If Moll Flanders were published today, you might find it in the Chick Lit section of your friendly neighborhood bookstore. It documents the romantic escapades and moral mishaps of an urban lady with killer good looks. Sound familiar? Yeah, we thought so, too.
Oh, but friends, Moll Flanders is so much more. There's danger, crime, and travel. Plus, it tackles gender relations, class struggles, repressive societies, and unfair economies. Moll may get her man in the end, and the two may live happily ever after, but that may also be entirely beside the point. What really matters is what happens along the way.
The book's author, Daniel Defoe, is probably best known for his other long novel, Robinson Crusoe. If you've come across any work by Defoe before – especially if it was in elementary or middle school – chances are it was probably that book, an inspiring tale of a shipwrecked man and his isolated survival. Moll Flanders is a little bit darker than that. We mean, it is about a prostitute.
In fact, as Virginia Woolf argued in one of her essays, "The Novels of Defoe," while Moll Flanders was popular when it was first published in 1722, the fact that it was about prostitution and criminals made later Victorian audiences way less interested in it than Defoe's other book about an upstanding, male protagonist (source). In other words, we owe the fact that Moll Flanders is less well known than Robinson Crusoe to some stodgy readers with squeamish sensibilities. Moll did make a bit of a comeback, though, in the second half of the twentieth century, when new attention from more tolerant literary critics caused copies to start flying off the shelves once more.
And that's a good thing. Sure, Moll Flanders may be a bit racy, but it's also one of the world's first novels, and it's a longstanding member of the English literature canon. That's why you find it in the Classics section, and not under Chick Lit. It's a perfect storm of fun, juicy reading and intellectual food for thought. You can revel in Moll's scandals while experiencing one of the masterworks of English literature. Truly, it's the best of both worlds.
Why Should I Care?
Mike Rowe knows well that people do some really odd stuff to make a living. And while many people choose these offbeat professions, others wind up in with jobs they never imagined, just to get by. Making a living is never easy, and sometimes we have to resort to strange measures just to make ends meet.
Still, we can't help thinking that if she were around today, Moll would be doing just fine. And though we don't recommend following her exact path out of poverty, we do think that her perseverance can be a guide for those who are finding it difficult to pay the bills. Like everyone's favorite curmudgeon Tim Gunn, Moll always finds a way to make it work.
What makes her so good at making money? It's not her choice of profession (don't try ANY of those at home, folks). No, what makes Moll inspiring is her utter dedication. She's the Cool Hand Luke of seventeenth-century England. She meets tough times with inner toughness, and nothing keeps her down for long. And if that's true for Moll Flanders, why can't it be true for us, too? So don't be afraid to take a page from Moll Flanders and apply it to your own life. Just make sure the page you choose is crime-free first.