Money and Documentation

The careful economics of Defoe's fictions is one of the elements of his realism. One reading of this is that realism allows closer involvement of the reader with the story and the main protagonist, that our dislike of Moll's crimes is overcome by a sympathy with the character whom we know intimately because of the detail with which we are provided.

"...I had above 450l. I had sav'd above 100l. more, but I met with a
Disaster with that, which was this; that a Goldsmith in
whose Hands I had trusted it, broke, so I lost 70l. of my
Money, the Man's Composition not making above 30l.
out of his 100l. I had a little Plate, but not much, and was
well enough stock'd with Cloaths and Linnen".

The constant working out and adding up makes us sympathise with the "wise man's prayer... Give me not poverty lest I steal," perhaps more than we should. Thus the detail works on two levels, firstly to provide a realistic backdrop and secondly to divert the reader from what is actually happening. That is to say, the constant recording of money and material possessions may supersede the action of the text. A case in point is the theft of a young girl's necklace as above. Another is the point at which Jemmy leaves Moll for the first time. Upon reading the letter he has left, Moll tells us,

"Nothing that ever befel me in my Life sunk so deep into my
Heart as this Farewell... I would have gone with him thro' the
World, if I had beg'd my Bread. I felt in my Pocket, and
there I found ten Guineas, his Gold Watch, and two little
Rings, one a small Diamond Ring worth only about six
Pound, and the other a plain Gold ring".

Emotional reaction blends naturally into financial status for Moll. An interesting point, especially remembering Defoe's Conjugal Lewdness, written in 1727, in which he describes a marriage of calculation rather than for love as, "little more than legal prostitution". If we know Defoe's moral agenda, the ambiguous ending of the story begins to take on a lot more significance than just a happy repentance after a sinful life. The confusion between emotional wealth and financial wealth that becomes clear when reading Moll Flanders is an essential point in understanding Defoe's use of character. He commits himself to Moll's point of view to the extent that we cannot rely upon her perception of the world; she is a part of the fiction. Moll's, "point of view is entirely expressive of [Defoe's] theme". (Columbus, Robert "Conscious Artistry in Moll Flanders" in Studies in English Literature 1963).

Documentation is immediately important in Moll Flanders, not just for recording Moll's possessions and showing her obsession with avoiding poverty, but in her relationships. For example, the husband who is in fact Moll's brother is trapped into marriage by the writing on the sash, "I scorn your Gold, and yet I Love," he writes, Moll replying, "I'm Poor; let's see how kind you'll prove". In fact, Moll has told the truth, although the reality is that she masks her financial state by the way in which she admits it, pretending a challenge to the man's protestations of love, to the extent that she seems to be playing hard to get, not admitting poverty.

Moll does not trust the intangible. She takes this to such an extent that she fools even herself into thinking she has repented (her memoirs work as the proof), although in actual fact they show only a surface repentance with no restitution (gold watch). By having Moll constantly listing her property, stolen, cheated or otherwise, Defoe undermines the claims made by the narrator. A telling paragraph is Jemmy's leaving, as quoted above.

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