Saturday, November 7, 2009
Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders is one of those books the title of which I have heard for years, but didn't know anything about. Defoe most famously wrote Robinson Crusoe, considered to be the first novel in the English language. I don't guess I've ever read that one, either, but I have a feeling it would read about like Moll Flanders, a first person narrative without much story, just a very long string of events.
Moll certainly did not lead an ordinary life, nor was her life an easy one. She was dealt a sorry hand, having been born to a criminal in prison. Her mother was subsequently deported to that prison colony called America, and Moll goes to live with a wealthy family as a servant. So far, so good. A rough start, but an opportunity to benefit from being in a wealthy household. As she serves the family, she sits in on French lessons, dancing lessons, music lessons, picking it all up as well as the children of the household. Favored by the family, she could have let them lead her into a pretty respectable life. In fact, one of the sons falls in love with her and wants to marry her. Problem is, she has already been "acting as if married" with another brother. Thus begins her series of bad choices on bad choices that she follows through her life. For the 21st century reader (or viewer of soap operas) there's nothing particularly new here. I kept looking for some good plot development or moral lessons, but didn't find it. I want to wish her a good life, but she kept exacerbating her situation.
If you want to get a picture of life in England in the early 18th century, and don't mind all the soap opera drama, this will satisfy you. It presents detailed descriptions of domestic life and class relations during that time. You might also find some historical insights, for instance the use of Spanish gold as currency in colonial America. (Shortly after I read this, I listened to a podcast about U.S. monetary policy. The speaker referenced the use of different currencies in colonial times and the early U.S., including Spanish coinage.)
All in all, dull, dull, dull. There have been several movies made of Moll Flanders. Maybe one of them extracted a core of plot and made it more interesting. (Wow. That makes me sound really shallow. Guilty.)