Moll Flanders: Fact or Fiction?
Although Daniel Defoe endeavors to portray Moll Flanders as an autobiography and convince readers that the sordid affairs of Moll actually occurred, readers can find through the reading of his work that Moll Flanders is undoubtedly a completely fictional character. It can be evidenced in the preface and mainly in the dichotomous nature of Moll that she could not possibly be a real person and is just a fictional character. Defoe betrays the credibility of Moll as a real person mainly through the extremeness of her seemingly ever-changing personality. Instead of just having slight to medial shifts of ideas or character, Moll swiftly goes from one end of the spectrum to the other.
In the preface is the first evidence of Moll Flanders’ fictitious nature. “The World is so taken up of late with Novels and Romances, that it will be hard for a private History to be taken for Genuine,” (Defoe v) this introduction to Defoe’s work is simply a literary ploy to make his work stand out and thus becomes more desirable to the readers of the times. Especially when people believe that the biography of the person in question might be someone they know or might have known, it makes the book that much more of a must-read. Just like in modern society, 18th century society could hardly satiate their voracious appetites for scandal and gossip, which Moll Flanders would supply if it was thought to have happened to someone that was currently living in their midst.
The largest piece of evidence pointing towards the fictionality of the work is Moll’s ever-changing dichotomous character and personality. One moment, Moll is self-sufficient and able to provide for herself, the next she is at the whim of someone else for her very survival. In certain passages Moll comes across as a very manipulative and self-serving individual, then at other times she is unable to recognize the same traits and ploys that she uses and she herself becomes the manipulated. Lastly, Moll goes from being naïve to extremely jaded and worldly and back again.
An example of her self-sufficiency can be seen in the first part of her life. When she was eight years old she was supposed to be put to “Service” and work to maintain herself, but because she was so scared that she would not be able to do the work that was required of her and would be beaten because of her inability to do said work she wins over her “Nurse” (the woman that was given charge of Moll and several other young orphans) and is allowed to stay with her. By the time Moll turned ten, “I was indeed call’d upon by the Magistrates as I understood it, to go out to Service; but then I was come to be so good a Workwoman myself […] that it was plain that I could maintain myself, that is to say, I could Earn as much for my Nurse as she was able by it to keep me; so she told them, that if they would give her leave, she would keep the Gentlewoman as she call’d me, to be her Assistant, and teach the Children, which I was very well able to do; for I was nimble at my Work, and had a good Hand with my Needle though I was yet very young.” (Defoe 7). Even when Moll became a thief—although she was breaking the law—she was maintaining her self-sufficiency and was not dependent on someone else for her well-being.
Contrarily, after the falling apart of her second marriage, and Moll helps her friend to marry the captain of a ship Moll remarks to herself, “I come now to my own Case, in which there was at this time no little Nicety. The Circumstances I was in, made the offer a good Husband, the most necessary Thing in the World to me; but I found soon that to be made Cheap, and Easy, was not the way…” (52). This put Moll in a position that is not in the least desirable—entirely dependent on the chance that someone may or may not decide to marry her—and she is in this position in more than one way. First of all, Moll’s well-being and financial security depend on her ability to...
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