Study Guide

Moll Flanders Introduction

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Moll Flanders Introduction

If Moll Flanders were published today, you might find it in the Chick Lit section of your friendly neighborhood bookstore. It documents the romantic escapades and moral mishaps of an urban lady with killer good looks. Sound familiar? Yeah, we thought so, too.

Oh, but friends, Moll Flanders is so much more. There's danger, crime, and travel. Plus, it tackles gender relations, class struggles, repressive societies, and unfair economies. Moll may get her man in the end, and the two may live happily ever after, but that may also be entirely beside the point. What really matters is what happens along the way.

The book's author, Daniel Defoe, is probably best known for his other long novel, Robinson Crusoe. If you've come across any work by Defoe before – especially if it was in elementary or middle school – chances are it was probably that book, an inspiring tale of a shipwrecked man and his isolated survival. Moll Flanders is a little bit darker than that. We mean, it is about a prostitute.

In fact, as Virginia Woolf argued in one of her essays, "The Novels of Defoe," while Moll Flanders was popular when it was first published in 1722, the fact that it was about prostitution and criminals made later Victorian audiences way less interested in it than Defoe's other book about an upstanding, male protagonist (source). In other words, we owe the fact that Moll Flanders is less well known than Robinson Crusoe to some stodgy readers with squeamish sensibilities. Moll did make a bit of a comeback, though, in the second half of the twentieth century, when new attention from more tolerant literary critics caused copies to start flying off the shelves once more.

And that's a good thing. Sure, Moll Flanders may be a bit racy, but it's also one of the world's first novels, and it's a longstanding member of the English literature canon. That's why you find it in the Classics section, and not under Chick Lit. It's a perfect storm of fun, juicy reading and intellectual food for thought. You can revel in Moll's scandals while experiencing one of the masterworks of English literature. Truly, it's the best of both worlds.

What is Moll Flanders About and Why Should I Care?

Mike Rowe knows well that people do some really odd stuff to make a living. And while many people choose these offbeat professions, others wind up in with jobs they never imagined, just to get by. Making a living is never easy, and sometimes we have to resort to strange measures just to make ends meet.

Still, we can't help thinking that if she were around today, Moll would be doing just fine. And though we don't recommend following her exact path out of poverty, we do think that her perseverance can be a guide for those who are finding it difficult to pay the bills. Like everyone's favorite curmudgeon Tim Gunn, Moll always finds a way to make it work.

What makes her so good at making money? It's not her choice of profession (don't try ANY of those at home, folks). No, what makes Moll inspiring is her utter dedication. She's the Cool Hand Luke of seventeenth-century England. She meets tough times with inner toughness, and nothing keeps her down for long. And if that's true for Moll Flanders, why can't it be true for us, too? So don't be afraid to take a page from Moll Flanders and apply it to your own life. Just make sure the page you choose is crime-free first.

Moll Flanders Resources


Defoe: Bio and Works
Check out these links about Defoe's life, put together by the Luminarium site. There's so much info here, you could spend days exploring.

Defoe's England
One of the many hats Defoe wore was that of travel writer. On this site, you can take a virtual trip through England with Defoe. Just look out for the men in Colchester. We hear they're trouble.

Movie or TV Productions

The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders
Amorous? Well that's putting things lightly. From 1965, this version stars Kim Novak of Hitchcock fame, and Angela Lansbury.

Moll Flanders, The Miniseries
This version was made in 1975 by the BBC, which seems to have adapted just about every British novel there is.

Moll Flanders, The Film
This 1996 film adaption of the book, starring Robin Wright and Morgan Freeman takes some serious liberties with the story. Looks like Moll has come up with yet another identity.

The Other Miniseries: The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders
Guess who plays Moll's Lancashire man in this 1996 miniseries? None other than Daniel Craig. Catch a glimpse of Bond before he was Bond.

Historical Documents

The Original Title Page
It's a wonder the printers could even fit the whole title on one page in the first place.

Moll's Surroundings
Thanks to the British Library, we can see the places in the book as they might have appeared in Defoe's day and age. Jump in and imagine yourself there (in black and white, of course).


A Trailer for the 1996 Film
See what we mean about this one taking liberties with the story? We don't remember Morgan Freeman anywhere in Defoe's version.

1965 Flanders Film
Get ready for some awesomely inaccurate costume design, and watch Kim Novak do her best Moll in this clip from the 1965 movie.

Daniel Craig as Lancashire
See? We weren't joking around. And neither is Daniel Craig's wig.

"Daniel Defoe and Moll Flanders"
A non-Shmooper takes a shot at discussion of the author and his creation.


Learn Out Loud
This audiobook version of Moll Flanders is read by Heather Bell (the sample is free, but you have to shell out some cash for the full-length version).

Unabridged Audio
Want to hear Moll in the car, on the treadmill, or even as you fall asleep? Now you can with this audiobook, published by Tantor Media, and read by Davina Porter.

Moll Flanders: the Musical
Yep, musical. You have to admit that this rollicking romp was made to be put to music, and at this website, you can hear a song from the show, created by Paul Leigh and George Stiles.


1965 Film Poster
Well now we know why Moll says she's so good looking. She's the spitting image of Kim Novak…

1996 Film Poster
This wistful poster strikes a note quite different from the 1965 film version's.

Daniel Defoe
A portrait of our author. Shmoop gives him the award for best hair ever. We dare you not to chuckle.

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