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Moll Flanders (Signet Classics)

1 rating: 3.0
A book

The recent adaptation ofMoll Flandersfor Masterpiece Theater is a book-lover's dream: the dialogue and scene arrangement are close enough to allow the viewer to follow along in the book. The liberties taken with the tale are few (some years of childhood … see full wiki

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Publisher: Signet Classics
1 review about Moll Flanders (Signet Classics)

What's love got to do, got to do with it?

  • Aug 27, 2011
Tina Turner's 80's pop classic (written by songwriters Terry Britten and Graham Hamilton Lyle, and one wonders what hard lesson taught them this thought) captures exactly the second-hand emotion in Moll Flanders.  Defoe, writing just a few generations after Shakespeare, Christopher Marlow, and King James's Biblical translators, penned some of the most stunning and enduring works in English literature.  He put readers on the then (and still) exotic beaches of a deserted island in Robinson Crusoe, and here he puts us in an even more exotic locale for its time--the mind and life of a  woman (stunning enough for literature of the day), who is also a prostitute and common thief.

Except that Moll (not her real name she tells us immediately) started out as neither, and as she unfolds her story singularly almost without emotion, we learn the truth of the sexual relationships she has entered into--they are purely financial transactions, in which love has no part.  In fact, for Moll all personal relationships, with either gender for any purpose, are financial transactions, to be set down on the credit or debit side of the ledger as circumstances direct.  

Before you think too harshly of her for this seemingly emotionless approach to the fundamental passions of life, know (as I had to remind myself as I read) that she is writing her memoirs 70-plus years into a long life, and reviewing with the benefit of a survivor's hindsight, mature realism, and hard-earned wisdom.  Toward the end of her memoirs, as she reflects on her nearly-lost life of sex and crime, Defoe makes the realism of Moll's rationalism explicit in this passage (p. 249 of the Signet Classic paperback edition):

In short, I began to think, and to think indeed is one real advance from hell to heaven.  All that hardened state and temper of soul, which I said so much of before, is but a deprivation of thought; he that is restored to his thinking is restored to himself.

One wonders what the young orphan servant girl, who was lured into a sexual relationship with one master's son while forced into marriage with the other, thought of love then.  Under the matter-of-fact telling in Moll's memoir is an undertone of passion and even bitterness at the memories as her hopes and thoughts of romantic love were swept aside by the harsh realities of the limitations of her world and her place in it.  If she then started keeping her emotionless mental ledger of the sexual transactions to come, she did so at least in part as a matter of simple survival and sometimes sweet revenge.

Defoe's writing, while labeled as realism, sometimes seems stilted and doesn't flow as smoothly as Dickens' for example, who would follow in another 100 years and drink from the same well of realism offered up by England's history of class, culture, and character.  But in the main, it is remarkable for its clarity and humor, and can be and is still read for its fictional impact and not just its historical significance.

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August 27, 2011
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