"Moll Flanders" by Daniel Defoe
Daniel Defoe rightly deserves to be noted as one of the finest novelists to come out of the 18th Century. With his sensitivity and experience and ability to hold a captive audience with his imagination and writing style in Moll Flanders, he has succeeded in the view of many readers as well as literary critics. In his era, while there were great poets, great playwrights and artists, there was the rise of the great novelist, too, and Defoe should be seated amongst the best of them.
Paula R. Backscheider in her Moll Flanders - The Making of a Criminal Mind, includes in one of her chapters:
"De Foe had only one predecessor. This was Chaucer....Chaucer was the father of English poetry, so De Foe was the father of English novel writing (British Quarterly Review, October 1869)"
Taking into account that Moll Flanders was published in the early 1700s, it is amazing how Defoe, without giving the reader an insurmountable display of the milieu of the time, that we are still able to feel and taste the background nevertheless with the assistance of a reader's imagination.
Defoe depicts Moll as being in control of most of her situations and being self-contained to some degree. He uses her character as a tool for some of his own expressions and opinions, which would be expected in light of the fact that he was over the age of 60 when he wrote Moll Flanders. He successfully created a protagonist who displayed determination and perseverance. What Defoe presented was a scenario in which a reader could decide what was right or wrong, in his or her view. It is assumed that the reader will adhere to the environment, culture and society of the time the novel was written and the way a mind is conditioned to believe and/or behave as well.
Defoe successfully puts the reader into the mind of Moll and he does so with words! The reader is able to establish a view of Moll's behavior patterns to such an extent that a guess can be delivered as to what her next move may or may not be. If anything, the reader comes to understand Moll and makes allowances for some of her actions, thus sympathizing with her to a degree. Author Backscheider also commented that "Moll dominates the book that bears her name, and no one who ever reads her story forgets her." One cannot argue that Moll does not continue to persevere despite the events she becomes entangled with. How can a reader avoid cheering for her when it is accepted that all she wants is to be financially secure within the confines of a comfortable home with a likeable partner? How can a reader not offer pity in her direction every time there seems to be a promises that her desires will be fulfilled that some unforeseen event occurs to destroy the very dream?
Defoe's novel is clearly a product of his culture, which the reader can witness within the author's convincing story. There is something to be said about a well-liked or well-known novel that continues to breathe literary criticism since the 18th Century.
An opinion Defoe is saying to the reader in Moll Flanders is that there are great possibilities in colonization and that although he does not fully paint a wide picture of London, he arouses in the reader's imagination a vivid scene anyway which contains people who are thieves. He is also stating in one hand that a thief of a minor crime can be transported to the colonies in North America where there would be perhaps the possibility of a newly found hope. In the other hand, it is still up to the reader's imagination and speculation what Defoe is attempting to communicate through his protagonist. It is not so much that Defoe is condoning the actions of Moll inasmuch as he is also saying, consider the culture, the day and age and by all means, look at all the circumstances involved that shape a being's mind. Also, consider or ponder why one is forced to act or behave out of sheer necessity. Indeed, the reader is presented with examples in which Moll, herself, feels trapped and desperate.
From the beginning of the novel, Defoe presents his readers with a young girl who is all too vulnerable and naive, who falls for a man who eventually betrays her heart and seems to be the beginning of the creation of her seemingly hardened heart. He is giving us a character in her words, by his own words, that we cannot let go of in thought and no matter how one might try to not like her for who she is, that is difficult.
Defoe's language and writing style for his time as presented in his novel makes his story convincing. He causes his readers to forget about what Moll has done and instead, she is looked upon with pity. Also, that she is not too complicated of human being, but rather, she is human. She is doing the best with the set of circumstances she was given when she arrived in the world. He produces a character and makes her come alive with language, alone, and this cannot be stated enough. With the same language, he convinces the reader she is a real person, a person who is sharing with the reader, too, her whole life story. It is also to be considered what Defoe, as a human being, is trying to say about his immediate surroundings and culture.
Readers will find Defoe was a man of intelligence, that he had a sensitive awareness and that he used his own experiences in life to unfold his language from his mind. He cannot be compared to Chaucer or Shakespeare. He should be viewed as who he was, what he had to offer, and what he wanted to say with his literary talents.