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on August 23, 2001
Daniel Defoe's 1722 novel, "Moll Flanders," remains a fascinating imaginative work, and is in many ways more interesting than his famous first effort, "Robinson Crusoe." Having seen bits of two recent film adaptations in the last couple of months on television, and being a budding 18th century scholar, I decided it was time I picked up my own copy of "Moll Flanders" and see the actual product on its own terms. A story no less about a castaway and delinquent than "Crusoe," in "Moll Flanders," Defoe attempts to set down the history of a woman with a wild and often desperate life. A character of infinitely more interiority and reflection than Crusoe, Moll gives us through a first person narrative, a look into various stations of life in 18th century England and America.
The novel begins with a tip of the hat to that fine progenitor of the novel, "Don Quixote," a Gines-like acknowledgment that Moll, as the author of her own story, cannot complete that story within the text of the novel, unless people can write when they are deceased. Amusements aside, Moll begins her story as Crusoe begins his, with an immediate acknowledgment of the instability of the modern self - the corruption of her own name. Born in Newgate prison, and having never known her mother, Moll finds herself among gypsies and landed gentry before settling in Colchester for the term of her youth. Here, she founds her sense of social ambition, unusual even for Jane Eyre in the 19th century, as one in which she figures to be a gentlewoman by earning her own living. Various mishaps and misadventures lead her through marriages, whoredom, and thievery as Moll attempts to find her place in the world as a woman of common birth. Early on she learns the lessons that will aid her on her journey, viz., the value of money, quick wit, and a sense of her own sexuality.
While Defoe certainly does not sugar-coat the wrongs of woman in the early 18th century - delving deeply into issues of feminine helplessness before the law, the difficulties of procuring stable employment, and various reproductive issues such as adoption, abortion, and infant mortality - yet he maintains a consistent character of Moll as an extremely strong, adaptive, and resilient female character. The most riveting facet of Moll throughout is her own sense of self-worth and importance, especially in her own history. For instance, while chronicling an encounter with a former lover, Moll tells us that while his adventures are worth their own narrative, this is "my story, not his." Moll's strength in the midst of doubt, desperation, and general loneliness keeps the reader's constant interest and admiration.
Defoe's exploration of inter-gender relationships are worthy of note themselves for the sheer variety of social, economic, and personal situations he includes in the novel. The economic theme stands out among these, and provides a link back to the preoccupations of "Robinson Crusoe." Like Crusoe, Moll is always aware of the value of her personal possessions, and conscious of how to exploit and husband her resources to best advantage. Also like Crusoe, "Moll Flanders" is keenly aware of the possibilities and drawbacks of English colonial ventures in America. Defoe's efforts to link all these themes to the lot of the English prison population, the family unit, and indentured servants and African slaves, are all managed extremely well within the text of the novel. For all this, "Moll Flanders" remains an entertaining, satisfying, relevant novel, and stands for me above "Crusoe" as a work of high literary value.
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on November 14, 2000
'Tho the plot, being interesting in the extream, must be confess'd to be well-done, and alike the characters, being well-develop'd, plausible, and even sympathetic ('tho they be theives, felons, bigamists, and worse), must be similarly confess'd, still the writing style, being as it is extreamly archaic as well in spelling, grammar, and syntax, as in punctuation, the modern reader must be foarwarn'd: if he had difficulty with the parsing of this, the principle paragraph of this review, or finds the prospect of reading a story consisting of eight and forty more than two hundreds of pages in a like style daunting, he should give the project up as impracticable.
If, on the other hand, you had no trouble with that paragraph, I daresay that you'll enjoy this book, even if, as the father of the English novel, Defoe had yet to engender the chapter break.
Also it should be pointed out this may well be the first novel in which a male author attempts to write a story in which the lead character is female, and Defoe does a surprisingly good job of it.
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VINE VOICEon July 25, 2004
I think MOLL FLANDERS is my favorite novel of all time. The novel form was in its infancy at the time MOLL FLANDERS was written. In fact, Defoe is often called "the father of the English novel." Actually, as a novel it's very primitive. Defoe's fiction is usually a first person narrative told by an ambitious person, recounting how he got where he is today. In Moll Flanders, Defoe presents the autobiography of a woman who rises from an ignominious birth in Newgate Prison, and a childhood as a servant. Early on, Moll learns that she is beautiful and that she is attractive to the opposite sex. What's great about the book is its delicious irony. Oh there are times when she gets caught in her own traps, she's a sly one, that Moll. It's very difficult at times to think of Moll as a fictional character. But she is, in fact, the first great female character in English prose. I never cease to be amazed that the book was written by a man. There are moments in the book that I find very moving, like when she realizes that she's no longer pretty enough to attract men without resorting to makeup. "I never had to paint my face before." And of course there's that unsettling surprise she receives toward the end of the novel. This is a great and important book and hardly anyone has read it. I don't know why. I have recommended this book to probably a hundred people. To the best of my knowledge, not a single one of them has taken my advice. It's their loss. I LOVE Moll Flanders.
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on January 3, 2000
An eighteenth century novel recounting the life and survival of a strong willed Moll Flanders, a woman who, abandoned as an infant, finds her way to self sufficiency, in a world then dominated by men. Through ingenius schemes she still some how always regains the illusion of imaginary high standing and good reputation throughout it all.
I found Moll Flanders to be resourceful and ingenious in her methods for securing her own survival. The book puts prostitution and premarital sex in a whole new perspective. As one can deduce from this book, life was not so simple for women in the 18th century, especially if they were abandon as children, or even if they husband died and left them without means to exist. Moll takes her position as a dependent woman and finds power in her mind to devise schemes which will allow her a secure lifestyle without compromising her self.
I found Moll to be a woman of character and repute, with self esteem, who made her own way in a world where women had no power, money or choices aside from their dependence upon men.
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on January 28, 2008
It was the evening of 26 November 1703 when a still powerful hurricane that crossed all the atlantic was about to hit Britain. Life was as usual althought climate had been very peculiar days before, with strong winds from the south. It was the time when the cathedral of St Paul was being reconstructed and it was the time of the very well known fiction writer, Daniel Defoe. In this, one of his first works, he provide a serie of accounts of the event from several sources, several stories of how this dreadful storm hit people's towns, houses and ships. 'Tis interesting to note that chimneys were the major killers in houses and that lots of trees were also lost, especially elms. People didn't blame climate change, too much C02 in the air or anything else, but God's fury.

What attracted me to this book was the very unique case, when an "extratropical hurricane" (not tropical), likely originated in the atlantic east of florida, diverted its path and managed to cross the whole Atlantic to reach Britain with such strong force, knowing that those waters in the north atlantic are very cold. A strange phenomena indeed, and an event printed in history by a great writer of the time, Daniel Defoe. Part of his life is depicted in the introduction chapter of the book and to tell you the truth, I'd really like to read his biography.
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VINE VOICEon August 14, 2010
From the description in Works of Daniel Defoe. (30+ Works). Includes Robinson Crusoe, Dickory Cronke, Moll Flanders, Roxana, A Journal of the Plague Year, The Life Adventures ... the Famous Captain Singleton and more (mobi), The Storm is not included, and any free versions you'll find elsewhere won't include everything in this Penguin version. The book consists of three parts, one of which has never been available in book form before Penguin did it. In addition, there's a great introductory section which explains Defoe's writing style, his purpose in writing these particular works, interesting biographical information, and some general information about British society at the time. Having this context makes Defoe's actual work easier to understand, if you aren't used to an 18th century writing style. There's also a suggested book list for further reading which looks helpful. I haven't been able to plow through all of Defoe's version (it can be rather repetitive), but I wouldn't mind finding out more about the storm itself from a modern perspective.

I subtracted one star for a formatting problem: In the introductory section, there was a paragraph that kept repeating between new paragraphs about 4 or 5 times. Not a biggie in itself, but it makes you wonder if there are other less obvious problems in the main part of the book. Having never read this before, I don't know if anything else is missing, out of order, or just mixed up. I'm willing to pay $9.99 when it's warranted, but I'd like to be sure I'm getting something that's proofread as well as the print version.
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on March 17, 2008
To fully understand and appreciate Moll Flanders you should have some understanding of the status of fiction at the time Daniel DeFoe was writing and some knowledge about the man himself. As Nancy Springer has indicated, the novel is an example of a "picaresque adventure," a style of writing that was popular at the time. These stories glorified a new kind of hero--the ordinary person, who engaged in a series of often wild and improbable events in exotic places. The picaresque rouge was a rebel against the remains of the feudal system with its hierarchy of human worth. Such novels featured a clever, strong-minded, low-born character who knew how to survive. What DeFoe did differently is to make his character a women and have her adventures take place largely in England.

The novel is also largely autobiographical. DeFoe himself experienced many financial ups and downs, yet he persevered. In fact it wasn't until he was 60 years old that he began writing novels and achieved some measure of fame and financial success. He spent time in Newgate prison and deeply in debt. He was also an outspoken political reformer who wrote more than 250 political pamphlets.

Having said the above, the novel still has its faults. One is that it is written in a continuous manner with no chapter breaks. While DeFoe may have been trying to say that time is continuous and that distinctions (such as hours, days, weeks, etc.) are mere fabrications, still readers like to have books broken down into chapters. A more serious flaw is the lack of names. Apart from her first husband there are virtually no names given to the characters. Even Moll herself is not identified by the title name until well into the book and even this name is not her actual name (which we never learn). Instead characters are identified in some impersonal way (my Lancashire husband, my governess, etc.) The lack of names makes it hard for the reader to engender any sympathy for Moll and the other personages in the book. Also the action is so fast paced that it flashes by like looking through a kaleidoscope, the scenes and action constantly shifting and changing. For example, within the first 100 pages Moll is married five times, has several children, goes to Virginia, finds her mother, etc. There is no time for the reader to reflect on the tragedies that befall her, especially given that they are told in a matter-of-fact manner.

The book can be divided into two parts. The first half deals with Moll's amorous life--her marriages and love affairs. The second part focuses primarily on her criminal activities. Both sections tell the story entirely from Moll's perspective. In many respects Moll is a match for Thackery's Becky Sharp. Both are low-born, both get positions in well-to-do families, both marry one of the sons in the family, both are attractive and quick witted, both scheme to get money and both have various adventures and misadventures. But Vanity Fair is written as a social commentary and Thackery uses the omnipotent story teller to advantage, even having him speak directly to the reader. DeFoe, by comparison, limits himself to having his protagonist say, in effect, now I did this, then I did that, then this happened, etc.

To give DeFoe his due, the book does provide a realistic and detailed account of life in England at that time. His description of Newgate prison is but one example. Perhaps Moll's attitude also reflected the times accurately. It can best be described as "a woman is nothing without a man and to get a man a woman must have money." Thus Moll spends the entire book pursuing both. But one can question how realistic Moll Flanders really is. She has a number of children, but seems to have little regard for them. Perhaps DeFoe, needing to rid Moll of encumbrances such as children in order to engage her in so many adventures, gave her what is an unnatural attitude for a mother. In the end he does reunite her with a son, but we should note that her motivation, at least at first, is financial not familial.

All in all, the book is worth reading, but it is far from great literature.
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on May 5, 2006
Until now Defoe's The Storm hasn't been in print as a single volume since the mid 19th century. The reason being that since the mid 19th century the public has preferred to see Defoe as a fictionist like Dickens, which has degraded the value of his Journal of the Plague Year and consigned The Storm to oblivion. These works form a pair, both being about national disasters of historic significance. The difference in style is that The Storm consists of Defoe's own observations and research, and a collection of eyewitness accounts from around the nation that Defoe advertised for, while A Journal of the Plague Year has the eyewitness account and Defoe's research blended together into one common narrative. No other journalist has ever done that (perhaps this is why the audacity of Jack Shephard's escapes appealed to him). But if you read the Plague Year as fiction it would be like trying to read The Storm as fiction.

Weather experts have always commented favourably on The Storm and it is legendary. Like the Plague Year, this book is great to read through and browse in afterwards as well - it is not a book to throw away. Penguin has retained the dynamics of Defoe's original punctuation, but I wish that the print was bigger and blacker and more comnfortable to read.
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on September 29, 2007
The only thing I truely like about this tale is the insight to the times of over three hundred years ago. One is really struck by the more things change, the more things stay the same-at least when it comes to the human mind. Other than that, I really found a great majority of the book mind-numbingly dull-especially when when reach the part where our heroine becomed the infamous Moll Flanders. Nearly sixty pages of my edition (c. 1965 Dell Publishing) is devoted repetition of how Moll stole this or another and the innumerable times she'd almost gotten caught. A few incidents would have been fine, but the author seemed really taken by how these thieves scratched out their living. Given how DeFoe spent most of his life in debt, one wonders if his detail account came from of his own experience. Most of what happens to Moll Flanders while she bounced from one extraordinary event to the next stretches the threshold of believablity to the breaking point. This woman popped out so many kids and would just get up and walk away with no thought of the children-until the ONE toward the end of the story. The first half of the book caught and held my attention, but it was down hill from there.
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on June 27, 2009
This book helped me to understand the perils of being a poor woman in Seventeenth Century London. The character Moll Flanders was born poor and she had no family to support her, therefore her only ways of survival was to get married, sell her body, become a servant at very low wages. She chose to become a thief, and to always to appear to be something that she was not.

It is almost like a travel book because Moll is always moving from town to town, and from life episode to next episode, across the ocean trying to find a place to be herself and not a fake representation of a good woman.

Sometimes the narrator is too detailed and tells more than I needed to know, but it does seem like a woman is speaking, or writing in a journal, even though the book was actually written by a man. I enjoyed reading the book and felt some sympathy for Moll Flanders because of her struggles, weaknesses, and her ability to endure.
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