Skip over navigation

Moll Flanders

Daniel Defoe

Section 8 (Moll in Newgate)

Section 7 (Moll begins a life of crime)

Section 9 (Moll and Jemy in America, and conclusion)

Summary

Moll describes Newgate as the very pit of hell: "'tis impossible to describe the terror of my mind, when I was first brought in, and when I look'd round upon all the horrors of that dismal Place: I look'd on myself as lost, and that I had nothing to think of, but of going out of the World, and that with the utmost Infamy; the hellish Noise, the Roaring, Swearing and Clamour, the Stench and Nastiness, and all the dreadful croud of Afflicting things that I saw there; joyn'd together to make the Place seem an Emblem of Hell itself, and a kind of Entrance into it." Moll's fear of the prison launches her into a posture of repentance, and she spends several sleepless nights tormented by her conscience as well as by the mockery of her fellow inmates. However, she soon grows accustomed to her new surroundings. Moll's Governess, having heard of her capture, comes to advocate on her behalf with the prison officials and with the prosecution. Moll realizes during this tense period that her first repentance had not been sincere, but rather "only the Effect of my Fear of Death." While she still anticipates a death sentence, she finds that she can muster very little remorse--even though she acknowledges that her life has been "a horrid Complication of Wickedness, Whoredom, Adultery, Incest, Lying, Theft, and in a Word, every thing but Murther and Treason."

Jemy, Moll's Lancashire husband, soon appears in the prison as well, finally having been caught at his highwayman's trade. She is surprised to feel a resurgence of guilt at her deception of him, in spite of the fact that he had deceived her equally. She still feels no real remorse for her crimes, though, even when her death sentence is handed down. Her Governess, who had become a "true penitent" herself, sends for a minister for Moll. With his help, Moll finally repents of her misdeeds. He eventually manages to have her sentence reduced to transportation to America. At this point, Moll finds Jemy and urges him to try for transportation as well, convincing him that going to America will offer the best chance for both of them to get a fresh start. He succeeds in this, and they manage to get passage on the same ship, where with their combined assets they are able to purchase good treatment on the voyage and to stock themselves with the implements and supplies they will need to set up a plantation in the colonies.

Commentary

Defoe links Newgate with hell: he clearly wants to summon up a connection in the reader's mind between earthly punishment and eternal judgment, and Moll tells in ominous, religious-sounding terms of "the Place, where my Mother suffered so deeply, where I was brought into the World, and from whence I expected no Redemption, but by an infamous Death: To conclude, the Place that had so long expected me, and which with so much Art and Success I had so long avoided." The scene of Moll's terror upon entering the prison is one of the most emotionally evocative in the book. But the fact that Moll so quickly grows accustomed to her surroundings is typical of the novel's tendency to subordinate emotion to pragmatism (and literary contrivance to realism). Moll has ever been one to make the best of a bad situation, and the fact that she can engineer her own reprieve stands as an unavoidable reminder that Newgate is not Hell. The place may suggest eternal damnation, but it never loses its literal reality. Moll's religious repentance, however vividly depicted, has little bearing on her release from punishment. She finds rescue rather by means of a decidedly non-religious expedient: she essentially buys herself out of captivity and into a new life.

The Governess who has all along been complicit in Moll's misdeeds now feels herself responsible for her friend's desperate situation. The astonishing degree of loyalty and solicitude she demonstrates proves her to be one of the only real friends of Moll's life. In this, she stands out from the long succession of minor, nameless female characters who serve to help or hinder Moll's fortunes and then disappear from the story. They seem to be mere instruments by which Defoe advances his plot; all of his strength of characterization is invested in Moll herself. Only with her Governess and with Jemy does Moll create anything approaching a realized relationship; Defoe, interested primarily in Moll's isolation, seems to want even these personages to be limited as far as possible to instrumental roles, obscuring their characters and refusing to tap into whatever depth of relationship the reader may feel to exist beneath the surface.

Moll seems to anticipate the fact that her repentance might seem less-than-convincing, or at least that it will not make for such riveting reading as the tales of her misdeeds: "This may be thought inconsistent in it self, and wide from the Business of this Book; Particularly, I reflect that many of those who may be pleas'd and diverted with the Relation of the wild and wicked part of my Story, may not relish this, which is really the best part of my Life, the most Advantageous to myself, and the most instructive to others; such however will I hope allow me the liberty to make my Story compleat." This series of reflections forces the reader to ask what "the Business of this Book" has been exactly, and the answer is not altogether clear. Moll's repentance has seemed to many critics an unsatisfactory or unconvincing resolution to the novel. Certainly such an ending, even if contrived, would have been necessary to make the book publicly acceptable.

More Help

Previous Next
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.

Follow Us