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Defoes Moll Flanders And The Fortunate Mistress English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2596 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries have witnessed the development of novelists and novels written in a modern sense and the consideration of these extended fictions as a literary genre (Wikipedia). To name one of the pioneer novelists believed to be among the proponents of novel writing and this form of the genre is Daniel Defoe (1661 -1731) who helped popularize novel in early eighteenth century England by publication of his famous novel Robinson Crusoe (1719). Appearance of this novel had a great influence on later nineteenth century novelists who believed the rise of the novel is in debt to such writers as Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson and Henry Fielding (Wikipedia).

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The aim of the following essay is mainly a brief comparison of two novels of Daniel Defoe named respectively Moll Flanders or its complete title The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders (1724) and his other novel Lady Roxana or its full title The Fortunate Mistress (1724). Defoe’s Roxana and Moll Flanders are representations of the eighteenth century women who struggle for holding a place in society for themselves. In the middle of British Imperialism and capitalism, women remained to have a static role while the world of men was expanding experiencing opportunities to become successful in business, education and politics. One should have this background in mind which is necessary in the structure of both Roxana and Moll (the two protagonists of the novels), as the characters struggle from their childhood to provide wealth and social acceptance for themselves. The first section of the following essay deals with a brief summary of both novels with consideration of the protagonists’ lifestyles and the development of their personality and lives. The second section deals with the idea of Money and Women in both novels. The Third section continues the comparison in regard to the gender factor and in the fourth section the matter of Crime is taken into consideration.


Moll Flanders is a biography like story about the life of a woman which is a new subject matter in the time when it was not common to write about marginal figures. Moll, who is not the protagonist real identity as she claims at the beginning of the novel, is subject to a variety of misfortunes throughout her life, as she is born to a mother in prison who is sent to America for punishment of her crimes leaving Moll alone in London. Moll is first taken care of by a band of gypsies and then is looked after by charity groups until she is under care of a nurse at age of eight. She grows into a very beautiful young woman who attracts attention of men including the two young sons of the family who take care of her at age of fourteen. She is seduced by the older brother then left alone marries the younger one who dies some years after. She then is married to a line of men all either left her, seduced her or turn out to be interested in the money which she claims to have fakery. Among them, her second husband who takes her to America turns out to be her half brother that results a disgusting feeling in both of them and separates them making Moll come back to London again. She manages to be a thief, prostitute, wife, prisoner and finally a middle class lady at the end of her life when she is living with Jeremy, her last husband, a regretful life where she claims at the last paragraph of the novel:

We are grown old; I am come back to England, being almost seventy years of age, husband sixty-eight, having performed much more than the limited terms of my transportation; and now, notwithstanding all the fatigues and all the miseries we have both gone through, we are both of us in good heart and health. My husband remained there some time after me to settle our affairs, and at first I had intended to go back to him, but at his desire I altered that resolution, and he is come over to England also, where we resolve to spend the remainder of our years in sincere penitence for the wicked lives we have lived. (Moll Flanders, 314)

The second novel is named The Fortunate Mistress or is also called Lady Roxana which is named after the protagonist of the novel. The novel like Moll Flanders is and autobiographical story of a beautiful and lovely woman who also experiences ups and downs of life in the patriotic England who chooses another pen name like Moll to refer to herself. At the beginning Roxana marries her first husband who abandons her with her five children with no money. Then after the misfortunate marriage she begins to live as a mistress by turning to become a prostitute trying to free herself from boundaries finding her own self. She is accompanied by a faithful maid named Amy and finally after dealing with many men and women she marries her last husband, a Dutch merchant that is her old lover and friend who finds about her past immoral and deceitful life and dies a few years after. Like Moll in Moll Flanders, Roxana also tries through all her deceits and vices to be reputed, rich and like a gentle lady who although tries to escape her past ends up a regretful life at the end of the novel. In Defoe’s 1724 edition the protagonist does not die but as the story had been published anonymously and also throughout the time there have been many editions and many endings, the final ending of almost all these editions is Roxana dying a sorrowful life regretting about past occurrences of her life and the sinful incidents that resulted the sad ending of the novel by her husband finding out about her sins. Roxana is also believed to be the story of a fall and a fallen heroine like Milton’s Paradise Lost (Anonymous Writer).


The two novels apart from the fact that both are autobiographies and both are about two female protagonists seem to share more similarities and to mention one of these factors is money and women relationship. As Scheuermann, an English Literature professor in University of Hamburg, suggests in her essay “Women and Money in Eighteenth Century Fiction” that money is as important a concern to the woman in an eighteenth century novel as is also courtship and marriage, decorum and social graces, virginity and reputation which have long been recognized as among the most central concerns of the eighteenth century novels that focus on women. Many of the female characters in eighteenth century novels are portrayed as intensely aware of finances and interested in the gaining and keeping money. In the majority of cases money is equated with security and independence. In general having money of her own is seen as virtually the only way that a woman can be both safe and independent. A woman can also be safe within marriage as it is seen in both novels but also this safety depends on the goodwill and competence of the husband.

The emphasis on money in Moll Flanders and especially Roxana is of very much interest. As when Moll’s first husband dies, she notes that her circumstances were not great; nor was she much mended by the Match and she further continues:

Indeded I had preserv’d the elder Brother’s Bonds to me, to pay me 500 pounds which he offere’d me for my Consent to Marry his Brother; and this, with what I has saved of the Money he formerly gave me, and about as much more by my Husband, left me a Widow with about 1200 pounds in my pocket (Moll Flanders, 47)

And sometime after Moll marries again and her husband loses not only his own money but all of hers as well “my new husband coming to a lump of Money at once, fell into such profusion of Expense, that all I had, and all he had before… Would not have held it out above one Year” (Moll Flanders, 48-49). Then she marries another man largely because she thinks he has money; after the wedding, both partners find with disappointment that they have been deceived in their financial expectations and without any means to support themselves, they part company. When she observes that marriage fails her repeatedly she starts her criminal life as a thief (Scheuermann, 9). The criminal period of Moll’s life starts with her first theft and her eventual capture and imprisonment in Newgate. Then by realizing that most thieves are themselves taken advantage of when they try to sell their goods, she looks around for a fair and reliable broker she changes her name to Moll Flanders and keeps her identity as secret. Throughout the novel Moll is well aware of the link between money and survival.

Roxana, like Moll, decides that security is best assured by wealth and keeping control of that wealth in her own hands. She tries the socially approved way for females to support themselves; at a very young age she marries a relatively rich man. He gives her five children, and he loses all their money. Roxana sees their financial ruin coming on but is powerless to stop it; her protests fail to prevent her husband from ruining their business and he neglects it. He ignores Roxana’s suggestions as to how he should invest the remaining money and Roxana can only watch as how their money vanishes. When everything is gone, he runs away and Roxana never again allows anyone else to control her finances. As it is known the first section of the novel circles around Roxana’s going into financial ruin, and money and financial management continue to be the mail concern for her throughout the novel. Defoe in both novels shows that the alternative to such behavior is starvation and once the woman has managed to gain a financial risk, she herself very carefully and intelligently manages it so that her initial capital grows as for example it is seen Moll sets up a prosperous future for herself in Virginia and Roxana also gains a fortune. Both Moll and Roxana derive a sense of security from wealth and the more wealth of course the better. Roxana refers to her fear that she could again be at the point of starvation if she should somehow lose her money (Scheuermann, 12). The obvious difference between the characters in this regard is that Roxana is more aware of money management than Moll.

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Another factor which is seen similar in the two novels is how Defoe creates two female protagonists in the light of late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries England life and how gender codes affects each of their lives (Pollak, 139). As it is seen in the two novels both Roxana and Moll are exiles and survivors in the English society of the time. Although the class origin of them differs as Moll is born by a criminal mother in prison and Roxana from a French immigrant family who had fled away because of religious matters, but the heroines both endure and suffer the same kind of misfortunes throughout their lives in regard to women oppression and suppression and how the two of them fight against survival through using trickery, hiding identities, falling into corruption to gain wealth, respect and to live prosperous lives. Both characters choose fake and adapted identities as Moll chooses the nickname given to her by her fellow thieves and Roxana chooses the name given to her through her performance of dance that brought her a bad reputation (Pollak, 140-156).

At page 187 of Roxana, she declares that marriage is nothing but giving up Liberty, Estate, Authority, and every-thing, to the Man. And later on she concludes that any woman who gives up her rights to become any Great Man’s Slave is a fool. And as believes, women were expected to reach satisfaction and wealth in their lives through marriage and those doing vice versa were treated as outlaws:

Moll is expected to become wealthy by marrying well, not by exploiting her independent productive capacity – hence the female laughter prompted by her innocent desire to acquire gentility through honest needlework. Indeed, as we shall see, when she comes to understand her value as a sexual object and tries to exploit it as an independent agent for her own benefit by circulating outside the constraints of marriage and familial obligation, she crosses over into outlaw territory. (Pollak, 149)

And later on she believes that heroines in Defoe’s novels are coded by the society they live in as well as Moll and Roxana and gender decides to what extent is a person is given freedom and in another words gender imposes limits on the characters by men society. As also in the incest section of Moll Flanders and the familial drama of Roxana shows the same thing that whether they work within the law or out of it women in the society are controlled and coded by male society and by a kinship economy which is also controlled by men (Pollak, 140-156).


In addition to the similar factors in these two novels mentioned in the above sections, crime is also an important subject which many critics believe Defoe has entangled himself with in his biographical novels. Not only they explicitly show the crimes of protagonists, they also show comparisons to other criminal biographies like when Moll indicates “might as well have been the German Princess” (Roxana, 271), and also Mol says she has been as “impudent a Thief, and as dexterous as ever Moll Cut-Purse was, tho’…not half so Handsome” (Moll Flanders, 201). Lincoln B. Faller, Professor of English in University of Michigan believes in his book Crime and Defoe that women are either controlled or they can be very dangerous. As Moll has a romance life of seduction, betrayal and intrigue and by turns whore and housewife, shrewd bargainer and wide-eyed fool and Roxana’s stories read like a “secret history” of the kind, written by Delariviere Manley (Roxana herself uses the phrase twice in pages 317 and 326) until it appears she is partly responsible for the murder of her daughter. (Crime and Defoe, 49) and he further believes that Defoe’s criminal biographies begin by locating their subjects in society – place of birth, occupation or status of father, education and early experience and end by describing the circumstances of their execution, which firmly establishes their final relation to society (, 50) as the reader of Moll Flanders and Roxana can observe for example toward the end of Moll’s criminal life she is arrested wrongly and being treated very bad as a thief who robbed something from a shop and although she assumes her innocence she is still dealt with in a very bad manner until the people get the real thief.

In conclusion, although Defoe by writing two novels in a same year with protagonists with characteristics discussed above and with regretful lives as it is seen at the end of both novels wants to show how a female life can end when they step aside from the laws and how regretful their lives can be specially at the end of Roxana, he also would like to give sites of women lives’ in eighteenth century England, the morals of the time, how they were treated by the male society and all the oppressions involved and also how some women like the two protagonists of the novels fought for freedom in return. Roxana and Moll though not real characters even with fake names as they themselves declare in the novels, are women on their own selves and are products of deep contradictions inherent in the ideology of economic individualism that accompanied and helped to sustain the emerging market economy of early eighteenth century England.


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