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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Moll Flanders (1722) by Daniel DeFoe

Kim Novak played the licentious Moll Flanders in one of several movie versions.

Book Review:
 Moll Flanders (1722)
by Daniel DeFoe

      Moll Flanders was first published in 1722. It was written by Daniel Defoe, three years after he had a huge success with Robinson Crusoe. Defoe didn't start writing fiction until his mid-50s- before then he was a journalist/rabble rouser/terrible business man (the chapters in Moll Flanders that describe the debtors prison of Newgate are written with such accuracy because Defoe himself spent time at Newgate).
Poster for the Kim Novak starring movie version.
            DeFoe's protean "novel" is written in the form of an actual biography- writing fiction at that time and place was considered a sin.   The novel as an art form did not exist, and the idea of a novel as "high art" a la 20th century modernism (Think Joyce, Beckett and Proust) did not yet exist.  There are no chapter breaks, spelling and punctuation are intermittent. At first I was worried that the utter lack of form and structure would make Moll kind of a bummer but the unfamiliarity of the form was counterbalanced by the... bawdiness? The ribaldry? The lewdness?

         I tell ya'- Us Magazine and TMZ got nothing on ole' Moll Flanders. Moll is an orphan. She's taken in by a local town official. Both of the son's of the family fall in love with her, one takes her for his whore/mistress, the other one wants her to marry him. Then she gets married to her brother (unknowingly!). She moves to Virginia, moves back, falls for a banker, but marries a wealthy gentleman but it turns out he has no money, becomes a thief, gets caught and moves back to Virginia.

     It's no wonder that this story has been made and remade time and time and time again into movies, tv mini series and made for tv movies. Time and time again I found myself thinking, "this was published in 1722?" It's no wonder the Puritans were disgusted with English culture and left for America!

    Reading Moll Flanders rather put my conscience at ease about societies obsession with the tawdry details of "tabloid" culture. Apparently, it's been the same way since the very birth of the novel itself. Perez Hilton, TMZ, Jerry Springer & Moll Flanders. It just takes time for the appreciation to grow!

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