Study Guide

Moll Flanders Society and Class

Advertisement - Guide continues below

Society and Class

In the provision they made for me, it was my good hap to be put to nurse, as they call it, to a woman who was indeed poor but had been in better circumstances, and who got a little livelihood by taking such as I was supposed to be, and keeping them with all necessaries, till they were at a certain age, in which it might be supposed they might go to service or get their own bread. (11)

What's this "hap" she's talking about? It sounds an awful lot like luck. That means that because Moll was born into the lowest possible class – that of a prisoner – she should feel lucky that she has a chance to go live with a nurse. Do you agree?

"Because they will take me away," says I, "and put me to service, and I can't work housework." "Well, child," says she, "but though you can't work housework, as you call it, you will learn it in time, and they won't put you to hard things at first." "Yes, they will," says I, "and if I can't do it they will beat me, and the maids will beat me to make me do great work, and I am but a little girl and I can't do it"; and then I cried again, till I could not speak any more to her. (16)

Moll may only be a "little girl," but she understands some harsh truths about her society. She knows she lives in a hierarchy, where even the people near the bottom are cruel to those lower than they are. Moll wants something better, even if she's too young to express that fully, and you can't help but admire her ambition, right?

Now all this while my good old nurse, Mrs. Mayoress, and all the rest of them did not understand me at all, for they meant one sort of thing by the word gentlewoman, and I meant quite another; for alas! all I understood by being a gentlewoman was to be able to work for myself, and get enough to keep me without that terrible bugbear going to service, whereas they meant to live great, rich and high, and I know not what. (35)

This is a good reminder that one should be careful about the kinds of words one uses, in case they mean different things to different people. Moll's "gentlewoman" is totally different from the "gentlewoman" other women in her society think of. As we'll find out soon enough, this distinction is all too important.

Besides this, I observed that the men made no scruple to set themselves out, and to go a-fortunehunting, as they call it, when they had really no fortune themselves to demand it, or merit to deserve it; and that they carried it so high, that a woman was scarce allowed to inquire after the character or estate of the person that pretended to her. (251)

Unfortunately for Moll, in the seventeenth century, women's rights didn't really exist. Different genders have different places in society, so while being a member of the lower classes was no picnic, being a woman in the lower classes was even tougher.

I cannot but remind the ladies here how much they place themselves below the common station of a wife, which, if I may be allowed not to be partial, is low enough already; I say, they place themselves below their common station, and prepare their own mortifications, by their submitting so to be insulted by the men beforehand, which I confess I see no necessity of. (271)

Okay, so the women's rights movement hadn't happened yet. But if it had, we can't help but think that Moll would have been right at the forefront. After all, based on this quote, it's clear that she thinks it's unfair that a woman is forced to become a wife, which is a lower position. But of course Moll is no dreamer, and she knows that becoming a wife will make her feel legitimate and safe.

But the glittering show of a great estate, and of fine things, which the deceived creature that was now my deceiver represented every hour to my imagination, hurried me away, and gave me no time to think of London, or of anything there, much less of the obligation I had to a person of infinitely more real merit than what was now before me. (552)

We're going to come right out and say it: Moll is vain. Of course, this is something she has copped to earlier, so we can let it slide just this once. Still, we wish she weren't so easily swayed by a "glittering show," and would place more value on "real merit." But hey, she's only acting in the way society has taught her.

[…] had I come to London unmarried, I must either have come to him for the first night's entertainment, or have discovered to him that I had not one acquaintance in the whole city of London that could receive a poor bride for the first night's lodging with her spouse. But now, being an old married woman, I made no scruple of going directly home with him, and there I took possession at once of a house well furnished, and a husband in very good circumstances, so that I had a prospect of a very happy life, if I knew how to manage it; and I had leisure to consider of the real value of the life I was likely to live. (728)

There's no room for romance in this passage. Moll knows that marriage is her meal ticket. It makes her secure and acceptable in English society. And as for love? Hmm. What's that?

When I came to receive the money, I brought my governess with me, dressed like an old duchess, and a gentleman very well dressed, who we pretended courted me, but I called him cousin, and the lawyer was only to hint privately to him that his gentleman courted the widow. (945)

As it turns out, appearance are more important than anything else when it comes to establishing yourself as a high-class lady. Moll knows that as long as she has the right dress, she can fake it 'til she makes it.

[…] like the waters in the cavities and hollows of mountains, which petrify and turn into stone whatever they are suffered to drop on, so the continual conversing with such a crew of hell-hounds as I was, had the same common operation upon me as upon other people. I degenerated into stone; I turned first stupid and senseless, then brutish and thoughtless, and at last raving mad as any of them were; and, in short, I became as naturally pleased and easy with the place, as if indeed I had been born there. (1034)

The more Moll is around upper-class folks, the more she wants to be like them. So it only makes sense that the more she's around prisoners, the crazier she gets. This is a subtle example of just how much the company we keep, and the society we live in, can affect our view of the world.

I thought our mutual misfortunes had been such as were sufficient to reconcile us both to quitting this part of the world, and living where nobody could upbraid us with what was past, or we be in any dread of a prison, and without agonies of a condemned hole to drive us to it; this where we should look back on all our past disasters with infinite satisfaction, when we should consider that our enemies should entirely forget us, and that we should live as new people in a new world, nobody having anything to say to us, or we to them. (1114)

"New people," a "new world," and a new start. Sounds like a plan. With enough money, Moll can be anything she wants to be in America. With no past, and no familiar faces, Moll and Lancashire are not held back by their social positions.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...