Our Moll has some tragic beginnings. She is born, quite literally, into a life of crime when her mother gives birth to her in Newgate prison. Because her mother is an inmate, Moll is basically an orphan, and she's shipped off to live with a nurse in Colchester, with no mom or dad to help her make her way in the world. Oh, and we can't forget to mention the foreshadowing here: Moll was born into a prison, and it might be hard for her to stay out of one later.
Moll's early life through her middle age is one long string of men. First she falls in love with someone she can't marry, then she marries someone she doesn't love, then she becomes someone's mistress… and so on. Each relationship fails at some point to provide Moll with the safety and security she seeks, so she moves on to the next man, who will surely be unsuitable for one reason or another. As she moves through these relationships, we come to understand just how hard it was for a woman to survive on her own in Moll Flanders' world.
It doesn't really get more complicated than adding thievery, lying, con artistry, and so forth to your already complex repertoire of prostitution, bigamy, and fraudulent behavior – quite the resume. Moll becomes a criminal because she's getting a little too old to trick men into marrying her over and over, and she's growing poorer by the day. But her new profession is even less secure than her previous one, and each time she carries out a crime, she runs the risk of getting caught.
Eventually, Moll's luck runs out. It was only a matter of time. She's taken to prison, where she knows she'll likely receive a death sentence for her crimes. We've heard about several of her criminal buddies meeting their deaths this way, so we know things don't look good for our thief with a heart of gold.
To no one's surprise, Moll gets served almost immediately with the ultimate punishment – death. This worries the reader, too, because it could take our story to a premature end if the heroine dies before she can finish telling it. What will we read then?
A kindly (or easily manipulated, depending on how you look at him) prison chaplain comes to Moll's rescue and gets her sentence downgraded to exile. So it's off to Virginia with her Lancashire man. Thanks to Moll's thriftiness and quick-thinking, they arrive there as fairly wealthy investors rather than poor ex-cons. Clean slate? Don't mind if we do.
Despite abandoning children left and right throughout the course of the book, at the end Moll gets the chance to make things right with one of them – the son she had with her very own brother. Despite the whole incest fiasco, he seems like a nice guy, and he's okay with Moll's murky past. After this heartfelt reunion, Moll's story gets wrapped up with a nice, neat bow, as she and Lancashire head back to England, their pockets full of freshly made cash. Hey Moll, how's that view from the top?