Born to a poor mother in Newgate, who is thereafter transported, Moll has an early escape from gypsies and is put to a Nurse for care. The idea comes to her while still young that she should be a lady and that this is to be achieved by making money, but by avoiding domestic service. Clinging to money is a trait that stays with Moll to the extent that she will steal for it. On the death of her guardian, Moll goes to stay with a nearby family, who are charmed by her aspirations to be a gentlewoman. Seduced by the elder brother and later courted and married by the younger, Moll shows her first confusion between money and true emotion: the older brother pays her for each favour as he builds his seduction from a compliment to a kiss to sex.

Two children and five years later, Moll is left alone upon the death of her husband. The marriage itself is of no great consequence to the plotline, but Moll's seeming reluctance followed by her acceptance of the situation appears over and again under different guises throughout the course of the novel.

Her next 'life' is a marriage to a linen-draper, who helps her to spend what money they have and leaves the country when they find themselves bankrupt. Moll mentions this missing husband from time to time, but never for more than to reassure herself that a husband not present is no husband at all, "I had a Husband, and no Husband, and I could not pretend to Marry again..." she tells herself at first, but the protestation has no real value. It is at this point that she begins to, "go by another Name" - that is, Mrs. Flanders. Under this guise, she makes the acquaintance of, and lives with, a widow. Her friend is, however, soon married and Moll is left to reflect upon her own sad state, penniless and contactless. The thought leads to the story of another lady, jilted by her suitor because she dared enquire about his character and fortune. It is Moll's guile, spreading false rumours about the suitor and more favourable tales about the lady until he agrees to answer any questions to be married. The favour leads Moll's friend to spread rumours about Moll's (nonexistent) wealth until a suitor appears, fooled by the tale, but gentlemanly enough to accept the game Moll plays, protesting she has no wealth, while letting him believe she is jesting, to the extent that, when the truth is revealed, he cannot claim that he was lied to, but must just be relieved at any money she has. Perhaps Moll's relief at his good nature, or perhaps the realisation that what money they have will last longer overseas brings her to agree to a move to Virginia, where her new husband has a plantation. This happy episode ends miserably, as the husband's mother reveals her background and name to Moll, these being the same background and name as her own mother's. After silence for a while, Moll brings herself to tell her husband that he is indeed no husband, but her brother. The episode is brought to an end, and Moll returns to England, this time settling in Bath.

In Bath, Moll makes the acquaintance of a gentleman who, "had no Wife, that is to say, she was no wife to him...". The two are friends for a while, but eventually Moll, "exchang'd the Place of Friend for that unmusical harsh-sounding title of WHORE". Moll bears him a son, but the man's conscience begins to trouble him and he returns to his sick wife. Left with little money, Moll seeks the advice of a banker, who introduces her to a friend. The contact proves useful, giving Moll information of how to get interest on the money she has left and the banker in question (the friend) becomes attracted to Moll. He too describes his wife as none; this time because she is an adulteress. Moll persuades him that he must divorce his wife, "...the Law has furnished you with Methods to prevent that also, you may Cry her down; as they call it, "and, although she does not actually accept his proposal of marriage, she does not refute the possibility; jesting with him about marriage while avoiding signing a contract.

As the banker stays in London to proceed with his divorce, Moll travels to Lancashire, on the advice of a woman in the house where she has been lodging. She has been told that the woman's brother is rich and, indeed, when she meets the brother, he courts her. The two marry to discover that the woman, who is not his sister, but a scam-running whore, has fooled them both (or been fooled by them both!) and neither one has any money to speak of. Yet Moll is fond of her husband, who leaves her with a, "short but moving Letter" and calls out in anguish over his departure, before counting the little wealth he has left her. Jemmy (the Lancashire husband) returns, claiming he heard her cries. The two live together for a short while and Moll suggests they move to Virginia to stay near her mother. Jemmy prefers to attempt his plans to live in Ireland, but promises to return if he proves unsuccessful. Moll is pregnant when Jemmy leaves again. She lies in and, close to her time, hears from the now-divorced banker.

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