the telling. The book has a distinct lack of characterisation, and of conversation. Most people aren't even given names, not even her lovers and husbands. One is simply her 'lancashire husband'. Thats how she tells them apart. Not much of a description, and not much of a romance for some characters. But what Moll really does like to talk about is wealth and posessions. Every other page it seemed there was a tally of how much money she had in her pocket, or how much plate or linen she had, and what was it's value.
What was really striking about this novel, was the fact that it was written in 1722, by a man, about a woman who was at various times a prostitute and a thief. And yet it's not written in a negative light, it's not a censure upon women. As Moll says:
“I am giving an account of what was, not of what ought or ought not to be.”
In fact Moll is shown to be a fairly strong, independent, pragmatic and adaptable woman, with a certain amount of innate wit and cleverness. And her story shows an honest view of the very limited choices available to women in that age. On this.. I admit myself very impressed by Defoe.
Like I say, I didn't exactly enjoy this novel.. but I thought it was worth reading. Which may sound a bit wierd, but there is a difference between the two things. I didn't think it was particularly fun etc. But it was certainly worth the time and trouble to experience.