Short summary - The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders - Daniel Defoe

British literature summaries -

Short summary - The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders
Daniel Defoe

In everyday life, this Defoe’s work is briefly called: «The Mall of Flenders,» and with a subtitle the name is even longer: «<...>, who was twelve years a containment, five times married, twelve years a thief, eight years an exile in Virginia, but became rich at the end of her life ".

Based on the fact that the story of her life was «written» by the heroine in 1683 (as always, Defoe’s narration is in the first person, and he himself is hiding behind the mask of the «publisher») and that she herself should be seventy or seventy at that time one year, determine the date of her birth: around 1613. The mall was born in prison in Nyoget; the thief pregnant with her achieved a commutation of sentence and after the birth of her daughter was exiled to the colony, and the six-month-old girl was placed in the care of «some relative». What kind of supervision was this, one can guess: at the age of three she wanders "with gypsies", lags behind them, and the city authorities of Colchester identify her to a woman who once knew better times. She teaches orphans reading and sewing, instills in them good manners. A hardworking and smart girl early (she is eight years old) recognizes the humiliating fate of the servant prepared for her from strangers and announces her desire to become "mistress". A non-intelligent child understands this in this way: to be her own mistress - «to earn her own bread with her own labor». The mayor’s wife and daughters and other sympathetic city dwellers come to see the unusual «mistress». They give her work, give money; she is staying in a nice house.

An elderly teacher dies, the heiress-daughter puts the girl out on the street, having pocketed her money (then she will return them), and the fourteen-year-old Molle is taken to her by the "kind real mistress" with whom she was visiting. Here she lived until she was seventeen. Her situation is not entirely clear, housework responsibilities are not defined - most likely, she is the girlfriend of daughters, the named sister, the «pupil». A capable, fast-moving girl soon does not concede to young ladies in dancing and playing the clavichord and spinet, speaks fluently in French, and sings even better than them. Nature did not pass her by her gifts - she is beautiful and well-built. The latter will play a fateful role in the life of «Miss Betty» (Elizabeth? - we will never know her real name), what is her name in the house, because in the family, in addition to girls, there are two sons. Senior, "big fun" and already experienced ladies man, immoderate praises of her beauty makes her feel dizzy, flattering her vanity, extolling her dignity in front of her sisters. Wounded "young ladies" are set against her. Meanwhile, the elder brother (he will remain nameless) promises to marry and with generous gifts achieves "the so-called highest favor." Of course, he promises marriage, «he’ll only take possession of his property,» and, perhaps, the heroine who genuinely loved him would have been content with expectation for a long time (although these promises were not repeated more) if her younger brother, Robin, had not fallen in love with her. This ingenuous and simple frightening mother and sisters, he does not hide his feelings, and «Miss Betty» honestly asks hands and hearts - he does not mind that she is a dowager, Considering herself the wife of his older brother, she refuses Robin and in despair (a lucky chance is missed) calls for a decisive explanation of her husband-lover. And he doesn’t seem to give up his promises, but, soberly assessing reality («my father is healthy and strong»), he advises her to accept her brother’s offer and make peace in the family. Shocked by the treachery of her beloved, the girl falls ill with fever, hardly recovers, and finally agrees to marry Robin. The elder brother, with a light heart condemning "the recklessness of youth", pays off his beloved with five hundred pounds. The obvious features of a future psychological novel appear in the description of the circumstances of this marriage: lying with her husband, she always imagined herself in the arms of his brother, meanwhile Robin was a glorious man and did not deserve to die at all five years later at the behest of the author; alas, the widow did not shed tears about his death.


The newly-made widow leaves two children from this marriage to her mother-in-law, lives comfortably, has admirers, but "observes" herself, setting the goal "only marriage, and, moreover, profitable." She managed to evaluate what it means to be "mistress" in the conventional sense of the word, her claims increased: "if the merchant, then let him be like a gentleman." And such is. An idler and a mot, he less than a year lowers their small fortune, suffers bankruptcy and flees to France, leaving his wife to hide from creditors. Their child is dead. The straw widow moves to Mint (London quarter, where the insolvent debtors took refuge from the police). She takes a different name and from now on is called "Mrs. Flanders." Her position is unenviable: without friends, without a single relative, with a small, rapidly melting state. However, she soon finds a friend, by crafty intrigue, having helped one miserable to get husbands too picky captain. A grateful product spreads rumors about a rich "cousin", and soon the Mall from a bunch of oncoming fans chooses a loved one. She honestly warns the applicant of her hand about her minor dowry; he, believing that the sincerity of his feelings is being tested, declares (in verse!) that "money is futility."

He really loves her and therefore easily enough suffers the collapse of his calculations. The newlyweds are sailing to America - the husband has plantations there, it's time to get into business in a businesslike way. There, in Virginia, his mother lives. From conversations with her, Moll learns that she did not come to America of her own free will. At home, she fell into a "bad society", and pregnancy saved her from the death sentence: with the birth of a child, her sentence was mitigated, sent to a colony. Here she repented, corrected herself, married the widowed master, gave birth to his daughter and son, the current husband Molle. Some of the details of her story, and most importantly, the name that she was called in England, leads Moll to a terrible hunch: her mother-in-law is none other than her own mother. Naturally, the relationship with the husband and brother the farther, the more disordered. By the way, they have two children, and the third she is pregnant. Unable to conceal a terrible discovery, she tells everything to her mother-in-law (mother), and then to her husband (brother) herself. She does not want to return to England, which he now cannot prevent. The poor fellow is worried about what happened, is close to insanity, twice attempts to commit suicide.

The mall returns to England (in total, she spent eight years in America). The burden of tobacco, on which she had hoped to get on her feet and get married well, was lost on the road, she has little money, nevertheless she often drives to Bath resort, lives beyond her means in anticipation of a "happy event". Such a person appears in the person of a «real gentleman,» who comes here to rest from a difficult home environment: he has a mentally ill wife. Amicable relations are developing between the «Bati lord» and the Mall. The fever that came with him when the Mall went out brings them even closer, although the relationship remains unbelievably chaste for two whole years. Then she will become his kept woman, they will have three children (only the first boy will survive), they will move to London. Their organized, essentially marital, life lasted six years. A new roommate's illness puts an end to this almost idyllic episode in Molle's life. On the verge of death, "conscience spoke in him," he repented "of a dissolute and windy life" and sent Moll a farewell letter with the edict also to "mend." Again, she is a «free bird» (her own words), or rather, game for the dowry hunter, since she does not prevent others from considering herself a wealthy lady with money. But life in the capital is expensive, and the Mall is leaning on the entreaties of a neighbor, women "from the northern counties", to live near Liverpool. Previously, she is trying to somehow secure the money that’s leaving, but the bank clerk, having pretended to be with the unfaithful wife, starts a matrimonial conversation instead of business conversations and already offers in all forms to draw up an agreement «with an obligation to marry him as soon as he gets a divorce.» Putting this plot aside The mall leaves for Lancashire. A companion introduces her brother - the Irish lord; blinded by his noble manners and «fabulous magnificence» of receptions, Mall falls in love and marries (this is her fourth husband). In a short time, it turns out that the «Lancashire husband» is a fraudster: the «sister» who was cheating on him turned out to be his former lover, who, for a decent bribe, found a «rich» bride. The deceived, or rather, the deceived newlyweds are seething with noble indignation (if these words are appropriate in such a context), but things can no longer be corrected. Out of kindness of heart, the Mall even justifies the unlucky spouse: "he was a gentleman <...> who knew better times." Having no means to arrange a more or less tolerable life with her, all in debt, Jamie decides to leave the Mall, but does not immediately leave: for the first time after a bitter love for her older Colchester brother, with which her misfortunes began, the Mall loves selflessly. She touchingly tries to persuade her husband to go to Virginia, where, honestly working, you can live with little money. Partly fascinated by her plans, Jammy (James) advises first to try his luck in Ireland (although he has neither a stake nor a yard). Under this specious pretext, he leaves.

The mall returns to London, sad about her husband, amused by sweet memories, until she discovers that she is pregnant. A baby born in the «for single women» boarding school is already routinely determined in the care of a peasant woman from Hartford - and inexpensively, which the mother who has gotten rid of «heavy care» notes with pleasure.

She is all the more relieved that the correspondence with the bank clerk, who has not been interrupted all this time, brings good news: he got a divorce, his late-caught wife committed suicide. Having broken a decent time (all Defoe's heroines are excellent artists), Moll is getting married for the fifth time. One incident in a provincial hotel where this prudently stocked event took place frightens the Mall «to death»: she sees riders entering the courtyard from the window, one of them is undoubtedly Jammy. They soon leave, but rumors of robbers who robbed two carriages nearby on the same day reinforce the Mall in suspicion of fishing, which its recent missus does.

A happy marriage with a clerk lasted five years. The mall blesses heaven day and night for the blessings sent, laments for the previous unrighteous life, fearing retribution for it. And the retribution comes: the banker could not bear the loss of a large sum, "plunged into apathy and died." Two children were born in this marriage - and a curious thing: not only is it difficult for the reader to count all her children, but the Mall itself (or Defoe?) Gets confused - then it turns out that she has one son from the «last husband», whom she, naturally, defines into the wrong hands. Hard times have come for the Mall. She is already forty-eight, her beauty has faded, and, worst of all for this active nature, who knew how to gather strength and show incredible vitality in a difficult moment, she "lost all faith in herself." More and more often visit her ghosts of hunger and poverty,

The entire second part of the book is a chronicle of the steady fall of the heroine, who became a successful, legendary thief. A «midwife» appears on the scene, eight years ago successfully liberating her from her son, who was born in a legal (!) Marriage with Jemmy, and then appears in order to remain as a «cudgel» to the end. (We note in parentheses that the number eight plays an almost mystical role in this novel, marking the main milestones in the life of the heroine.) When, after several thefts, Moll accumulates «goods» that she does not know how to sell, she recalls a sharp midwife with funds and connections. She does not even imagine what a right decision this is: the perpetrator of unwanted children has now become a percent-lender, giving money against things. Then it turns out that it is called differently: a gunner and a distributor of stolen goods. A whole squad of unfortunates works for her. One by one they get to Newgate, and then either to the gallows, or - if you're lucky - to the American exile. The mall is unbelievably long accompanied by luck - mainly because it acts alone, relying only on itself, soberly calculating the measure of danger and risk. A talented hypocrite, she knows how to win over people without disdaining to deceive children's trust. She changes her appearance, adapting to the environment, and for some time she «works» even in a men's suit. As before, every penny was stipulated in prenuptial contracts or in determining the content, so now the Mall conducts the most detailed bookkeeping to its unrighteous accumulations (earrings, watches, lace, silver spoons ...). In criminal business, she shows a quickly acquired grip of a «business woman». Her reproaches of conscience are less and less disturbing, more thoughtful, more sophisticated than her scam. The mall is becoming a true professional in its field. She, for example, is not averse to flaunting «skill» when she steals a horse completely unnecessary to her in the city. She already has a considerable fortune, and it is quite possible to give up the shameful craft, but this thought visits her only after the danger has passed. Then she will not remember this, but she will not forget to mention the penitential minute in the meticulous registry of everything that speaks in her favor.


As you would expect, luck once cheats on her, and, to the wicked joy of Newgate goods languishing in Newgate, she makes them company. Of course, she bitterly repents of the fact that she once succumbed to the temptation of the «devil», and that she did not have the strength to overcome the obsession, when she didn’t threaten her starvation, but still the best thought was that she «caught», and therefore the sincerity and depth of her repentance is doubtful. But the priest believes her, through the efforts of «cocksuckers» («heartbroken,» she even falls ill because of remorse), who is petitioning to replace the death penalty with a link. The judges satisfy her request, especially since the Mall officially passes as the first conviction. In prison, she meets her "Lancashire husband" Jemmy, which is not very amazed, knowing his occupation. However, witnesses of his robberies are in no hurry to appear, the court is adjourned,

In Virginia, the Mall meets his already adult son Humphrey (brother-husband has gone blind, his son is in charge of everything), and is in possession of a fortune bequeathed to his long-dead mother. She sensibly runs a plantation farm, condescendingly tolerates her husband’s "gentlemanly habits" (he prefers hunting to work), and in due time, having become rich, they both return. To England "spend the rest of our days in sincere repentance, lamenting about our bad life."

Chronicle of life Molle Flenders ends with the words: "It is written in 1683." Surprisingly, the dates sometimes converge: in the same year, 1683, as if to replace the Moll who "left the stage", a ten-year-old Roxanne was brought from France to England.