Moll Flanders is born in a prison called Newgate. When her criminal mother is exiled to America, Moll is sent to live with a kindly, but poor nurse. Moll charms her nurse into keeping her out of servitude, and eventually, when she's old enough, she is sent to live with a wealthy family in the neighborhood. She has got it made, right? Wrong.
Everything is going quite well until the family's oldest son strikes up a secret romantic relationship with Moll, while his younger brother pines for her, too. Uh oh. Unfortunately, the older son totally refuses to marry Moll, so she is forced to marry the younger, less appealing brother and have his children. Husband number one.
When the younger brother dies, Moll marries husband number two, a London linen-draper. This man acts like a gentleman but doesn't have any money. When his debts catch up to him, he and Moll break up. Penniless and husbandless, Moll changes her identity, hides out from the creditors, and eventually targets another man to marry: a captain.
Moll moves with the captain to his estate in Virginia, where she and husband number three live for eight years and pop out some kiddos. Sounds great right? Except it turns out the man is her half-brother – her criminal mother is also her mother-in-law. Ick. Gross. Yuck. Ew. Horrified, Moll manages to get out of there and return to England, leaving her kids and her brother behind.
Back in England, Moll embarks on a relationship with a man from Bath. They're together for several years and have a kid, but never get married. Eventually, the guy dumps Moll and she's on her own once again. She then meets a banker, who seems pretty nice, but he's married. He wants to get a divorce and marry Moll, but she puts him off for a while. Instead, Moll goes into the country – Lancashire – where she falls in love with a rich gentleman, who will become husband number four. Turns out, though, they were both tricking each other. After they get married, they find out that neither of them has any dough. They can't make it work without money and they split, but on pretty good terms.
Moll moves back to London and finds out she's pregnant. Not good. She seeks out support from a midwife in the area, and when her kid is born, she sends it out to be fostered and hooks back up with the banker (the guy who used to be married, whom she met before going to Lancashire). They get married and have a couple more kids. Everything's wonderful for five years with husband number five, until he dies suddenly and Moll's on her own yet again.
Moll moves back in with her midwife and then, desperate for cash, embarks on a life of crime, stealing and performing cons. She almost gets caught loads of times. At one point, Moll finds out her Lancashire husband has become a highwayman, so he has embarked on a life of crime, too. Finally, after several close calls, Moll is caught and sent to prison. There, she runs into her Lancashire husband. They are both sentenced to death, and everything looks grim, until, at the last second, their sentences are changed to exile in America. The two manage to make it to Virginia, where Moll reconciles with her incest-born son. She and her Lancashire man make a lot of money and, when their sentences lapse, return to England for the rest of their lives, repentant and, more importantly, rich.