Study Guide

Moll Flanders Section 1

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Section 1


  • Moll introduces herself and says she won't be revealing her true name, because it's simply not safe for her or for her family (she's an honest-to-goodness famous criminal). She has to protect her true identity. Of course now we're all the more curious.
  • While in other countries, Moll says, the children of criminals get put into orphanages and can start fresh without the taint of their parents' crimes, she hasn't been so lucky. Her parents' crimes put her at a serious disadvantage.
  • Apparently, when Moll's mother is pregnant with her, she commits a rather small crime by stealing three pieces of cloth. Not the luckiest thief in the world, her mom is arrested, put in jail, and sentenced to death. Yikes. Luckily, because she's pregnant with Moll, she gets to skip the whole execution bit.
  • When Moll is six months old, her mother is deported to the colonies (America) as punishment for her crimes. Bam – Moll is motherless.
  • Moll's memory is pretty blank after that; she doesn't remember much about her early childhood at all.
  • We do know, though, that as a young girl she travels with some gypsies, who abandon her in Colchester. Or she runs away from them, she's not sure.
  • No matter. By then, she is about three and gets adopted by the people of the town.
  • Taken in by a nice, moral nurse who runs a school in town, Moll stays with her for five years with no drama. Then, it turns out that the town police think she should become a servant, so Moll (unsurprisingly) tries to get out of it. She cries to the nurse that she doesn't want to be a servant and the nurse agrees to help her. Moll tells her she wants to be a "gentlewoman" (19), which the nurse finds pretty ridiculous.
  • But Moll doesn't give up – she says she wants to be a lady and work hard; she'll give the money she earns to the nurse so she can keep living there.
  • Persuasive and emotional, Moll convinces the nurse to keep her out of servant work. Then the nurse tells Colchester's mayor all about it.
  • Next, the Mayor's wife and children visit the school, the nurse, and Moll. Mrs. Mayoress (yep, that's totally a word) asks about Moll, praises her, and agrees she could absolutely be a "gentlewoman." The problem is they all have different definitions of it; the others think it means being a great lady, and Moll just thinks it means someone who's not a maid.
  • Moll says she admires a woman in town who washes lace, but the nurse reveals that woman's a prostitute. Oops. Back to the drawing board…
  • The women in the town like Moll and give her money. Moll is now ten years old and has grown into quite the pretty and neat (as in tidy) lady. The town police decide that Moll can keep living with the nurse and help out at the little school.
  • Everyone likes her, and one woman even invites Moll to stay at her house for a week. This is all going quite well for a baby born in prison, wouldn't you say?
  • When Moll is fourteen years old, the nurse dies and Moll is kicked out of their house. Talk about your sudden reversal of fortunes.
  • Despite the fact that the nurse's daughter won't give Moll the money that the nurse was holding on to for her, Moll manages to get a hold of the cash eventually.
  • Moll is understandably worried about the fact that she has nowhere to go. Luckily, the woman she stayed with for a week invites her to come and live with them. Moll fits into a wealthier home even better than she fit into the nurse's home.
  • As it turns out, other people, like Mrs. Mayoress, want Moll to live with them, too, but she stays right where she is. She's quite popular, our girl.
  • She stays there for a few years, until she's seventeen-and-a-half, and gets the education a proper lady would receive, even though Moll is of lower class than the people she's living with.
  • Moll becomes pretty, well educated, and confident. And a little bit vain, too.

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