After the banker's death, Moll is bummed beyond belief. She really loved him; plus, now she's starting to be too old to make her living as someone's mistress.
She's alone and about to run out of money. Again. She stays alone for two whole years until she's absolutely destitute.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. One day, Moll steals something from an apothecary's shop. She can't explain why she does it; it's a reflex, or compulsion.
Terrified at what she has done, she runs away like a madwoman and heads back home. There, she discovers that she has stolen some really nice children's clothing, goods, and money.
Understandably, Moll flips out and worries she'll go to prison. Her moral issues are quieted, though, because she's now so incredibly poor that she has to steal to keep going. She has to break the law in order to survive. Even though she feels bad about it, she goes out with a plan to steal something else.
This time, she misleads a little girl and steals her necklace. She thinks about killing the girl but is instantly revolted, which is good, because we are, too.
To justify her actions, she tells herself she really did the little girl a favor, because the incident probably taught the girl's parents to take better care of her. Yeah, right.
Moll continues her life of petty crime, and somehow manages not to get caught.
One day, she even gets her hands on another thief's loot, when that thief is tracked down and captured.
Of course her fear of being caught herself keeps her from doing anything really rash, but one day Moll breaks down and steals two rings from a shop window. Some of the stuff she steals is too dangerous to pass along, because it's so valuable. Nevertheless, the bigger the steal, the bigger the punishment, so she's really skating on thin ice now.
Meanwhile Moll decides to go see her old friend the midwife. She had to stop paying the fees for care of her other child a while ago, and hopes he's doing all right.
The midwife has come across hard times, too, but she's hanging in there. She agrees to take Moll's fine goods and pawn them, not realizing that the goods are stolen.
The midwife, nice as ever, lets Moll move in with her at reduced rent and lowers the amount Moll has to pay for the care of her child.
Moll tries to be good and make an honest living by doing needlework, and she almost manages. But something inside her keeps urging her to steal.
One night she steals a silver cup from a bar, and suddenly decides to tell the midwife what she has been up to. When Moll asks the midwife if she thinks she should take that cup back, the midwife tells her absolutely not. She'll be brutally punished.
Oh now she gets it. Moll realizes the midwife has been fleecing stolen goods this whole time. No wonder she's so understanding.
In fact, she's so understanding, the midwife arranges for another woman to teach Moll how to be a good thief and pickpocket. So Moll works with the woman to steal a watch from a pregnant lady, and no one catches them. It's amazing what a little teamwork can do.
This success prompts Moll to fully commit to being a thief. She gets better at it, and her criminal team does pretty well for itself.
At one point she thinks about quitting thievery, since she has now escaped poverty. But she's just too greedy, and she decides to stick with it a while longer. The money is too good to pass up. Soon after this decision, Moll's thievery tutor and another thief are caught in the act and sent to jail. They're sentenced to death but get a small reprieve when, thinking on their feet, they claim they're pregnant.
Moll visits them for a bit at the jail but she does not like it there, so she stops going.
The thievery teacher is soon put to death, and the other one is eventually released. Yikes. That ought to scare Moll off, right?
Right. Our girl stops stealing for a while after this, but then she falls right back into old habits when the opportunity knocks.
When a fire breaks out nearby, the midwife tells Moll to go in and steal something. It's morally questionable to say the least, but Moll goes ahead anyways, and nabs some rings, gold, and money. It's more than she ever took before, and it was a cinch.
As terrible as Moll feels about what she did, she doesn't take back what she stole. In fact, she's beginning to act more and more like a criminal, and the more she eludes capture, the cockier she gets. She knows she'll run into trouble soon but in the meantime she just can't stop stealing. She does, however, start to avoid shoplifting, because it's one of the riskier crimes. Shoplifters are caught more often.
At one point, Moll falls in with a couple who are criminals (and eventually die for their crimes), but they're clumsy and lucky, and she doesn't want to take many chances with them.
She's right, because on the one spree she doesn't take part in, the other two are caught and later hanged.
The midwife keeps encouraging Moll to steal, though, so they both can profit. She tells Moll about a family that has some illegal lace. Moll tells the police and says she'll lead them to it for a cut of the spoils. Moll makes out very well, since she negotiates for a good amount of the lace and also steals some when the police aren't looking.
Moll starts to get into more deals like this because it's profitable, and safer than stealing outright.
She also tries to steal another watch in a public area, but it doesn't work. She only gets away with it by thinking quickly, calling out that there's another pickpocket there. Unfortunately, there really is another one, and the crowd turns on him.
A shaken Moll decides to hold off on crime for a while, because she knows she barely got away.
At this point, Moll takes a moment to tell us the midwife's history. It turns out the midwife used to be a pickpocket also, and only got caught one time. Even though her sentence was exile in America, she escaped to Ireland and eventually back to England. Once there, she started working as a midwife, running her house of ill repute, and doing well financially.
With the midwife's help, Moll keeps up her criminal activity for five years and never gets caught. She starts to become notorious, and other criminals resent her because she always gets away. They start calling her "Moll Flanders," but remember, that's not her real name.
Now that other criminals are working against her, Moll has to stop thieving for a while. To get through this, the midwife has Moll dress up like a man and continue her crimes that way.
It seems like a good idea at first, but it's short-lived for two reasons: one, Moll doesn't feel comfortable, and two, things go badly on one particular stakeout.
Moll has to work with another thief, a man, and they begin to spend a lot of time together. They steal by just picking up things that are lying around in stores.
One day, the man is too bold and the cops get wind of it. They catch him and chase after Moll, but she manages to get home and change into her own clothes.
So when the cops come in looking for a man, they only find Moll and the midwife, and a little girl. The police still search the house thoroughly, but of course can't find the other man.
The midwife swears no men came in her house that day, which is technically true, and the police agree to stop bothering them. Phew.
The man who was working with Moll is unfortunately not so lucky. He tries to get his partner (Moll) turned in, in exchange for mercy, but he still thinks Moll's a man named Gabriel Spencer, and that person doesn't exist. This just makes the poor man look like a liar, which does not bode well for his future.
Moll takes some time out and goes to stay in Dunstable for a while with her old landlady and landlord. She says she's waiting for her husband.
She's still totally terrified that the police will come after her for the robberies. The midwife sends her letters and eventually reveals that the male thief was executed for his crimes. Moll is glad because she's safe, at least.
Moll tells the landlady her husband can't meet her yet and returns to London, where she goes back to doing her crimes solo. She doesn't want to stop, even when she sees friends get in serious trouble.
One day, Moll steals from a mercer and tells a friend on the street about it. Bad idea. The police come and arrest the friend, who's innocent in that case, and take her to jail. Meanwhile, Moll goes unpunished, and we can't help but think she's feeling pretty darn guilty right about now.
Unfortunately, the only thing she takes away from this incident is that she has to continue keeping her personal information secret from the other robbers.
Moll doesn't commit any crimes while the innocent friend is being questioned, in case she gets captured, because then the friend will testify against her. The woman blames a "Mrs. Flanders" but the police can't find Moll. Eventually, the woman is shipped off to exile, rather than being executed.
But sure enough, it doesn't take long before an overconfident Moll starts stealing again. She tries a robbery at another fire, but is injured when a bed falls on top of her.
Next, Moll attends Bartholomew Fair and is convinced by a man to join a raffle.
She goes with him in his carriage and notes that he's been drinking; then he takes her to his room, where they probably sleep together, although we can't be sure.
When they're back in his carriage he falls asleep, and Moll robs him before taking off.
Moll says it wasn't his fault: he was drunk and lustful, which explains why he didn't notice she was pretty old for a prostitute. She says she didn't mean to hurt him and thinks he'll feel worse in the morning.
Moll takes this opportunity to talk about the moral problems of drinking and sleeping around: they're both bad. Yep, could have told you that one, Moll.
When Moll goes home and tells the midwife, the midwife agrees that this will teach the raffle man a valuable lesson. Oh, so that makes it okay?
Then the midwife realizes she might actually know the guy. She snoops a little and realizes who it is. He's in the aristocracy. Uh oh. He's saying publicly that he has been robbed, but not that he slept with a random woman who took advantage of him.
It sounds like the guy might've gotten into more trouble after Moll robbed him because he's injured, too.
Eventually, the midwife pays the man a visit. She makes him promise to keep a secret and tells him she knows exactly what happened the day he was "robbed."
He's embarrassed and mainly worried that he might have gotten an STD. The midwife tells him he hasn't. Strangely enough, he doesn't seem to blame Moll for stealing, because he seems to think she couldn't help it. He does, however, want to meet Moll to reassure himself she's disease-free, and says he'll buy back his stolen watch.
At first Moll doesn't want to meet with him but she later agrees to, after the midwife reassures her.
When she does see him, they apologize to each other repeatedly and then have sex. Then he pays her for her services. This happens a couple more times, and then continues for twelve whole months. Moll manages to make do on what he pays her and not steal from others. It's official, Moll is a prostitute.
Of course when that affair comes to an end, Moll goes right back to stealing. She waits at a stagecoach exchange for good opportunities, and she takes a packet from a waiting customer, promises to guard it, and then escapes at the earliest opportunity.
She gets home with no problems and repeats the trick quite a few times in other places.
Then she tries a similar trick at a warehouse, where she forges a letter that gives her ownership of goods there, and then can simply walk away with them, easy as pie.
Soon, though, Moll's luck begins to run out. Finally.
First, she gets mistaken for another criminal robbing a store and is held by police. Even though she's not at fault, her face has been seen and she has been noticed. They're threatening to take her to prison. This is so not good.
As Moll tries to argue her way out of it, the real criminal in the case is captured and brought in, too. The police make plans to release Moll, but they'll have to go before a justice in order to do so.
Moll insists the men who detained her be punished and a fight breaks out. Then she, the policeman, and one of the men who brought her in go to see the justice.
Once there, Moll tells a pack of lies about herself and how she has been wrongly accused. She turns out to be quite the actress.
The justice apologizes to Moll, the man from the store is sent off to prison, and Moll is released. She's in the clear, for now at least.
The midwife thinks it will turn out well and Moll may be able to get some money out of it, but Moll is worried the incident has raised her criminal profile.
Still, at the midwife's suggestion, Moll finds an attorney to press charges against the storeowner who wrongfully accused her. The attorney does so, and the sides end up negotiating while Moll tries to stay out of it.
Finally, Moll meets with the storeowner, who apologizes to her. Moll goes totally over the top in proclaiming her innocence and in sounding upset with being treated like a thief.
She ends up getting a good sum of money and even some new clothes out of the ordeal.
When they meet to hand over the money, Moll brings the midwife and they both dress up like rich people. Moll acts graciously and says she'll forgive the man who was arrested for holding her in the store.
The storeowner brings that guy in and he apologizes to Moll, who keeps acting like a fine lady.
Moll says that would have been an excellent time to stop acting like a criminal, but she couldn't manage it because she was still so greedy.
For her next crime, Moll dresses up like a beggar, which doesn't seem to go well at first. She ends up stealing a horse, which is a difficult thing to get rid of, and then ultimately has to figure out how to put it back without getting caught. Clearly she didn't think this one through.
Then, some financial counterfeiters try to convince Moll to work with them, but she decides not to because the punishment (death by fire) is too great. Good call, Moll.
At this point, she stops acting like a beggar and turns her mind to a different criminal activity: robbing homes. It takes her a while to find a partner, but she finally gets one, and the two get to work. But, it turns out, Moll isn't very good at burglary.
Another time, Moll dresses up like an upper-class woman and takes advantage of the distraction over a celebrity sighting to steal some goods from a store. In the following confusion she makes it to a carriage and gets away just as the theft is discovered. It's a close call.
Another day Moll also pretends to be upper class and performs a con on the daughter of a lord. Moll pretends she knows the family, befriends with the girl, and helps her see the King pass through the area. During all that, she steals the little girl's watch and then disappears.
Moll thinks, in retrospect, that maybe she should have waited and tried to steal more from the little girl, but it was probably a good idea not to. Later she finds out it was a good idea, because the little girl's servant also saw her, and she could have been caught.
In yet another crime, Moll convinces some men at a casino to let her gamble with them. One even gives her some money so she can join in. She plays well and wins a bunch of money. She hides some of it before giving the winnings to the man who loaned her the money, and he then shares the winnings with her. All in all, it's a pretty profitable night.
Moll continues to commit crimes and becomes a very well-known criminal. Usually she tries out new cons so she can't be caught. If she grows too predictable, it will be easy to nab her.
She tries her luck at a fair in Suffolk, but it's poor, so she heads to Cambridge and orders things on credit at a linen store. When they're delivered to her hotel she arranges to stiff the deliveryman and steals the items.
From there, Moll travels to Ipswich and Harwich. At a Harwich hotel, she steals another guest's luggage and takes it on a boat headed back to Ipswich. She runs into some trouble with the customs people in Ipswich, but it all blows over.
Knowing that it's only a matter of time before the crime will be discovered and she'll be traced, Moll takes the luggage to a hotel and leaves it there. After asking directions, she heads back to London on foot.
On her walk, Moll runs into a man who agrees to take her on his horse to a town called Colchester, if she'll pay him. Moll agrees and they get partway before stopping for the night, then heading to Colchester.
When she arrives in town, she realizes that all the people she used to know there are dead or gone.
Moll spends a few days there and then goes back to London, where she decides she won't travel to the country to commit more crimes. It's just not worth it.
Back in London, Moll goes into a silversmith's and is about to steal some silver when someone from across the street sees her and runs after her into the store. He grabs her before she can steal anything and yells for the storeowner.
Moll says she merely wanted to buy some spoons, but the people there don't really buy her story.
Just then, some high-ranking officials walk by, including a justice, and come in to hear all sides of the story.
They each speak and Moll tells her (made up) story about why she was there in glorious detail.
The men say that Moll should really buy the spoons, if that's what she came there to do, and luckily she has enough money with her to buy them. Phew. That was a lucky escape. Our girl is starting to seem downright invincible.
Unfortunately, a few days later, Moll wanders into someone's home and steals some fabric. Two women catch her, though, and keep her from escaping before the homeowners come in and confront her.
Moll tries to spin a good tale but it's not enough this time. The servants have gotten a policeman to come and Moll has to go with him to speak to a justice. It turns out she's not invincible after all.
Moll freaks out and offers to pay for the goods, which she didn't end up stealing. She has to go to the justice anyway and almost gets released, but one of the women in court says Moll was stealing and she's sent to prison. In fact, she's sent to Newgate, the very same prison her mother was in.