Moll Flanders

Moll Flanders Summary and Analysis of Chapters 10-12

Part 10: Moll Meets her Governess, and Gives Birth to Jame's Child

Back in London, Moll remembered her husband fondly, but her "pleasure was very much lessened when [she] found some time after that [she] was really with child." This was very difficult, since she had no friends and no visible husband. The grave gentleman's divorce proceedings went slowly, which suited her, since she did not want him to see her pregnant. The people where Moll lodged noticed her pregnancy and became rather unfriendly. Moll became ill and melancholy, but did not miscarry - although she would have been glad to, she would not try to on purpose. Finally the woman of the house introduced her to an extraordinary midwife. Moll told her that she was married, but the midwife did not care one way or the other: "all the ladies who came under her care were married women to her." The midwife invited Moll to move to her house, where the parish authorities would not trouble her - she had an agreement with them that they would not be troubled with the children born there. She then offered Moll the choice of three levels of service, all covering, to a more or less luxurious extent, three months lodging and board, a nurse and use of linen for the birth, a minister, god-fathers, and a clerk for the christening, a supper for the christening, her midwife fees, and the service of a maid. Moll chose the least expensive, which came out to a little more than 13 guineas.

The midwife (referred to as Moll's governess) turned out to have a number of lines of work, mostly not respectable. The ladies who lodged and gave birth in her house were mostly whores, and although she did not permit assignations in the house, it seemed probable that she was a madam and oversaw their illicit activities. She would also officiate at births outside of her house, and for a sum of money would take the child of the hands of the parents and of the parish. It is not clear what happened to these children, although the governess told Moll that they "were honestly provided for and taken care of." The governess also implied that she would be willing to abort Moll's child, which scandalized our heroine. Moll was hard put at first to see where her governess made a profit, but gradually came to understand that "the whoring account" made up for what she lost in providing cheap services for unmarried mothers. She was on all accounts an excellent and efficient madam.

In May, before Moll gave birth she heard from the grave gentleman that he had almost obtained the divorce. She put him off with some scruples, and wrote to him that she would return around the end of the year. About a month after Moll's child was born, the gentleman wrote again and said that, not only had the divorce come through, but also his estranged wife had committed suicide, thus unquestionably freeing him to marry again. Moll discussed the matter with her governess: she had to solve the problem of what to do with her baby. At first she did not want to put the child out to nurse, fearing that an unrelated woman would not have the necessary affection to take care of the child correctly. Her governess convinced her that by paying a little extra money each year, she would be able to assure herself of the child's well-being: the foster parents would be motivated by the money to take care of the baby tenderly. (This was an alternative to paying the foster family a lump sum, which Moll feared would make them want to get rid of the child as soon as possible.) Thus Moll gave the baby to a countrywoman, along with 10 guineas down and the promise of 5 more each year, if it continued in good health.


Moll's governess is an impressive figure who poses a challenge to Moll's ideas and to the reader's as well. In one sense, her organized vice threatens everything commonly thought of as good. She is so hardened as to be immune, apparently, to feelings of guilt or affection - the feelings, in fact, which in the conventional scheme of morality ideally motivate most human actions. What is so disturbing about her is not simply this inhumanity - cruel and remorseless villains are stock figures - but rather the fact that she is living proof that financial motivations work as well, if not better, than emotional ones. Moll's narrative is full of references to her governess' kind behavior: full example, once the woman sent her a roast chicken and a bottle of sherry, which she thought "surprisingly good and kind." This seeming kindness is not the result of the governess' affection for Moll; it is part of her business plan. By the same logic, the governess tells Moll that she need not scruple to give her baby to strangers: a stranger, motivated by money, will be just as loving as a natural mother. Economics can now dictate morality.

The obvious question is how much Defoe supports this perspective. The answer is complicated: the governess' case is good enough that we cannot simply reject it with horror. Indeed, the same philosophy is routinely employed today, when the government seeks to encourage charitable behavior with tax reductions, etc. However, the governess' implicit suggestion that ordinary loving human relationships can be replaced by business contracts without any damage is profoundly disturbing. Moll shivers and turns pale, naturally enough, when she has this conversation with her: "She asked me if she had not been careful and tender to me in my lying in, as if I had been her own child. I told her I owned she had. 'Well, my dear,' says she, 'and when you are gone, what are you to me? And what would it be to me if you were to be hanged? ... Yes, yes, child,' says she, 'fear it not; how were we nursed ourselves? Are you sure you was nursed up by your own mother? and yet you are fat and fair, child..." Her hypnotic speech and uncanny knowledge are convincing, but, like Moll, we do not want to succumb.

Defoe forces the reader to think and doubt preconceived notions, but does not provide clear answers to the questions he has posed: is the governess right? Is she entirely wrong?

Part 11: Moll Marries the Grave Gentleman and is Good

Moll cautiously traveled part of the way to Lancashire in the north, before taking the stage back to meet the grave gentleman. This also allowed her to hide her path from her governess. Her gentleman met her at Brickhill, and said that they would spend the night in a good inn there. Moll realized that he was planning to get married that very night, and although she made objections when he told her so, she let herself be convinced by the divorce papers, a pretty ring, and some ardent protestations on his part. She felt guilty to be marrying such a sober man when she had led such a disreputable life. They were married privately and didn't get up till noon the next day. Then Moll was frightened to see her Lancashire husband (apparently no longer in Ireland) go into the inn opposite with two other horsemen. She was afraid her bigamy would be discovered, and was relieved to see the horsemen leave. That evening people arrived with news that there had been a robbery, and that three highwaymen had passed that way. Moll managed to divert suspicion from her Lancashire husband by saying that he was a respectable gentleman. A few days later Moll and her new husband went to London.

There the couple lived happily for five years. Moll lived quietly and repented her wicked past, or thought she did. She had only two children, and was by the end of the five years 48, and past the age of motherhood. Unfortunately then her husband's business failed when a clerk absconded with the money. Her husband did not recover from the disappointment, and fell into a lethargy and died. Moll was terrified: she had little beauty or money. For two years she slowly spent what she had, living in fear and misery.


In this part, and especially the one which follows, in which Moll begins a life of crime, it becomes increasingly obvious that virtue is closely linked to prosperity and security. As long as Moll has a comfortable income and prospects of continued stability, she glories in respectability: "Now I seemed landed in a safe harbour, after the stormy voyage of life past was at an end, and I began to be thankful for my deliverance. I sat many an hour by myself, and wept over the remembrance of past follies, and the dreadful extravagances of a wicked life, and sometimes I flattered myself that I sincerely repented." The natural relief that Moll feels at having escaped the perils of the adventurous life is easily confused with the relief of no longer needing to sin. Through the social implications of Moll's experiences, Defoe is encouraging his readers not to judge criminals and sinners too harshly, without considering the differences between their positions and those of more respectable folk.

This message is strengthened by the reaction of Moll's sober husband to the failure of his business. Although he is a pattern of virtue while he does well, he does not have the necessary moral energy to save himself or his family when his clerk runs off with the money. Moll, an extremely energetic person who had risen under numerous misfortunes, was well aware of this: "the loss... was not so great neither but that, if he had had spirit and courage to have looked his misfortunes in the face, his credit was so good that, as I told him, he would easily recover it." His virtue seems to be strong, but is only useful when he is already in a good financial position, and does not prevent him from weakly abandoning his family and dying. Perhaps a genuinely good person would combine both his principles, and Moll's energy - but would such a combination be possible? It seems that Moll's determination to live is directly related to her willingness to sin to that end. Does Defoe really believe in the possibility of true goodness?

Part 12: Moll Becomes a Thief

Finally, terrified by the prospect of approaching penury, Moll went out and stole a little bundle left unattended on a stool in a shop. She walked at random for quite a while, then returned home and found that the bundle contained some good linen, some silver, and money. She was distressed and felt guilty, but finally went out, a few days later, to steal again. She met a pretty little child wearing her mother's necklace, going home from dancing school by herself, and tricked her into an alley, where she removed the necklace unseen. She was briefly tempted to kill the child, but, frightened by her own thought, sent the girl home safely. She comforted herself by thinking that the child was safe and sound, and that her parents would be more careful of her in the future. After this she had a number of other adventures: among other things, she once acquired a packet of silk and velvet that a thief, being pursued, tossed to her. She also broke a pane of glass and stole two rings left on the window-sill inside, after checking that no one was there.

Moll went to see her old governess to find a way to sell her stolen goods. Her governess was no longer a flourishing madam - she had been sued by a gentleman whose daughter she had helped to steal away from him - and had turned pawnbroker instead. She said that she would see Moll's goods. For a while Moll lived with her making her living by sewing, and made arrangements for her youngest son's care. Soon, however, she was tempted again and stole a silver tankard. She told her governess what she had done, and it became clear that her governess was not just a pawnbroker, but a leader of thieves and a receiver of stolen goods as well. She introduced Moll to a thief who taught her shoplifting and stealing ladies' gold watches. They worked together and did very well: the experienced thief would bump into a lady from one side, and Moll stole her watch from the other. While the other thief and the victim calmed down, Moll would disappear, and her teacher would deflect attention onto other people.

Soon Moll had near 200 guineas, but she kept on with her dishonest work, hoping to make enough to be able to retire. She had a fright when her teacher and another thief were caught. They both claimed to be pregnant, and one was eventually freed during the reprieve that bought them, but Moll's teacher was hanged, since she was an old offender. Moll stopped stealing until one day, when a gentlewoman's house was on fire. She went to the house, pretending to have been sent by another gentlewoman of the same neighborhood, and offered to help. The harried lady gave her two young children and a packet of silver to bring to safety. Moll brought the children to the nearby gentlewoman's house, and kept the packet, which proved to contain some gold as well, including the lady's wedding ring. Moll felt guilty, but it wore off.


This section contains many descriptions of acts of theft and deception. There is not a great deal of character development: we hear that Moll felt guilty but became hardened to her new life, which seems natural and not particularly striking. Instead, the interest here lies within the descriptions themselves: Defoe is revealing tricks, against which his readers will learn to defend themselves. He makes this much clear in the prologue, where he claims these descriptions as evidence of his moral intent. It is probably clear by now that, although Moll Flanders does carry a moral message, it is not the straightforward one advertised by the prologue. Defoe's readers are not learning what a terrible thing thievery is, but rather useful skills for how to avoid being victims of it - or maybe even how to engage in it themselves. The eighteenth-century reader of novels was interested in many things.

On a historical level, it is interesting to note how much value is given to things: people like Moll routinely risk their lives in order to steal a piece of velvet or silk. Before the era of industrialization, the production of objects took an immense amount of labor: a piece of cloth could be the result of many hours of work, though stealing it might only take a minute. Even though labor was very cheap, the sheer amount of it which was required to make an object added up to make theft a profitable line of business. For example, the governess bought a lady's watch that Moll stole for 20 guineas, presumably less than it was worth, since it was stolen; 20 guineas would have supported one of Moll's children for 4 years. It would be by no means easy for Moll to make a living doing honest work, but she grows rich rapidly as a pickpocket.

The fate of Moll's children by her sober husband is not clear. In the previous part, she referred to two children, but in this one she only mentions one son, and does so very briefly indeed. Her maternal instincts have apparently somewhat faded.