Understanding Moll

Understanding Moll

One of the great things about reading several books at one time is the way that they intersect. After finishing off the Foucault last night, I returned to the trials and tribulations of Moll Flanders. One of the curiosities of the book for me has been the frequency that she speaks of changing her name. She is referred to as Betty through most of the text; I haven’t yet encountered her calling herself Moll. I’ve reached the turning point noted by many critics used to divide the book into its two main parts (there are no chapters). She’s now been turned into a thief. Being a woman of loose morals isn’t nearly as big of a sin, it seems, as stealing.

But there is a moment of dramatic clarity just before this happens. Her seduction of her fourth husband is an interesting twist— with a bit of an inheritance from her third husband (her half-brother)— she woos a man who seems to have a great fortune, while coyly intimating (as she did with her third husband) that she had one of her own. They both deceived each other, because they were both poor. To make things even more interesting, this fourth husband was a Catholic. Upon the discovery that there was no money available, the husband releases her from her marital bond— but she is with child. Another man, her investment councilor, had managed to rid of his “whorish” wife, and wanted to marry her. The problem was, what about the child?

It is manifest to all that understand any thing of Children, that we are born into the World helpless and incapable, either to supply our own Wants, or so much as make them known; and that without help, we must perish; and this help requires not only an assisting Hand, that is, Care and Skill, without both which, half the Children that are born should die; nay, tho’ they were not to be deny’d Food; and one half more of those that remained would be Cripples or Fools, loose their Limbs, and perhaps their Sense: I Question not, that these are partly the Reasons why Affection was plac’d by Nature in the Hearts of Mothers to their Children; without which they would never be able to give themselves up as ’tis necessary they should, to the Care and waking Pains needful to the Support of their Children.

SINCE this Care is needful to the Life of Children, to neglect them is to Murther them; again to give them up to be Manag’d by those People, who have none of that needful Affection, plac’d by Nature in them, is to Neglect them in the highest Degree; nay, in some it goes farther, and is a Neglect in order to their being Lost; so that ’tis even an intentional Murther, whether the Child lives or dies. (173-4)

In this moment, Moll reveals a rationale behind her own sorry state, and the future state of her child (who she does give up). The concern over “the children” is manifest long before Foucault proposes. Defoe’s moral tale holds parenting as it as its central trope, far more overpowering than any indictment of licentiousness. You have to love Moll’s recounting of her state prior to her fifth marriage:

Then it occurr’d to me that what an abominable Creature am I! and how is this innocent Gentlemen going to be abus’d by me! How little does he think, that having Divorc’d a Whore, he is throwing himself into the Arms of another! that he is going to Marry one who has lain with two Brothers, and has had three children by her own Brother! one that was born in Newgate, whose mother was a Whore, and is now a transported Thief; one that has lain with thirteen Men, and has had a Child since he saw me! poor Gentlemen! said I. (182)

Quite an interesting list of credits for Moll, now 44 years old. More the fate of an orphan, than her own fall due to sin. Her mother-in-law (third marriage) had previously expressed sorrow over the loss of her girl-child (Moll). With the weight of her mother’s sin, the early death of her fifth husband, who leaves her broken and with no recourse but to steal, is predicted. A cautionary tale of parenting gone horribly wrong, a problem that I am sure will be addressed in the end.