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Moll Flanders

Daniel Defoe

Section 4 (Moll has an affair with a married man)

Section 3 (Moll marries the draper, and then her half-brother)

Section 5 (The banker, and Moll's Lancashire husband)

Summary

Moll arrives safely in London but finds that some of her possessions have been destroyed in transit. With those goods, she says, "I might have married again tolerably well; but as it was I was reduc'd to between two or three hundred pounds in the whole...[and] entirely without Friends." She sets up residence at Bath, which turns out to be a place "where Men find a Mistress sometimes, but very rarely look for a Wife." She does, however, become the platonic companion of a Gentleman whose company she particularly enjoys. He turns out to be a fairly wealthy man, and Moll finds out that he is in fact married, but that his wife has gone mad.

This gentleman-friend inquires into Moll's financial situation, offering to assist her if she is in need. Moll hesitates at first to accept any money from him despite the urging of her landlady, who tells Moll that she "ought to expect some Gratification from him for [her] company." Finally she does take his money. He invites her to move to London with him, but then he falls ill. She nurses him for five weeks, during which time their familiarity increases. Finally, after a journey to Bristol in which they are forced to sleep in the same room, their reserve falls away and they become lovers. "Thus the Government of our Virtue was broken and I exchang'd the Place of Friend for that unmusical harsh-sounding Title of Whore."

Moll has several children by this man, and he dutifully supports both her and them. "Now I was indeed at the height of what I might call my prosperity," Moll relates, "and I wanted nothing but to be a Wife, which however could not be in this Case." She saves her money, knowing that her prosperous situation may not continue indefinitely. Because of the imperative to secrecy, Moll lives a fairly solitary life except for the company of her lover: "I kept no Company but in the Family where I Lodg'd,...so that when he was absent I visited no Body, nor did he ever find me out of my Chamber or Parlor whenever he came down; if I went any where to take the Air it was always with him." After six years "in this happy but unhappy Condition," Moll's lover falls into a "Distemper." For months she has little news of him. Finally he explains that he has had a religious experience in which, finding himself "at the very brink of Eternity," he repented of his sinful and adulterous conduct. Giving her a final sum of money, he resolves to see her no more. Moll plays on his guilt and pity to extract some further payments from him, on the agreement that he will then be released from all further obligation.

Commentary

Moll's relationship with this "Gentleman" is governed by a conflict: she seems reluctant to become his mistress, but also at some level desires that outcome. She confesses "that from the first hour I began to converse with him, I resolv'd to let him lye with me if he offer'd it; but it was because I wanted his help and assistance, and I knew no other way of securing him than that." The underlying question for Moll is one of security, not of love or even desire. Moll has learned that being a wife is more secure than being a mistress, and she knows that there is no chance of marrying this man as long as his mad wife is still living. Yet his generosity and loyalty make him a likely candidate for an affair, and this assessment is confirmed when he promises to take care of her and her children. For the six years that they are together, Moll enjoys financial stability, if not social comfort. She is wise enough, however, to save money while she is enjoying such prosperity, "knowing well enough that such things as these do not always continue, that Men that keep mistresses often change them, grow weary of them or Jealous of them, or something or other happens to make them withdraw their Bounty." Moll's concerns--and her financial prudence--are not unfounded: after finding himself on the brink of death, her lover repents of his adultery and deserts Moll. Still, the relationship is a relative success, especially since marriage for Moll has been equally uncertain.

Interestingly, the moral valence of the situation is not in the fact of committing adultery, but rather in having the common sense to secure oneself against some change of circumstances; the woman who does not protect herself against that possibility is "justly" ruined. Moll admits to having some "secret Reproaches of my own Conscience for the Life I led," but then elaborates them in financial terms: "even in the greatest height of the Satisfaction I ever took, yet I had the terrible prospect of Poverty and Starving which lay behind me." Moll has learned to look for openings that might bring her financial gain, and she is not shy to capitalize on them when she finds them.

More Help

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Marriage to the Banker

by smh000, May 04, 2014

The novel stated the Moll had two children by the banker. Did I miss something in that I don't think the novel stated what she did with those two children.

Marriage to the Banker

by smh000, May 04, 2014

The novel stated the Moll had two children by the banker. Did I miss something in that I don't think the novel stated what she did with those two children.

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