Moll Flanders (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

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Moll Flanders, by Daniel Defoe, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:

All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a ...
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Moll Flanders (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

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Overview

Moll Flanders, by Daniel Defoe, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:

All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works.

 

One of the most determined, energetic, and lusty heroines in all of English literature, Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders will do anything to avoid poverty. Born in Newgate Prison, she was for twelve years a whore, five times a wife (once to her own brother), twelve years a thief, and eight years a transported felon in Virginia before finally escaping from the life of immorality and wickedness imposed on her by society. She is as much a survivor, and just as resourceful, as Defoe’s other great literary creation, Robinson Crusoe.

Celebrated as "a masterpiece of characterization” by E. M. Forster, Moll Flanders is both a cunning examination of social morés and a hugely entertaining story filled with scandalous sexual and criminal adventures. In Moll, Defoe created a character of limitless interest, in spite of her unconcealed ethical shortcomings. Taking Moll through the echelons of eighteenth-century English society, Defoe seldom moralizes as he champions the personal qualities of self-reliance, perseverance, and hard work—even when it takes the form of crime.

Michael Seidel is a Jesse and George Siegel Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University. He has written widely on eighteenth-century literature, especially on satire and on the early novel.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781593082161
  • Publisher: Barnes & Noble
  • Publication date: 2/1/2005
  • Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 240,876
  • Product dimensions: 5.19 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.92 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Seidel is a Jesse and George Siegel Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University. He has written widely on eighteenth-century literature, especially on satire and on the early novel.
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Read an Excerpt

From Michael Seidel’s Introduction to Moll Flanders

Moll’s particular adventures had their antecedents in the lives of other infamous woman criminals with full narrative records of their adventures, such as Francis Kirkman’s The Counterfeit Lady Unveiled. Being a full Account of the Birth, Life, Most Remarkable Actions, and Untimely Death of Mary Carleton, Known by the Name of the German Princess (London, 1673). As Moll herself puts it, "My course of life for forty years had been a horrid compilation of wickedness, whoredom, adultery, incest, lying, theft; and, in a word, everything but murder and treason.” The narrative line of the book tracks the introduction of a young woman into a life of crime, the honing and schooling of the criminal, the capture and transportation of the criminal to America, and the first steps in confessional reformation.

Defoe identifies his primary genre in the "Author’s Preface” to Moll when he calls her story a "private history.” By that he means a memoir, and Defoe is quick to distinguish his work from what he calls "novels and romances,” but what Defoe means by novels and romances is not what we mean today. For early-eighteenth-century readers, novels were the unlikeliest of adventures, usually set in past times or remote and idealized places. They were marked by improbability and a suspension of the normal laws of nature and behavior. Private histories, on the other hand, were more like today’s novels. They provide readers access to aspects of a lived life that are usually hidden or unrecorded. What Defoe promises is a kind of voyeuristic biography or prose scandal, and he understands the likely "relish” of his readers for Moll’s "account of all her vicious practices” and "all the progressions of crime which she ran through in three-score years.” The mimetic impetus of Moll Flanders is set from the editor’s words in the beginning when we learn that the original manuscript is "written in language more like one still in Newgate than one grown penitent and humble.”

The editor then throws a sop to his readership by claiming that a beneficial morality can worm its way out of even the "worst story.” For those readers who demand moral uplift, the book is not only a criminal confession but a spiritual confession. Defoe says Moll Flanders is a book "from every part of which something may be learned.” For that process to take full effect, the reader has to believe in the authenticity of Moll’s spiritual life, and that turns out to be something of a stretch for any but the committed Christian apologist who will follow the editor in applying to all the "levity and looseness” in the book "virtuous and religious uses.”

As for the essence of the confessional genre, Moll explains its impulse when she tells the story late in the narrative of a thief who could not rest easily until he had unburdened himself by confessing in his sleep all the crimes he had committed the previous evening. Moll points out the general alliance of the confessional and the criminal when she notices the number of thieves in her world "obliged to disclose the greatest secrets either of their own or other people’s affairs.” Her observation helps explain not only the shape of the particular story she tells, but the impetus of all fiction, at least as it developed from the early eighteenth century to modern times. Novelists, as much as criminals, feel the need to reveal secrets, especially when those secrets involve "other people’s affairs.”

Confession allows Moll to recapitulate her story, an epitome of which we see when she "unlocked all the sluices of my passions” to the minister in Newgate Prison. The hope is that her criminal resumé can also be the first step in her repentance: "In a word, I gave him an abridgment of this whole history; I gave him the picture of my conduct for fifty years in miniature.” The idea of criminal autobiography is to lay everything out in deliberate sequence; the idea of confession is to get all bad things to the rear as quickly as possible. Moll does both in her narrative, though her criminality—in terms of the narrative space allowed it—seems to overwhelm her confession. The editor at the beginning refers to Moll’s penitent humility as a state in which she "pretends to be.” Eighteenth-century usage allows the word pretend a certain neutrality, a mere showing forth or revealing. But for Moll, "pretend” takes on the very obvious quality of "temporary.”

When Defoe fictionalizes the life of Moll Flanders and all her pretenses, he not only borrows from popular criminal biographies but also from the tradition of Continental picaresque, or rogue, literature, which became popular throughout Europe with the publication of Lazarillo de Tormes (1554) in Spain. Picarós and picarás are orphans, vagabonds, desperadoes, and reprobates trying to manipulate the conventions of a world largely determined by established family and class connections. As Moll puts it, "I understood too well, by the want of it, what the value of a settled life was.” Picaresque fiction is the story of outsiders trying to get in, and the fortunes of the protagonist often depend on adaptable, protean, and duplicitous behavior as picaresque characters become who they need to be to survive.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 128 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 126 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 21, 2010

    Historically Interesting, but probably not for casual readers

    Moll Flanders / 978-1-411-43270-3 Defoe's novel, Moll Flanders, one of the first true English novels follows the "true" story of a lower-class woman who - eventually - turns to a life of petty thievery and prostitution partly as a means to live, and partly as a means to a middle-class life of relative riches and ease. This thin little novel is a fairly quick read and the story pacing moves at a quick clip as we read through the salacious and scandalous life of this matron is not particularly clever nor particularly beautiful, but she is persistent, dogged, and increasingly amoral enough to make a life for herself just above the level of extreme and desperate poverty. Through the course of her life, Moll takes several husbands, bears multiple children, and chooses to view her life with pride and detachment, rather than with the shame she 'ought' to feel. In this regard, Moll is perhaps the most modern of the historical novel characters, because she views the societal norms which would compel her to pious poverty with a jaundiced eye and recognizes that the 'shameful' things she does to survive, the gentry do on a much wider, if more socially acceptable, scale. ~ Ana Mardoll

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 19, 2012

    Great reread

    After watching an old BBC mini-series ( with a young Daniel Craig no less!) I decided to re-read Moll Flanders. I had forgotten the biting wit and social commentary of Daniel Defoe. Almost three centuries later it still seems relavent. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Takes some commitment to get through the somewhat pendantic writing style of the era but well worth it. If you once read Moll Flanders because you had to, try it again. Like me you may find it enjoyable this time.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2013

    Really enjoyed this book. I could not put it down.

    Really enjoyed this book. I could not put it down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2013

    Very good.

    I liked the part where she was learning how to be a lady.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2012

    Great

    Another great classic.

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  • Posted October 26, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A book every woman should read!

    A poet friend got me this book because it was one of her favorites. I admit it took me a bit to get into it. But it is quite a story and bears a lot of reflection. I really enjoyed the story -- all the challenges in life that Moll has and meets. A resourceful, wise, and practical woman can survive anything. I highly recommend this to all women.

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  • Posted October 14, 2010

    Highly Recommended

    Surprisingly, this was not as dry or dull as I thought it would be. I couldn't put it down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 24, 2005

    Not half bad

    Moll Flanders is funnier than I expected it to be. I definitely recommend it for pleasure reading or for AP classes.

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