Daniel Defoe’s 1722 satirical novel, The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, featured the true account of a girl from the eighteenth century who was morally ambiguous, Moll was a rogue, someone who lamented breaking the ten commandments, yet she did it anyway. Immersed in a Christian world, she was held captive by its expectations. Poverty led to thievery which led to corruption and it molded her into a sinner. It is one of the first novels an author created a female anti-hero.
As a satirist, Daniel Defoe is ranked among the best and shines brightly next to Jonathan Swift with his 1726 masterpiece, Gulliver’s Travels and Peirre Choderlos de Laclos, who in 1782, published his damning satire of the French elite by introducing the manipulative pair, The Marquise de Merteuil and The Vicomte de Valmont. This epistolary novel became a perfect period film in 1988.
Daniel Defoe’s satire explored this ethical struggle between one’s instinct to survive and Christian purity, and the character, Moll Flanders, was the subject of his experiment. Unfortunately, there is no film adaptation which brings to life Defoe’s wit and complicated heroine in my estimation.
In 1965, Kim Novak and Dame Angela Lansbury starred in a farcical film of Moll Flanders. It is too ridiculous for me to appreciate.
Moll Flanders was an opportunist, a shrewd businesswoman, and an adept thief. Moll’s proclivities instigated a gender controversy since in the 1700s, women were generally considered more virtuous than men. Moll Flanders could steal like a man. She used her gender as a shield to hide behind to give her the advantage. Once she noticed a child who wore a gold necklace; she escorted the child to an alley and slipped it off the child’s neck without hesitation or discovery. Her accounts are reprehensible, but her cleverness begets admiration.
Moll Flanders was an expert manipulator because she vowed to be self-reliant. She refused to be at the mercy of a male. When she became a widow, she vowed to be wealthy since it bought her freedom. Monetary gain was the principal goal behind her marriages. Vain and promiscuous, Moll committed many sins, yet we still end up liking her. She beat the system. Her sins seem forgivable because she clawed her way up from the bottom of a prison cell at infamous Newgate Prison in London and rose in status to an elite member of society. Defoe’s satiric message? Money might bring prestige and a certain kind of freedom that has been equated with superiority and virtue, but it’s likely to be a facade behind which corruption and greed flourish.
Interested in historical prisons? Newgate Prison has quite a horrible reputation. I enjoyed this article about the history of Newgate Prison at Peter Berthoud’s blog found HERE.
Why is it difficult to create a good period film like Dangerous Liasiaons, Amadeus, or Elizabeth? Usually the costumes are superb but something seems lost in the translation. I have seen more mediocre period films than good ones. What do you think?