by Daniel Defoe
Analysis: Writing Style
Blowsy, Honest, Confiding, Matter-of-Fact
Moll's Honesty is the Best Policy
Blowsy? What's that all about? Well by blowsy we don't' mean that the novel is written in the style of a shirt. Nope, we mean that it's told in the style of a coarse, unrefined, and promiscuous woman. Because the story is told from Moll's very own point of view, we get to hear it in her voice. And folks, let's face it. That's the voice of a hardened criminal, a hooker, and a con artist. She's hardly hoity-toity. She has a shady past, and she has decided to give us a glimpse.
Consider, for example, the style in which we're told that Moll sleeps with, and then steals from a member of the aristocracy:
At first I seemed to be unwilling to go up, but after a few words I yielded to that too, being willing to see the end of it, and in hope to make something of it at last. As for the bed, etc., I was not much concerned about that part.
Here he began to be a little freer with me than he had promised; and I by little and little yielded to everything, so that, in a word, he did what he pleased with me; I need say no more.
You're right, Moll. You don't need to say another word. We totally get the picture. Just a few lines later, without so much as a flinch, she tells us that she robs the poor man blind.
This is also not a novel with flowery descriptions or long digressions and subplots. It's all about Moll, and a lot happens to her. She doesn't have time for dilly-dallying in dull details.
Can You Handle the Truth?
However, we should never forget that we're supposedly reading the words of a known criminal and a top-notch liar. So, as honest as Moll's voice seems to be, we shouldn't ever really trust it completely. For instance, take a look at this passage, in which she describes taking the plunge and deciding to have sex with one of her suitors:
It is true, and I have confessed it before, that from the first hour I began to converse with him, I resolved to let him lie with me, if he offered it; but it was because I wanted his help and assistance, and I knew no other way of securing him than that. But when were that night together, and, as I have said, had gone such a length, I found my weakness; the inclination was not to be resisted, but I was obliged to yield up all even before he asked it. (448)
Moll starts out by emphasizing the "tru[th]" of what she's about to say. This simply reinforces her honesty, but it also forces us to consider why she even needs to reinforce it in the first place. Then she says she'd always been sure she would have sex with him and claims she has a totally rational, businesslike reason for doing so: she needs "his help and assistance." You don't get much more matter-of-fact than that.
Of course, meanwhile, she's been leading him on, pretending she doesn't know whether she'll sleep with him or not. So we just sit back watch her lie to the guy, believing that we special readers know her true intentions. But then, at the end of the paragraph, she abandons her business-like manner and confesses what's really going on. Moll doesn't need or want to wait for him to make his move. She yields to him, no questions asked.
So is Moll being businesslike? Or does she just want to get busy? The problem with our girl is that you just never know, and her factual, no nonsense style makes it a bit hard to know what's really going on in her head.