The idea of joining a number of stories and situations by means of a common theme or character is demonstrated in various fictions of the sixteenth century Spanish tradition. Of these, Cervantes' Don Quixote is the best known, but a quicker impression of the genre may be gained by looking at Lazorillo de Tormes (1553), in which Lazorillo is servant to various masters, playing tricks on them for his own gain and freedom. To this, Moll Flanders owes not only its episodic structure, but the idea of a rogue, a low- born protagonist who is sexually promiscuous; a thief who takes different disguises, yet one who is not completely unsympathetic to the readers. The tradition is the closest to Defoe's use of character that will be found in the period.

Contemporary English writing, particularly by women, also used the episodical structure, but to a very different end. Eliza Haywood, Mary Davys and Delariviere Manley used short tales within a longer structure to titillate and shock their readers; Penelope Aubin presented a series of short moral scenes. None of these writers seem to pay much attention to character, or even plot cohesion. From this, Defoe in Moll Flanders differs in his approach, still drawing from the idea of a number of different adventures or lives, but using the same character in a series of identities.

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