by Daniel Defoe
Women's Bodies and Money: Marriage/Love/Sex
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Bodies, money, marriage, love, and sex… That's a lot to sort out, and in Moll Flanders, they're all related in surprising, sometimes confusing ways. Don't let this complication hold you back, though. In a lot of ways, the collision of women, wealth, love, and bodies is one of the most interesting things about Moll Flanders. It makes for some fun reading.
Here's the thing, though. When it comes to money, marriage, love and sex, these are things that seem out of control of woman in Moll's England. In her interactions with the Colchester boys, she learns early on that marriage and money have much more to do with each other than marriage, love, and sex do. Once she has learned this lesson, Moll takes off down her rather dark path to thievery.
Then there's the matter of Moll's body. Before she even realizes it, her body is used in exchange for money, and that's a source of deep confusion for her, at least at first. When the older brother in Colchester hands her five guineas after one of their rendezvous, she says, "I was more confounded with the money than I was before with the love." First she is dumbfounded that this handsome older brother might love her. But then, when he gives her money she is even more dumbfounded. Of course she doesn't take this to mean that he doesn't love her; she is still very much convinced of that. This tells us that poor Moll is being hopelessly naïve.
But that doesn't last long, and she eventually comes to understand marriage as an arrangement of financial survival, and sex as something completely different. In fact, in Moll's world, the only connection between sex and marriage seems to be that having sex for money and getting married for money pretty much amount to the same thing – at least in Moll's eyes. Love and companionship can be traded for dough just like sex can.
In a sense, and a very sad one at that, this is the only way Moll can exert power in her life. Marriage to a man with money is, for much of the book, her only shot at survival. So everyday life becomes all about snagging herself a husband. One of the ways she can do this quickly is by wielding her beauty and sexuality to reel the men in.
That works all right for a while, but eventually Moll, like everybody else on the planet, grows old, and her body isn't of much use anymore. Still, the goal is always money. Whereas before she used her body to get money, now she'll have to put it at risk for that money when she turns to stealing for her livelihood.