This book was published in 1722…yes, a long, long, long time ago. So why am I writing about it? Well, I’m currently taking an 18th century literature course…so this is pretty much all I’ve been reading lately. These books are HUGE too, so it takes quite a while to tackle one!
This book was actually the first real novel we read for the class. It’s about this woman who goes under the name Moll Flanders, and lives a very…interesting lifestyle, to say the least. For this books title page, it says it all: “…Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own Brother) Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv’d Honest, and died a Penitent”
My reaction initially to this book was pure joy….back then, the novel was really only meant to be for women, and it largely dealt with scandalous subject matter…and Defoe definitely hit this dead on. I honestly felt like it was a Tuesday night, and I was watching Dance Moms, the drama was unreal here. The best part (and obviously the most scandalous) was when we find out she has unintentionally married her step-brother. My class couldn’t get over that it actually happened, haha!
I think if you truly appreciate ALL books, then you’ll really like this one. Yes, it’s obviously dated and the language is at times different (like the word Slut, which doesn’t have the same meaning it did back then). But I really do think it’s a rewarding read, because although it’s not necessarily considered a historical text, it does give us an inside scoop on life back then, and how people lived (not as bad as Moll, of course).
The one thing though that bothers me is the big question…Is she Penitent? Did she truly repent for all the sins she has made? I don’t know about this one, because at the very beginning, she tells us that she will not be a true Penitent unless she owns up to who she was, owns up to who she is, and then gives her true identity (that is the way I interpreted it). BUT she doesn’t give us her true name. She’s still Moll to the very end…and then at points she starts to feel bad about what she’s done, but then she’ll say that it’s only because she was caught and put in Newgate. Then again, the form of the novel is true to itself…Moll reaches the lowest point she can get, then she realizes her mistakes, and she is redeemed. But I don’t know if it’s very convincing…I guess it depends on how you read and interpret it.
Does anyone have an opinion on this? Is Moll Flanders really Penitent at the end, or not?