Monday, April 20, 2009

Moll Flanders, by Daniel Defoe

I just finished up a wonderful book written in 1683 by the prolific and controversial English writer Daniel Defoe, who is best known for Robinson Crusoe. Moll Flanders is written as the autobiography of a beautiful fallen woman who is readily consumed by temptation, lust and greed in patriarchal late 17th century England. Born unto a charlatan thief in prison, Moll is placed in the care of many misguided hands that are all too willing to exploit her lack of moral vicissitude as a young woman.

After being taken advantage of several times, Moll turns the tables on London and decides that she must establish her own fortune and has fewer and fewer scruples about how she will achieve independence within the confines of a society pitted against her. She becomes a whore, a trickster and a thief and divulges her adventures and misfortunes in such an intimate, gossipy manner that you are very sorry that she eventually comes to repent her past indiscretions.

Fortunately, Defoe knows this and the majority of the book is Moll's account of the delightfully wicked parts of her life. I think my favorite part of the book is that it paints such a rich visual history of what London and the early New England colonies were like during Defoe's time. His flowery, verbose style of writing leaves room for ample descriptions of contemporary fashion, vain coquetry and lavish lifestyles of the elite. Moll also gives interesting accounts of the seedy underbelly of London and its dismal inhabitants.

If you can read Shakespeare, this style of novel will be natural enough for you to read at a leisurely pace. If you cannot, it is written in old English which takes some getting used to. I suggest finding a version with extensive footnotes and a map of London; my version has both of these and an introduction by Virgina Woolf which was also quite good.

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