Dan Sandman

17: Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe

In Books, Crime, Fiction on 24/04/2015 at 12:00 pm

Moll Flanders by Daniel DefoeAs the novels of Jane Austen have shown, their was greater inequality between the sexes in the eighteenth century. Laws were put in place to restrict what woman could and couldn’t do, and so it was only possible for a woman to gain social status through marriage to a man. A twenty-first century liberal might see this as sexist, but the view that woman were inferior to men was backed up by church and state. It was men who could become priests or politicians, and it was men who ran the world to their own advantage. It was therefore no wonder that a woman might become an adulteress and a cut-purse, society was designed to stifle female emancipation through more honest means.

So in many ways Moll Flanders (1922) is an eighteenth century feminist novel, about a woman who makes her own way in a chauvinistic world. But Daniel Defoe (1660 – 1731) would have seen it as a puritan attack on the sins of man. In fact, Defoe’s religious stance is so pressed forward in the preface, that the novel comes across as unintentionally ironical. But is Defoe really passing judgement on man’s sins, or is he reveling in sin by telling this bawdy and unholy story? Whichever way, contemporary novels are far less judgmental of their characters, just as contemporary society is far less guided by religious morals. These days, novels tend to focus on the inner worlds of characters, with novelists often opting for confessional first-person narratives.

What I find quite refreshing about Moll Flanders, and why I would recommend it to anyone looking to hear a good yarn, is that it is focused almost entirely on what happens next. Although today’s readers might be critical because the book lacks naturalism, Defoe’s insistence on plot makes for a compelling reading experience and a real page-turner. Don’t be put off by the size of the book, this really is an easy to read classic.

Thank you for reading and see you next week.


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