One of the most determined, energetic, and lusty heroines in all of English literature, Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders will do anything to avoid poverty. Born in Newgate Prison, she was for 12 years a whore, five times a wife (once to her own brother), 12 years a thief, and eight years a transported felon in Virginia before finally escaping from the life of immorality and wickedness imposed on her by society. She is as much a survivor and just as resourceful as Defoe's other great literary creation, Robinson Crusoe.
Celebrated as "a masterpiece of characterization" by E. M. Forster, Moll Flanders is both a cunning examination of social mores and a hugely entertaining story filled with scandalous sexual and criminal adventures. In Moll, Defoe created a character of limitless interest, in spite of her unconcealed ethical shortcomings. Taking Moll through the echelons of 18th-century English society, Defoe seldom moralizes as he champions the personal qualities of self-reliance, perseverance, and hard work - even when it takes the form of crime.
Narrator Davina Porter's attentively detailed performance of Moll Flanders evokes the determination and resourcefulness of Daniel Defoe's titular character with great finesse and clarity. Porter balances Moll's archness with strength of character as this heroine tumbles around prostitution, bigamy, incest, and theft, all the while inspiring the listener's sympathy - and perhaps even encouragement. Through Moll, Defoe revealed the plight women without wealth faced during his time, and how immoral choices may be necessary in order to survive. Listeners will find themselves unable to forget Porter's perceptive interpretation of this classic.
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It is difficult to believe that this audacious novel was written by the same author as Robinson Crusoe, that classic among all that is definitely traditional and even somewhat staid!
Here, a very independent minded woman pretends to tell us her life story marked with bigamy, theft, incest, embezzlements, etc.
Since the overall plot is described from the start, the whole suspense lies in how what is announced will actually fit in (it does).
The novel may be read at multiple levels since the degree of truthfulness on the narrator’s part is of course questionable given that she tells the reader about her life based on deceiving others.
She certainly seems completely amoral and her single motivation appears to be money. Thus, in very modern fashion, her loyalties vary according to her own interest. For much of the work, she complains that she has no friend but has no qualms time and again to abandon her own children. She does develop a very close relationship with another woman, although it seems to be somewhat unidirectional in her favour. If it was as intimate as one may deduce, it certainly would have been completely scandalous in her days. Although the author does not shy away from providing precise details in many instances, he remains elusive on this account.
This enthralling work written three centuries ago is very pertinent today and warmly recommended to all (adult) readers.
- Pierre Gauthier
The Memoirs of a Mistress, a Thief, and a Penitent