How viable is it to read Moll Flanders as a feminist text?

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Charles Prichard                Mr. Terrence Wright                Moll Flanders        

How viable is it to read Moll Flanders as a feminist text?

        Daniel Defoe chose to write a book with a woman as the leading character of it. In fact, he writes it from the perspective of this woman. In order to do this and make the book seem more realistic, Defoe has to get into the psyche of the female mind and therefore adopt a persona that views the world the way a woman would see it. Of course, Defoe would have to use his own opinions of a woman’s thoughts to influence his writing. By making this woman the leading character, it is essential for him to give her a strong character, one that will be able to carry the book and make it appealing to the reader, who at the time Defoe was writing was part of a male-dominated society. This puts Defoe in a position where he has to write about a woman who is going to be independent of herself and therefore does not see the male as the dominant sex. Has Defoe given himself no choice but to try to be feminist?

        Moll Flanders, which is a name given to her through her partners in crime, is surrounded by women from the start. Indeed, there is no real male influence in her life for her first few years. Born in a prison in Newgate, there is no real mention of her father and her mother gives her away almost immediately. After passing through the hands of a group of gypsies, she ends up in the custody of a Nurse where she is treated and brought up well and receives a reasonable education. The fact that she decides not to live with the gypsies at the age of three is a sure sign that she is to be a heroine of sorts and a woman like no other. Moll describes her childhood slightly vaguely, stating that she can’t remember that much about it. It might be a hint of feminism that she only remembers the women. It is interesting how men are not present in her childhood whereas when she grows up they appear in almost every episode of her adventure. It is also important to note in terms of Moll’s character that she is born an orphan and that she spends all of her life doing things for herself and thereby refusing to blend into society. She was in fact very proud to be seen as a great thief, this reputation having been gained from her working alone. If she had been seen as anything else, Moll might not have considered her acts to be such an art form. She had to be something special and something different from everyone else.

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        When Moll does find men whom she has a romantic interest in, Defoe refuses to let her dwell on it. She has five different husbands in her life and she doesn’t describe most of her relationships with any great passion. She barely feels hurt throughout the novel, and when she does it doesn’t last for very long at all. She is forced to give up her children on numerous occasions and she does this without revealing much guilt at all. Are these the characteristics that you’d expect from a woman, especially from one at this time? Defoe is building an ...

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