The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders (commonly known simply as Moll Flanders) is a novel by Daniel Defoe, first published in 1722. It purports to be the true account of the life of the eponymous Moll, detailing her exploits from birth until old age.
By 1721, Defoe had become a recognised novelist, with the success of Robinson Crusoe in 1719. His political work was tapering off at this point, due to the fall of both Whig and Tory party leaders with whom he had been associated; Robert Walpole was beginning his rise, and Defoe was never fully at home with the Walpole group. Defoe's Whig views are nevertheless evident in the story of Moll, and the novel's full title gives some insight into this and the outline of the plot:
“The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, who was Born in Newgate, and during a Life of continu'd Variety for Threescore Years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own Brother), Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv'd Honest, and died a Penitent. Written from her own Memorandums.”
Moll's mother is a convict in Newgate Prison in London who is given a reprieve by "pleading her belly," a reference to the custom of staying the executions of pregnant criminals. Her mother is eventually transported to America, and Moll Flanders (not her birth name, she emphasises, taking care not to reveal it) is raised until adolescence by a goodly foster mother. Thereafter she gets attached to a household as a servant where she is loved by both sons, the elder of whom convinces her to "act like they were married" in bed. Unwilling to marry her, he persuades her to marry his younger brother. After five years of marriage, she then is widowed, leaves her children in the care of in-laws, and begins honing the skill of passing herself off as a fortuned widow to attract a man who will marry her and provide her with security.
Also in 1724, Defoe wrote Roxana: The Fortune Mistress, another first-person picaresque novel of the fall and eventual redemption of a lone woman in 17th century England.
Moll Flanders and Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress are examples of the remarkable way in which Defoe seems to inhabit his fictional (yet "drawn from life") characters, not least in that they are women.
Daniel Defoe (c. 1660-1731), was an English trader, writer, journalist and spy, now most famous for his novel Robinson Crusoe. Defoe is notable for being one of the earliest proponents of the novel, as he helped to popularize the form in Britain, and, along with others such as Samuel Richardson, is among the founders of the English novel. A prolific and versatile writer, he wrote more than 500 books, pamphlets and journals on various topics (including politics, crime, religion, marriage, psychology and the supernatural).