Moll Flanders

Moll Flanders Summary and Analysis of Parts 4-6

Part 4: Moll's Advice on Catching a Husband

A friend of Moll's, a "very sober, good sort" of widow of a ship's captain, invited her to stay with her in a seafaring community, where she could meet and marry a captain. After half a year, however, the friend married instead. Moll herself found that there were two sorts of commanders: successful ones wanted to marry wealthy women of high social status, and unsuccessful ones wanted wives with enough money or connections to get them a ship. "Marriages were here the consequences of politic schemes for forming interests, and carrying on business, and... Love had no share, or but very little, in the matter." Unfortunately, there were more women wanting to be married than men wanting to marry them, which gave men a substantial advantage in the matrimonial market.

A young lady, Moll's friend, who was possessed of a handsome 2000 guineas, was courted by a young captain. However, when she made a few inquiries about his character and his financial standing, he took offense and abandoned her. She was very unhappy, but her fortunes improved when she followed Moll's advice:

Moll told her that she must revenge herself, in order to save her reputation and that of women in general. She told her to spread the news that she had found out unsavory things about the captain's history and character (including that he had not paid for his share in his ship, and was already married to a woman in Plymouth and another in the West Indies). This had the effect of making the captain unpopular with the families of the other girls he wanted to court. Moll's friend also arranged to have a young gentleman, a relative of hers, to visit her often in a very fine carriage; she spread the news that she was going to marry him. At this, the young captain returned to her and begged for his forgiveness. She treated him coldly, forced him to clear up all the lies she had made up about him, and refused to let him make any inquiries about her. They were married according to her wishes.

Moll concludes this adventure by calling upon all women to stand their ground when dealing with men, and to show that they are not afraid of saying No. Although there may be more women than men, there are so few decent men that a woman cannot be too careful when getting married, especially since she risks more than her husband. Men will only respect women more for showing that they are not desperate.


This part is an interesting variety of social commentary. The notion that London marriages are based on money rather than love is apparently not surprising enough in itself to add much spice to the novel, but Moll's reaction to it certainly does. Rather than bemoan the immorality of mercenary marriages (she was taught that lesson by the behavior of her first lover), she reasonably investigates techniques that will improve women's positions within the corrupt system.

She and her female friends are all notably women on their own: the stereotype of young girls being married to young men according to the arrangements made by their powerful parents does not hold. High mortality (especially among sailors) led to large populations of widows who needed to marry again in order to establish themselves comfortably - and one can imagine that death in childbed also left many widowers. A young girl living at home might be completely controlled by her parents, but a widow with some money of her own is in a completely different situation. She must look out for herself and negotiate for herself. Living in an urban environment also adds to the relative independence of a marriageable widow: a widow in London would be unlikely to own any land or even a house. Her wealth would be in the form of money, and she could easily move to a different neighborhood among entirely different people.

Moll's advice has nothing to do with love, and everything to do with business. Men start out with better matrimonial credit: they are not under the same time pressure to marry as women are, and there are fewer of them because of "the wars, and the sea, and trade." At the same time, property laws favored men in marriage: unless other provisions were carefully made, the wife's wealth would be under her husband's control, without the opposite being true. Moll's use of gossip and scandal is designed to reduce the captain's credit by suggesting that he is not financially sound, and that he has a history of treating women badly: even with the shortage of men, no wealthy woman would want to marry him under those circumstances. In the other direction, the fake courtship that the young lady devises increases her own credit by making her appear more desirable.

Moll's broader ideas suggest a kind of united front of women: if all women together refuse to marry men who treat them badly, a rude lover would not be able to simply abandon his fiancee and go next door when she protests his rudeness. This is very similar to unionization: these women would be doing the equivalent of refusing to work for less than a minimum amount. Thus, in economic terms: the supply of women wanting to be married is greater than the demand for wives, so women must settle for bad husbands - unless they organize, and concertedly raise their standards, putting pressure on men to shape up.

Part 5: How to Marry Rich When You're Poor: Moll's Third Husband

Returning the favor Moll had done for her, the newly married captain's lady invited Moll to stay with her and her husband, and told her husband that Moll had at least 1500 guineas, and would inherit quite a bit more. This gained Moll many admirers, and she picked out her man: he, believing that she was rich, made all sorts of protestations of adoration, implying that he did not care if she were poor. They flirtatiously wrote the following exchange on a pane of glass with a diamond ring:

He: You I love, and you alone.

She: And so in love says every one.

He: Virtue alone is an estate.

She: But money's virtue, gold is fate.

He: I scorn your gold, and yet I love.

She: I'm poor: let's see how kind you'll prove.

He: Be mine, with all your poverty.

She: Yet secretly you hope I lie.

He: Let love alone be our debate.

She: She loves enough that does not hate.

Thus he married her, believing her to be rich, although she jokingly said she was poor. Then she seriously reduced his expectations of her wealth so that he was happy to get anything at all. They then moved to his plantations in Virginia, surviving an eventful voyage, and moved in with his mother and sister there.


This part is all about the careful manipulation of Moll's new husband: Moll manages to deceive him without ever overtly lying, thus making it impossible for him to accuse her of the deception. Moll shows that she is willing to take substantial risks, repeatedly telling him that she is poor, relying entirely on his tendency to take men's words more seriously than those of women. He had been told, after all, by the captain, that she was rich. Moll shows a great deal of cleverness in breaking the news of her true poverty after the wedding: after first making him worry that she had nothing at all, she gave him her money in installments of about 150 guineas, so that each new sum was a welcome surprise. She also had refused to go to Virginia before they were married, so her agreement to go afterwards was another nice surprise to balance the disappointment of her finances.

We can see by Moll's clever behavior and witty poetry that she has learned a great deal in her first two marriages, and careful observations of human mores. She no longer depends on luck, or the benevolence of the powerful, but rather on her own wits.

The difference between colonial America as viewed by Americans, and as viewed by the colonizing English, is worth noticing. We are in the 17th century, long before any breath of revolution: Virginia is simply a place where good money can be made. Moll does not want to live there permanently, as we shall soon see: the colonies are a means to an end, and England is home.

Part 6: Moll's Husband is her Brother

At first Moll was very happy in Virginia: her mother-in-law was very good company, and so was her husband. Her mother-in-law told her many entertaining stories about the inhabitants of the colony: most of them had come over as slaves or indentured servants, or as convicted felons from Newgate. Such people were bought by planters and worked in the fields until their time was out; then they were given a certain amount of land, and could become wealthy and respectable. Then the old woman made a personal revelation: she herself had been transported, and had a brand on her arm to prove it. The details of her story convinced Moll, to her horror, that her mother-in-law was also her true mother. Moll had by this time had two children by her own brother, and was pregnant with a third. She did not tell anyone of her horrible discovery, but was terribly oppressed by it; also, she was afraid that if she told, she would be divorced without being believed, and left helpless far from her native land. Thus she lived for three more years, but without having any more children (she refused to sleep with her husband). Her relationship with him deteriorated drastically, and she requested to go to England. He was angry, and asked how she could stand to abandon her children (she did not want to see them ever again), and threatened to have her put in a madhouse. Finally she told him that she knew something which meant that their marriage was not lawful. He was very frightened and wanted to know what it was: he thought she was a bigamist (which might have been true as well!). He got his mother to ask Moll why she was so disturbed, and Moll answered that the secret of it lay within the old woman. Finally Moll told her mother the true story; she was horrified to hear about it, but wanted to keep it quiet. Moll couldn't stand it any more, and said she would tell her brother if her mother did not. Finally, Moll exacted a promise from her husband that she would not be blamed, and told him to truth. He considered suicide, and in fact tried to hang himself a few days later, but was cut down in time. Finally they decided that she would go to England, that he would continue to support her as a sister, and would "receive news" that she had died, allowing him to marry again. She returned to England, having spent eight years in Virginia, but unfortunately most of the cargo that was to have supported her was lost in a storm.


It is not very flattering for the American ego to see that 18th century English people thought of America as a rather undesirable place which was largely inhabited by unwilling immigrants: slaves and transported convicts. It is only after American independence that Britain began to transport criminals to Australia instead (apparently the loss of a convenient sink for undesirables caused enough crowding in Newgate to justify shipping them halfway around the world).

The highly emotional reactions of the various people involved to the news of Moll and her husband's incestuous relationship covers a whole range of outlooks on sexual sin. Incest is a very terrible thing to her: she becomes genuinely sick at the thought of intercourse with her husband/brother. It does not seem to appear to her in the light of a sin - she faces sin with relative equanaminity. This is more of an instinctive horror, like a fear of snakes. The reaction of her husband falls more into the ground of conventional morality: he wants to kill himself to remove the taint of sin, while Moll just wants to leave. Their mother seem to be more motivated by regard for conventions than anything else: she would actually prefer to have her children continue cohabiting, than risk the scandal of separation. Thus Moll is motivated by a sort of instinctive natural morality, her husband/brother by a more religious sense of guilt and sacrifice, and their mother by a concern for keeping up appearances.

Incidentally, it would be interesting to know where Moll found out about her origins, given the fact that she ran away from the gypsies at the age of three. It hardly seems likely that at that age she would remember her mother's fate and the crime for which she had been transported, her name, and so on. Defoe never explains this, probably for the good reason that he could not.

Moll's situation at the end of this part is not tremendously favorable: she does not seem to be able to rely on her brother for continued financial assistance, and she is no longer very young, though still pretty.