Moll Flanders

Moll Flanders Summary and Analysis of Chapters 7-9

Part 7: The Gentleman at Bath

Moll was in England with 200 or 300 guineas and no friends: the woman who had set her up with her brother was dead, as was her captain husband. Moll was in any case not anxious to meet anyone who knew about her incestuous marriage, since she was now pretending to be unmarried. She moved to Bath and enjoyed herself, having become "a woman of fortune though I was a woman without a fortune." Living gaily she soon ran out of money, and didn't meet any man who wanted a wife. She made friends with her landlady, who charged her very little and fostered her friendship with a gentleman lodger in the same house. This man was aware of her poverty and thought she was a widow. He gave her money, without asking for sexual favors, and she nursed him during an illness. They lived together on familiar terms for two years without sex, although they would occasionally share a bed: the gentleman wished to demonstrate how much he respected her. However, one evening when they had drunk a little too much, their contract of chastity was broken, and after that she was frankly his mistress. She became pregnant and gave birth under the assumed name of Lady Cleve, wife of Sir Walter Cleve, to avoid scandal. She had a "fine boy" and lived quite happily, but with enough foresight to save as much money as she could, knowing that nothing lasts forever. The gentleman, incidentally, was married, but his wife was insane, so Moll provided much-needed companionship. They lived together for six years, and Moll bore three children, but only the first one survived. Then Moll learned that her lover was ill and at his house where she could not visit (his wife's family would not approve). She heard little from him after that, and was afraid he would die and leave her resourceless. In fact he did not die, but his illness made him repent, and he didn't want to see Moll anymore. She asked him for 50 guineas to travel back to Virginia, and left him the child to bring up: though she was very fond of the boy, she was not sure she would be able to maintain him.


Although people often associate Moll Flanders with prostitution, she is never a streetwalker. In fact she is rarely even a mistress: this is only the second time that she is in a sexual relationship without marriage. It is surely one of the most bizarre such affairs ever to be depicted in literature, perhaps because of the opacity with which it is described. Moll only hints at the emotional motivations of her lover and herself, which results in the comical picture of a middle-aged couple in bed, strenuously avoiding immorality. We can imagine that Moll provides emotional support and consolation for her lover, that he loves her and she is fond of him. But our imagination is left pretty much on its own. Their adulterous relationship certainly does not appear romantic, nor is it interestingly sinful. When the man decides to leave Moll after his illness, Moll first indulges in some melodramatic thoughts of guilt, then prosaically extracts as much money as she can from him, and goes on her way. This novel is evidently very different from the psychological works of Dostoyevsky and his nineteenth century colleagues.

This stubbornly unemotional affair provides an immense contrast to her previous marriage. With this dry romance, Defoe mocks Moll's lover's theatrical notions of morality. His insistence on sleeping chastely in her bed to demonstrate his great respect for her virtue, and his coldness to her after his illness, both seem equally risible. Moll needs money to survive, not respect. A genuine attachment would not be dissolved by a fright, causing the man to consciously leave his companion of six years and the mother of his child without an income: if he were truly good, he would continue to support her.

Part 8: Moll Looks for Another Husband

After these negotiations with her estranged lover, and others with her brother in Virginia, Moll found herself single, 42 years old, and in possession of about 450 guineas. She lost 70 of these due to the failure of a goldsmith in whose hands she had left some of the money. Moll was a little worried - although she had not yet begun to wear make-up, a thing she despised, she was undeniably no longer very young, and had no friends or advisors. Being a woman without connections, she had little access to the public sphere of business - thus she had not known that the goldsmith was financially unsound. She wanted very much to get married to a "sober, good husband," and be a "faithfull and true wife." She pretended she had a fortune of three or four thousand, but nothing showed up until she met a woman from the north, who (thinking she was rich) sweetly invited her to come visit her family there. Moll was attracted by the idea that living was cheaper in the north, and decided to go, but was unsure what to do with her money.

She went to a bank clerk she knew to be honest, and asked for advice. He recommended that she visit "a grave man of his acquaintance," who would help her. She told this man that she was a widow, desolate and friendless, and afraid of losing what money she had. They got along very well, and she was sorry to find out that he was married. In their various meetings, however, it turned out that his wife was unfaithful, and had left him with another man. They discussed a possible divorce, and he asked Moll if she would marry him when he did get a divorce. She was pleased to hear this, but pretended not to take him seriously, and behaved modestly and respectably. He became even more enamoured of Moll and asked her to marry him then, though they would live apart until the divorce came through - or else to sign a contract promising to marry him. She liked this, but having hopes of the north country, avoiding anything binding, and thus leaving her money and suitor in London, went to the north.


In this episode, the metaphor of Moll as money (Moll is a commodity: she can exchange her love and sexual favors for money) is developed in a new direction. Previously, the question of interest has been how much Moll is worth: how much money must a lover give her? how much need a husband have? When this grave gentleman is considered for his worthiness as a possible husband, it is not merely his personal wealth and how much he thinks Moll has that decides whether or not he will marry her, and she will marry him. Instead, Moll encounters him in the role of a financial steward, someone who would take care of her money. Her money, remember, can be thought of as a symbol for herself. At the end of each affair, she takes account of the change in her finances - this financial evaluation takes the place of a psychological or emotional analysis. Moll becomes convinced that the grave gentleman would take care of her money (herself) very well, and this leads her naturally to think that he would make a good husband.

Interestingly, this development of Moll's association of herself with her money makes her actions appear less mercenary. She is no longer overtly trying to accumulate as much wealth as she can - instead she wants to preserve what she has. No one could say that self-preservation is an unnaturally mercenary objective.

The question of divorce is also interesting in this part. It doesn't take long to figure out that divorce in Moll's time was not like it is today. It is considered as a last resort: the grave gentleman objects that it would be "very tedious and expensive." (Even in the seventeenth century, lawyers were apparently rapacious.) A more reasonable approach, he thinks, would be a common-law divorce - he would simply have nothing more to do with his unfaithful wife, who was in any case living with another man. The problem with this approach is that he would then have to content himself with a common-law marriage. He worried that, in that case, no "honest woman" would have him, and he didn't want have anything to do with "the other sort." His suggestion that Moll could "marry" him before the divorce went through reflects the shaky hold of legal terminology on contemporary lives. People could consider themselves to be married or divorced, when in fact the law knew nothing of the matter. This was no doubt a reaction to expensive and unfriendly courts, where officials were probably more concerned with feathering their own nests than with justice.

Part 9: Moll Falls in Love and Gets Married and Unmarried in the North

Moll's own trickery was outdone by that of her northern friend, who brought her to a noble estate, where the family entertained her like a lady of great fortune. They were Roman Catholics, which did not disturb Protestant Moll much: she "had not so much principle of any kind as to be nice in point of religion." After staying there for six weeks, Moll's northern friend brought her to a village to meet the man she called her brother. This gentleman, believing her to have about 1500 guineas, courted her assiduously, and he himself appeared to have a good estate of at least 1000 guineas a year. He "ran in debt like a madman for the expenses of his equipage and of his courtship." Moll was dazzled and married him, sparing a few regrets for her grave gentleman in London.

After they had been married for a month, they were going to move to Ireland and the question of Moll's fortune came up. Moll's husband was under the impression that she would have to go to London to transfer it. She was unaware that he thought her so rich, and called his sister, her northern friend, in to clarify matters. When it became clear that Moll had no fortune, and her northern friend had deceived her brother, he was absolutely furious and desperate. His "sister" was in fact his former mistress, who had been sent to London with the particular design of finding him a rich wife, for he had no more estate than Moll.

Despite these fearful revelations, Moll was pleased by her husband's kindness to herself. She offered him all the money she had with her, about 20 guineas, which he refused to touch - in fact he threw his remaining 50 guineas on the table and bade her take them. Moll was impressed by his gentlemanly behavior, and thought: "'Tis something of a relief to be undone by a man of honour, rather than by a scoundrel." The next morning Moll found that he had disappeared, leaving behind some money and an apologetic note saying that she should go to London and marry again, if she could. She was heartbroken and wept all day, calling his name, Jemmy (a nickname for James). In the evening he reappeared, and admitted that he had seemed to hear her voice calling him back.

Moll offered to go with him anywhere, and he said that he would at least escort her to London, but refused to take back any of the money that he had left with her. They lived together for a week, and Moll tried to convince James to go with her to Virginia, where they could make good. He had similar ideas about Ireland, and it was settled that he would try to improve his circumstances in Ireland, and if that failed, they would go together to Virginia. Then they reluctantly parted, though they exchanged addresses so they would be able to write.


Defoe's placement of this episode reveals him to be a careful and talented writer, attune to the moods of his audience. By this point, Moll's loveless relationships had begun to pall somewhat: they were too similar to financial transactions. Her strangely romantic marriage with James reasserts her as a truly human being, rather than an attractive cash register.

Moll begins to love James after she discovers that he was both a deceiver and deceived in their marriage, not before. Perhaps this means that she can feel close to him because she knows that he, like herself, is a non-respectable person fighting to survive in a respectable society. She does not need to conceal her past from him, although in fact she does not tell him her real name or complete history. Moll seems to have a soft spot for sinners: she loved her first seducer, but not his upright brother. She was rather fond of her bankrupt linen-draper husband, but not particularly of her Virginia husband, or her moral lover from Bath.

The supernatural incident - James hearing Moll calling his name even though he was far away - comes as a surprise in this extremely ungothic novel. Perhaps it serves to demonstrate that this will be Moll's true love - her only love where she doesn't care about money. It is reminiscent of a very different novel, Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, in which the lovers hear each other's voices at a crucial moment when they are miles apart. Jane Eyre was written long after Moll Flanders - it would be interesting to know if Charlotte Bronte was inspired by Defoe in this case.

Given what we know about Defoe's religious ideas, Moll's tolerant attitude towards Roman Catholicism is further evidence that lack of principles can be better than staunch belief in rigid rules. Defoe was educated for the Dissenting Protestant ministry but decided that the clergy was not for him. Moll probably speaks for him when she points out that differences in belief are usually the results of "prejudice in education," and that if her father had been Catholic, she would have been happy in that religion. The seventeenth century, in which the novel takes place, saw the English King Charles I deposed and executed, replaced by a Puritanical dictatorship led by Cromwell. Although Cromwell's death resulted in the reinstatement of Charles' son, Charles II, the religious troubles of England were not yet over: Charles II was succeeded by his Catholic-leaning brother, James II, who was dethroned in favor of the Protestant William and Mary in the Glorious Revolution. In the same period, French Protestants lived with difficulty under their Catholic King Louis XIV. Defoe, with his international experience, must have decided that strict religious principles were not worth the bloodshed and division they caused.