Study Guide

Moll Flanders Authorship

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The world is so taken up of late with novels and romances, that it will be hard for a private history to be taken for genuine, where the names and other circumstances of the person are concealed, and on this account we must be content to leave the reader to pass his own opinion upon the ensuing sheet, and take it just as he pleases. (Preface 1)

Daniel Defoe is totally messing with our heads. He says right off the bat that this book will be different from the novels and romances that people are reading. But, Daniel, this <em>is </em>a novel. We readers know this, of course, so we're forced to question why he feels the need to assure us Moll's story is true, when we know, for a fact, it's not. Our heads are spinning already.

The pen employed in finishing her story, and making it what you now see it to be, has had no little difficulty to put it into a dress fit to be seen, and to make it speak language fit to be read. When a woman debauched from her youth, nay, even being the offspring of debauchery and vice, comes to give an account of all her vicious practices, and even to descend to the particular occasions and circumstances by which she ran through in threescore years, an author must be hard put to it wrap it up so clean as not to give room, especially for vicious readers, to turn it to his disadvantage. (Preface 4)

Okay, how much do you want to read the original raunchier, more graphic, and "debauched" version of Moll's story? In the fictional world Defoe has created, the fictional author version of himself has made Moll's story more acceptable for its audience. Unfortunately, we're betting that version doesn't exist, because the version we're reading is untrue, anyway. And notice the metaphor he uses here. In cleaning up the story, he has "put it into a dress fit to be seen." Hey, isn't that exactly what Moll does to herself in order to convince those around her that she's a gentlewoman?

There is in this story abundance of delightful incidents, and all of them usefully applied. There is an agreeable turn artfully given them in the relating, that naturally instructs the reader, either one way or other. (Preface 8)

This is a pretty confident way for an author to describe his work. Everything about it is "delightful," "useful," "agreeable," and so forth. Defoe, we're worried you might be overcompensating for something. But it does remind us of how Moll describes her own appearance. Both the author and Moll would probably claim they're not being conceited, though – just honest. You sure can get away with a lot if you promise you're telling the truth.

In her last scene, at Maryland and Virginia, many pleasant things happened, which makes that part of her life very agreeable, but they are not told with the same elegancy as those accounted for by herself; so it is still to the more advantage that we break off here. (Preface 22)

This is another trick the author uses to make readers feel like he's just the transcriber/editor and Moll Flanders is the real author. He criticizes part of the story (which he really wrote) and says that he's done some editing to show off the best parts in other places. This gives the impression that the story the reader is about to read is, in fact, true, because it had to be edited.

Thus far I have had a smooth story to tell of myself, and in all this part of my life I not only had the reputation of living in a very good family, and a family noted and respected everywhere for virtue and sobriety, and for every valuable thing; but I had the character too of a very sober, modest, and virtuous young woman, and such I had always been; neither had I yet any occasion to think of anything else, or to know what a temptation to wickedness meant. (59)

Moll writes, "I had a character," which is a fun little pun because she is, in fact, a character. Of course here she's referring to her moral character – the fiber that makes up her personality. It hints at the fact that she is playing the part of a virtuous young woman. And that part is being written for her by none other than Daniel Defoe.

He spoke this in so much more moving terms than it is possible for me to express, and with so much greater force of argument than I can repeat, that I only recommend it to those who read the story, to suppose, that as he held me above an hour and a half in that discourse, so he answered all my objections, and fortified his discourse with all the arguments that human wit and art could devise. (214)

Moll takes the easy way out as an author, here, when she says she can't even repeat the man's argument because it was so moving. Instead of trying to do so, she leaves it up to her readers to imagine the highlights and the finer points. Look for other moments in the novel where Moll shies away from telling the whole story. Do these moments have anything in common?

And here I cannot but reflect upon the unhappy consequence of too great freedoms between persons stated as we were, upon the pretence of innocent intentions, love of friendship, and the like. […] But I leave the readers of these things to their own just reflections, which they will be more able to make effectual than I, who so soon forgot myself, and am therefore but a very indifferent monitor. (475)

Just in case the immorality of this moment wasn't fully felt, Moll tells "readers" here to ponder their own thoughts regarding her example and see if it isn't a great reminder to be more moral, better people. So we guess that means we get to write our own thoughts into the story, too.

On the other hand, every branch of my story, if duly considered, may be useful to honest people, and afford a due caution to people of some sort or other to guard against the like surprises, and to have their eyes about them when they have to do with strangers of any kind, for 'tis very seldom that some snare or other is not in their way. The moral, indeed, of all my history is left to be gathered by the senses and judgment of the reader; I am not qualified to preach to them. Let the experience of one creature completely wicked, and completely miserable, be a storehouse of useful warning to those that read. (1001)

Moll excuses her lengthy retelling of her sins and bad behavior by emphasizing how "useful" and "caution[ary]" her story could be to the right reader. She says she just wants to provide people with information that can help them make better decisions in their lives than she made in hers. When you combine this with the author's words in the Preface, it seems they both believe that the role of a writer is to teach good behavior. But of course it also means that Moll gets to give us all the juicy details of her lurid behavior, for the sake of our souls, of course.

He gave me so many distinct accounts of his adventures, that it is with great reluctance that I decline the relating them; but I consider that this is my own story, not his. (1106)

Here's another moment in which Moll reminds us of her role as the author. "Sure," she seems to be saying, "my husband's "story" might be awesome, but this is the Moll Flanders show, <em>not</em> the Lancashire husband hour." She's the author, so she gets to decide what goes into her book, and what is not worth her words.

As the publishing this account of my life is for the sake of the just moral of very part of it, and for instruction, caution, warning, and improvement to every reader, so this will not pass, I hope, for an unnecessary digression concerning some people being obliged to disclose the greatest secrets either of their own or other people's affairs. (1184)

Once again, Moll takes pains to provide a disclaimer for her book. Remember, Shmoopers, she is sharing her story to help you be a better person. So here, when she includes juicy gossip, it's for our own good. Or at least that's what she tells us. What do you think is really going on?

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