Moll jumps back in time a little to note that after she and Robin first get married they set up house in London. When Robin's brother eventually gets married, too, Robin goes to the wedding in the country and Moll stays in London by herself.
She's sad about the elder brother getting married, but she feels better when she remembers she w is youthful, pretty, fairly well-off, and (once Robin dies) unattached. In short: many men are interested in her.
And once Robin dies, they become even more interested in her because she has money. Moll is careful, though, and doesn't fall for anyone initially. She's hoping for a bigger and better match.
One of these suitors is the brother of her new landlady. He's a "linen-draper" (228). Wait a minute, that's a job?
Unfortunately, she lets herself down and gets tricked into a relationship with this linen-draper guy. She's so intent on avoiding becoming someone's mistress that she ends up marrying the draper, who she thinks is a gentleman (and, no, not just the kind that holds the door for you – the kind that has money).
But the draper is only interested in Moll for her money and tries to spend it as quickly as he can. He definitely doesn't live up to the reputation Moll thought he had. He spends all of his and Moll's money on foolish extravagances, including a trip to Oxford.
A little more than two years into their marriage, Moll's husband gets caught by the police for all of his excessive debts. When Moll visits him in jail, he tells her to save herself and to take whatever money she can from their quarters and get out. That's precisely what she does.
And that's the last we see of Husband #2, because soon after this he escapes to France, leaving many of the bills unpaid.
Moll's husband sends her a couple of letters from France, including one in which he includes some money to pick up some holland fabric he had pawned. She's able to live off the money she makes from selling the fabric for a little while.
Still, things have gotten dire. She has much less money than she used to and is technically still married, even though her husband is clearly out of the picture. She's alone and in trouble.
Her solution? She gives up her old identity, of course. Changing her name to Mrs. Flanders, Moll moves to the "Mint," where people often go to evade debts collectors.
Here, Moll becomes very popular, even though she isn't sleeping with anyone. Pretty soon, though, she gets bored. She thinks the people around her sin too much.
So she decides to get out and moves in with a friend, also a widow, for six months. Then the widow gets married again and Moll's on her own once more.
Meanwhile, Moll figures out that money matters in marriage more than anything else. Men can be picky and women are supposed to be grateful for all offers they receive. This doesn't quite seem fair.
An example comes in the form of a girl Moll knows, who's been jilted after questioning her suitor. Moll advises her to act more like a man and protect herself in matrimonial negotiations. So, following Moll's advice, the girl spreads a rumor that the man who dumped her was a big jerk. And that gossip becomes a powerful weapon. Soon, none of the other women in the area will let the man court them, because of the nasty rumor they've heard.
The girl tricks the man into falling back in love with her and teases him severely before finally taking him back.
The man undergoes a complete moral change and becomes humble and nice. And it's all because of Moll's advice. The girl's able to manage her money wisely and even keep some of it out of her new husband's hands.
Moll takes this opportunity to remind readers of the importance of women's rights. She says women should get to take more time in figuring out whom they might like to marry. Hear hear.
Of course, despite all these noble thoughts about rights, Moll's situation is still pretty unfortunate. She still doesn't have much money and so no one wants to marry her. This is one situation where gossip clearly won't help.
Moll decides she has to start over somewhere else again, with yet another identity.
Luckily, she has a friend who can help. This friend, a former widow, helps her with both money and advice. The widow and her husband pretend Moll is their cousin and take her into town with them. They fool people into thinking Moll has more money than she does.
Moll wants a man who thinks she has a lot of money and won't question her about her fortune too much, so she selects a captain as her new target.
At some point in their courtship, the new lovebirds write poetry to each other on her window, using his diamond ring. Moll confesses she doesn't have much money and he says he'd marry her anyway – he thinks she's testing him and is secretly rich. Perfect.
They decide to get married, and she continues to deceive him about her financial status. Moll tricks the poor guy into promising to love her whether she's really rich or really poor.
He tells her he's pretty well off and has all this property in Virginia. He ends up not minding all that much when Moll reveals her truly poor status, and they are soon married. (This is Husband #3, just in case you want to keep track.)
By the time she finally tells him how much money she really has, he's relieved because it's actually a little more than he was led to expect. She gives him a little money at a time, before saying that she has run out.
This prompts Moll's new husband to say that he should go to Virginia by himself in order to keep their expenses low. But Moll wants to go with him, and we can't forget that this is a woman who knows how to get her way.
Sure enough, they're soon on their way to America. The journey seems arduous but Moll doesn't talk about it very much. When they get to Virginia, they move in with her husband's mother.
Everything goes well… until it doesn't.
Moll's mother-in-law tells them about how many of the people in Virginia are former English criminals who've been exiled and were previously servants or slaves. But in the new world, they can work their way up to a fresh start. As it turns out, the mother-in-law is one of these very criminals she's describing. Hmm. That sounds vaguely familiar…
Over time, a curious Moll asks more questions about her mother-in-law's past and learns the mother-in-law was in – you guessed it – Newgate prison. Gasp.
Moll freaks out when she learns the mother-in-law's real name. Moll doesn't tell her mother-in-law the problem, but as soon as she can be alone she faces facts: her mother-in-law is actually her mother, and her husband is her brother. Pause for appropriate disgust.
Horrified, Moll simply cannot continue with daily life: she's been sleeping with her brother and she's currently pregnant with their third child. She becomes paralyzed with indecision.
She carries on for three years feeling like an immoral criminal, but hey, at least they don't have any more kids.
Meanwhile she learns more about her mother-in-law/mother, and feels like they have both been living like whores.
Then everything falls apart: Moll and her husband start to fight a lot, and she arranges to return to England by herself. She can't bear to act as his wife anymore, but, even with all of the arguing, she has a really hard time convincing him to release her from their marriage.
She decides she'll have to abandon her family because of her secret, and her poor husband can't understand why she wants to leave.
When she stops sleeping with him altogether, he calls her crazy for it. Finally she decides she has no choice but to tell him a bit about their real relationship. But, before she can, he starts threatening to put her in a madhouse, which freaks Moll out.
They have a huge fight. She says they're not legally married, but doesn't say why, and he becomes severely ill. He assumes that Moll has another husband who's still alive – which is technically true, but is not the problem she has with him – and tells his mother about it.
Moll is forced to tell their mother the real secret. At first they fight about it, but then they make up in an attempt to resolve the larger issue of incest. If the truth comes out it will destroy all of them. What in the world should they do?
The mother thinks Moll should just act like it's not true, and pretend she never found out her husband was actually her brother. But Moll thinks this is disgusting, and we totally agree.
Moll says she should return to England by herself, if her mother will give her some money, and then once she's gone her mother can tell her husband/brother the truth.
Meanwhile, the poor, in-the-dark husband keeps bringing up the madhouse because she won't tell him what's really going on. So their mother finally persuades the husband to ease up on Moll, but Moll knows she has to tell him the truth before she gets pregnant with a fourth child.
So, even though her mother doesn't want her to, Moll finally decides to tell her husband the truth. First she makes him promise he won't think the secret is her fault, that he'll never tell anyone but his mom, and that he won't let his emotions get the best of him.
So Moll finally tells him they are siblings. Big moment, folks.
He is beyond horrified and eventual tries to "fix" the problem by offering to kill himself. Well, bud, that's a little extreme. A more practical Moll manages to get him in a better mood, but he still tries to commit suicide twice. Luckily, he's unsuccessful.
He does become ill all over again, though, and Moll decides it's a good time to head back to England. He's weaker now, after all, so Moll will have an easier time convincing him this is the right way to handle the situation.
They agree to call each other brother and sister, and Moll tells him he should spread the word that she's died, and then he can get married again.
The husband agrees to speak well of her in her absence, although Moll makes an aside to the reader that, later, we'll find out that wasn't exactly what he ended up doing. Hmm. We wonder what she means by that.