Study Guide

Moll Flanders What's Up With the Title?

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What's Up With the Title?

Figured it was just Moll Flanders all along? Well, then, has Shmoop got news for you. You might want to take a deep breath. Here's the original:

The Fortunes & Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders &c. Who was Born in Newgate, and during a Life of continu'd Variety for Threescore Years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own Brother), Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv'd Honest, and dies a Penitent. Written from her own Memorandums.

Did that have you gasping for air like it did us? A long title like this is practically a novel itself, which is fitting, given that it covers all the major plot points. Thanks for the spoiler alert, Defoe. In fact, it seems like Defoe is using all the twists and turns of the plot as an enticement for readers to pick up the book in the first place.

This is totally different from the way books are marketed today, where the ending is always left off the back cover's blurb. But nevertheless, the title draws us in. We want to know how Moll managed to have so many adventures over the course of her life, even if we already know what those adventures are.

Of course this lengthy title is also a mouthful, so it's no wonder people usually refer to the book by its shorter title: Moll Flanders. Naming a book after its protagonist was a common tactic in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The novel was just getting off the ground, and authors didn't want to go too crazy, so they took the easy route with titles like Tom Jones, Evelina, Emma, Jane Eyre, and David Copperfield, just to name a few. So in Moll Flanders, including all the stuff that happens in the book in the title is an effective piece of marketing for an eighteenth-century audience that's used to learning nothing from the name alone (Moll who?).

All in all, this title has got it all. It practically shouts, Readers! This book is moral, honest, exciting and scandalous all at once! How could you not want to read a book like that?

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