Moll Flanders is the pseudonym of the heroine of this novel: since she is wanted by the law, she does not wish to reveal her true identity.
She was born in Newgate Prison to a mother who was transported to Virginia shortly afterwards for theft, leaving her helpless. Around the age of three she ran away from some gypsies with whom she had apparently been living. A parish took her in and she was given to the care of a nurse, who brought her up to the age of eight. Then she was supposed to go into service, but didn't want to and was allowed to remain with her nurse instead, sewing and spinning.
When her nurse died when she was 14 or so, she became a maid-servant in the household of the Mayor, and learned the same lessons as the daughters of the house. The older son of the house seduced her with compliments and money, and they were lovers. Then the younger one fell in love with her also, and wanted to marry her, not being aware of her relationship with his brother. The older one convinced the unwilling girl to marry the younger one, and she lived as his wife until his death a few years later. His parents took charge of the two children from the marriage.
Moll then married a gentleman-draper, that is, a tradesman with fine manners. He was agreeable, but spent her money and soon went bankrupt. He broke out of jail and left the country, leaving Moll free to marry again, though perhaps not legally.
After a period of time in which Moll helped a friend of hers to regain and humble a disdainful lover, she married a gentleman from Virginia, pretending to be richer than she was, though never saying so outright. He took the discovery of her poverty pretty well, and they went to Virginia. There she met his mother, a former transported convict, who unhappily turned out to be her mother as well. This discovery made Moll leave her brother/husband and children after several years of marriage: after some negotiations she was given some valuable goods and returned to England. Her goods were lost in a storm and she moved to Bath.
In Bath she became acquainted with a very modest and very friendly gentleman, whose wife was insane. He supported her and they lived together chastely from some time: he respected her so much that they would sleep in the same bed and do nothing else but sleep. One drunken night the chasteness ended, and they lived as lovers for several more years, until he fell gravely ill while at home with his insane wife and her relatives. After he recovered he repented his sinful ways and did not want to see Moll anymore, but took care of the son she had born him.
Moll wanted to get married, but did not see any likely prospects. She decided to go north with an acquaintance from there, since living was cheaper outside of London. Before going, however, she took care of financial business by meeting an honest, sober gentleman who agreed to take care of her money. He was a cuckold on the look-out for a virtuous wife, and decided to divorce his unfaithful wife and marry Moll when she returned from the north. Moll thought this would be a good idea if she didn't find anything better in Lancashire.
The friend took Moll first to a Catholic family, where she was well entertained, and then brought her to meet someone she thought to be a wealthy Irish gentleman. He, an agreeable and handsome man, courted her and she married him. Then it turned out that he had married her for her money (the friend had told him she was rich) and she had married him for his. They liked each other very well, but decided that it was only practical to part, and consider the marriage nonexistent.
Back in London, Moll found herself to be pregnant by her latest husband. She met a midwife/ abortionist/ madam of doubtful morals who took care of her for a fee during her pregnancy, and found a family to take care of the baby afterwards. She then married the man who had been taking care of her money, and had successfully obtained a divorce (he never found out what she had been doing in the north, or about the baby). They lived together soberly and happily for five years until he went bankrupt and died.
Left almost destitute, and no longer young enough to attract a new husband, Moll eventually took to crime, stealing things. She renewed acquaintance with the midwife, who was by now a pawnbroker and leader of thieves. Moll became an excellent and successful thief, and had many adventures, and used all sorts of clever techniques to steal silver and cloth. She was very careful, never used violence, and never let her colleagues know who she was or where she lived. They were often caught, but she stayed free and prospered, until at last she was caught stealing some silk.
Committed to Newgate, Moll was at first unrepentant, though she regretted having been caught. Many of the prisoners there did not seem to mind their terrible surroundings or their death sentences. Moll was softened, however, when she saw her Lancashire husband being brought in for highway robbery. She was cast into despair when she received a death sentence, and with the aid of a minister sent by her friend the midwife, who she called her governess, she became a good Christian. The minister obtained a reprieve from the gallows, and then a lesser sentence, that of transportation to Virginia. Moll visited her Lancashire husband and they reasserted their love. He was more willing at first to hang than to voluntarily accept transportation without trial, but Moll convinced him that, with money, their lives in Virginia could be quite comfortable. Without appropriate gifts of money to various people, they at last found themselves luxuriously installed on a ship to Virginia, along with the tools that Moll's governess bought them with Moll's money from theft.
In Virginia Moll was not able at first to acknowledge herself to be her brother's former wife and the mother of his son, now a thriving young man, because she did not want her Lancashire husband to know about the incest. So instead they settled in Virginia quite far from the place where her brother and son lived, and began a tobacco plantation. After a year Moll returned to see her son, who was overjoyed to see her - but they did not let her brother know of her, since he was old, bitter, and passionate. Her son gave her the income from some land her mother had left her, which she was able to use to transform her other plantation into quite a thriving place. Soon afterwards her brother died and she was able to tell her husband about that marriage, and could appear openly married in front of her son.
Moll and her husband became quite rich and ultimately moved back to England (incognito) to end their days there.