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I've had a run of excellent reading over the last week or so, and thoroughly enjoyed Moll Flanders, or to be more precise The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, etc. Who was Born in Newgate, and during a Life of continu'd Variety for Threescore Years, besides her Childhood, was 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. Her life is indeed one of "continu'd Variety", as she lurches from exploitative marriage to disastrous marriage to unwitting incest and back again, before breaking successfully into the business of petty theft, in the end being arrested almost by accident for a crime she had not yet committed. Defoe has her turn moralistic only at the very end, when she and the fourth husband (I think - I lost count) return to England "where we resolve to spend the remainder of our years in sincere penitence for the wicked lives we have lived", and I sort of forgive that because one can read it as partly tongue-in-cheek, and also though a weak-ish ending it is stronger than the ending of Robinson Crusoe so obviously he was learning. I must also admit that she is rather unrealistically sanguine about the fate of her children, of whom we hear very little.

It's a fascinating pen-picture of England in the early seventeenth century, where urban social networks were small and intimate enough that you could steal from a shop at one end of town and sell your loot to their competitor at the other; where constables were aware enough of the rights of citizens under the law to be easily intimidated by a sharp-witted suspect; where people would invest wealth not only in hard cash ("which every one knows is an unprofitable cargo to be carried to the plantations") but also in jewels, silver plate, cloth and easily portable luxury goods. One thing that hasn't changed, which she reflects on bitterly in the gap between husbands two and three (I think - again, I had already lost count) is the differential social power between women and men, even allowing for economic factors; Defoe verges on feminism in a couple of passages.

Anyway, very strongly recommended, if you like "continu'd Variety"; and who doesn't?

Comments

s g
Nov. 13th, 2011 10:33 pm (UTC)
Yes, I enjoy Defoe. You didn't mean early 17thC, did you? A Journal of the Plague Year is an excellent read, same pen-picture style. I haven't had a go at Moll for years, so I'll look her up again. Hehe.

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