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    Moll Flanders essay – marriage and wealth, a moral issue

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    In fact she is rarely even a mistress: On part 7 The Gentleman at bath is only the second time that she is in a sexual relationship without marriage. It is surely one of the most bizarre affairs ever to be described in literature, perhaps because of the simplicity with which it is described (again just me! ). Moll only hints at the emotional motivations of her lover and herself, which results in the comical picture of a middle-aged couple in bed, avoiding immorality. I can imagine that Moll provides emotional support and consolation for her lover, that he loves her and she is fond of him.

    Their adulterous relationship certainly does not appear romantic, nor sinful. When the man decides to leave Moll after his illness, Moll involves in some melodramatic thoughts of guilt, then, as her ways, extracts as much money as she can from him, and goes on her way. Just like that! This unemotional and stubborn affair is an immense contrast to her previous marriage. With this dry romance, Defoe mocks Moll’s lover’s theatrical notions of morality. His insistence on sleeping chastely in her bed to demonstrate his great respect for her virtue, and his coldness to her after his illness, both seem equally laughable.

    Moll needs money to survive, not respect. A genuine attachment would not be dissolved by a fright, causing the man to consciously leave his companion of six years and the mother of his child without an income: if he were truly good, he would continue to support her. When Moll looks for another husband, the metaphor of Moll = money (Moll is a product: she can exchange her love and sexual favors for money) is developed in a new way. Previously, the question has been how much Moll is worth: how much money must a lover give her? How much need a husband have?

    When this grave gentleman is considered for his worthiness as a possible husband, it is not merely his personal wealth and how much he thinks Moll has that decides whether or not he will marry her, and she will marry him. Instead, Moll finds him in the role of a financial helper, someone who would take care of her money. Her money, remember, can be thought of as a symbol for herself. At the end of each affair, she takes account of the change in her finances; this financial evaluation takes the place of a psychological or emotional analysis.

    Moll becomes convinced that the grave gentleman would take care of her money (herself) very well, and this leads her naturally to think that he would make a good husband. Interestingly, this development of Moll’s association of herself with her money makes her actions appear less mercenary. She is no longer overtly trying to accumulate as much wealth as she can; instead she wants to preserve what she has. No one could say that self-preservation is an unnaturally mercenary objective. The question of divorce is also interesting in this novel.

    It doesn’t take long to figure out that divorce in Moll’s time was not like it is today. It is considered as a last solution: the grave gentleman objects that it would be “very tedious and expensive. ” (Even in the 17 century, lawyers were what they are nowadays. ) A more reasonable approach, he thinks, would be a common-law divorce he would simply have nothing more to do with his unfaithful wife, who was in any case living with another man. The problem with this approach is that he would then have to content himself with a common-law marriage.

    He worried that, in that case, no “honest woman” would have him, and he didn’t want have anything to do with “the other sort. ” His suggestion that Moll could “marry” him before the divorce went through reflects the shaky hold of legal terminology on contemporary lives. People could consider themselves to be married or divorced, when in fact the law knew nothing of the matter. This was no doubt a reaction to expensive and unfriendly courts, where officials were probably more concerned with filling their own pockets than with justice.

    It was not surprising that after all Moll has done to keep her fortune she begins a life of crime, it becomes obvious that virtue is closely linked to prosperity and security. As long as Moll has a comfortable income and prospects of continued stability: “Now I seemed landed in a safe harbor, after the stormy voyage of life past was at an end, and I began to be thankful for my deliverance. I sat many an hour by myself, and wept over the remembrance of past follies, and the dreadful extravagances of a wicked life, and sometimes I flattered myself that I sincerely repented.

    ” The natural relief that Moll feels at having escaped the danger of the adventurous life is easily confused with the relief of no longer needing to sin. Through the social implications of Moll’s experiences, Defoe encourage me, the reader, not to judge criminals and sinners too hard, without considering the differences between their positions and those of more respectable tradition. This message is strengthened by the reaction of Moll’s sober husband to the failure of his business.

    Although he is a bunch of virtue while he does well, he does not have the necessary moral energy to save himself or his family when his clerk runs off with the money. Moll, an extremely energetic person raised under misfortunes, was aware of this: “the loss… was not so great neither but that, if he had had spirit and courage to have looked his misfortunes in the face, his credit was so good that, as I told him, he would easily recover it. ” His virtue seems to be strong, but is only useful when he is already in a good financial position, and does not prevent him from abandoning his family and dying.

    Maybe a genuine good person would combine his principles, and Moll’s energy, but, I ask, would such a combination be possible? It seems that Moll’s determination to live is related to her willing to sin to that end. Then, I ask again. Does Defoe really believe in the possibility of true goodness? Moll Flanders was an exceptionally successful thief because of the precautions she took: she never revealed more about herself than absolutely necessary, protecting herself from incriminating witnesses, and she avoided jobs that she considered too clumsy and dangerous.

    The necessary lack of trust which results from leading an immoral or illegal life does not seem to burden her too much, but she evidently makes no new close friends during this period of her life. She does not appear to be particularly happy either: she lives in fear of being taken or betrayed, and her successes are tainted by remorse. This play contains many descriptions of acts of theft and deception. Moll felt guilty but became hardened to her new life, which seems natural and not particularly striking.

    Instead, the interest here lies within the descriptions themselves: Defoe is revealing tricks, against which his readers will learn to defend themselves. He makes this much clear in the prologue, where he claims these descriptions as evidence of his moral intent. It is probably clear by now that, although Moll Flanders does carry a moral message, it is not the forward one in the prologue. We, Defoe’s readers, are not learning what a terrible thing thievery is, but rather useful skills for how to avoid being victims of it, or maybe even how to engage in it themselves.

    The 18 century reader of novels was interested in many things. I learn from ‘Moll Flanders’ that keeping secrets is a strain for Moll: “a secret of moment should always have a confidant, a bosom friend, to whom we may communicate the joy of it, or the grief of it, be it which it will, or it will be a double weight upon the spirits, and perhaps become even insupportable in itself. ” Moll keeps many secrets during her life: even people closest to her, her governess and her Lancashire husband, are not told important things about her.

    The ability to keep secrets has been essential to her security. The end of the book, in which Moll is finally able to tell some essential secrets (those of her marriage to her brother and her marriage to James), is calm and favorable not only because Moll achieves wealth (she had been wealthy before) but because she can relieve her mental oppression. Every secret is then told to someone: her governess knows about her thievery, though her husband and son do not; and her husband and son know about her marriages, although her governess does not.

    Moll will never be entirely free of secrets, since even as a rich old woman she will not tell her real name, but by living legally, is a chance where she can rest relatively easy. During her take-back stage Moll said to learn to despise material wealth, but gained prosperity and safety appear to dull her religious beliefs, and while I might easily believe that she does not wish to return to her evil ways, it is true that she ends the novel comfortably repenting while living off profits based on sin, theft and robbery. Ironic, isn’t it?

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