Moll Flanders

Defoe’s Uneasy Feminism: The Problem of the ‘Anti-Domestic’ in Moll Flanders

In Moll Flanders, Daniel Defoe constructs an image of a woman who is resourceful, self-sufficient, shrewd and independent. His Moll came from nothing, born to a mother imprisoned in Newgate, born to this underworld of contained vice and criminality, within but very much on the fringe of acceptable society. From these base beginnings, Moll is able to navigate her way through the ranks of British society, a figure of liminality both traversing and embodying the fluidity of class distinction in an emerging trade economy. In exploiting sexual and martial relationships for the purpose they serve Moll’s social-climbing quest, the text reduces the people and encounters that are the romantic focal point in earlier libertine works, to an economic or commodity status that highlights Moll’s pragmatism and efficiency. Therefore, Defoe portrays Moll as a proto-feminist character, an individual with ambitious desires who relies on her own abilities to make her mark and attain her goals.

This independence and resourcefulness comes at a cost, however, a cost that complicates the early kind of feminist thinking Defoe is fashioning. In demonstrating the qualities that make her a mobile character, unattached, quick-thinking and able to move along...

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