Moll Flanders

Episodic synopsis

Early Life

Born in Newgate, Mother transported to the plantations. Lived with gypsies until 3 years old, then ran away. Town authorities foster her with a "nurse". Moll wants to be a "gentlewoman". Ingratiates herself with wealthy local families & eventually invited to live with one of them at 10 years old.


Lives with family till 18. Learns how to speak French, dance, and sing. Very pretty.

Two sons in family, both are attracted to Moll (called Mrs Betty here). Elder son seduces Moll with promises of marriage. Also gives her money. They have a clandestine affair but younger son falls in love with her, too.

Marriage #1

Robin, the younger son proposes and elder son advises Moll to marry him. Although hurt & upset, Moll does so, even though she "loved to distraction" the other brother. The marriage lasts five years and 2 children are born.

The Young widow (marriage #2)

Robin dies and the family, which takes her children, but doesn’t want her, discards Moll. She has £500 from her husband’s estate and moves into lodgings with a linen draper, whose sister is a friend.

Moll decides to find a second husband and is introduced to a "gentleman tradesman", whom she marries. She soon finds he is a "rake, gentleman, shopkeeper and beggar" all rolled into one. They are together for two years during which time he spends all her money and most of his own.

Imprisoned for debt, he later escapes & flees to France. Moll now has "a husband and no husband", but is able to realise some capital from her absent husband’s stock. She changes her name and goes into hiding in the Mint. She is now "Mrs Flanders"

The Fugitive widow

Although living among the "sons of affliction", Moll still has an active social life with numerous admirers. She makes friends with a captain’s widow who gives her a home and offers to find Moll a seafaring husband. In fact it is Moll who manages to manipulate an admirer of the captain’s widow into marriage with her friend, instead.

Marriage #3

Moll’s assets are low and she confides in her friend, the captain’s lady that she is almost penniless. Her friend supports her and connives with Moll to secure her a rich husband by spreading rumours that Moll is an heiress. The plan works and Moll selects a suitable mate who has three plantations in Virginia and a comfortable income. They marry and Moll confesses that she has less fortune than was suggested. He is disappointed, but they decide to go to Virginia, where they can live more cheaply. He has a mother who lives there. After a long voyage, they arrive in Virginia and start their new life together.

Tragedy & Incest

Several years pass and Moll has two children and is expecting her third baby, when she accidentally discovers that her mother in law was a transported criminal, and that she is in fact Moll’s own natural mother. Moll’s husband is thus her own brother. Moll keeps the secret to herself for three years before telling her husband and her mother the truth of her own identity. Moll is disgusted when her Mother suggests that she continues her incestuous marriage and decides to return home to England. Her revelation to her brother causes him to begin to lose his mind, but a truce is reached with both her parent and her brother and eventually, after eight years in the Colonies, Moll goes home. Her children stay behind in America.

Return to England

Moll, with only £300, goes to Bath where she takes lodgings with a landlady of dubious reputation and meets a gentleman who lodges there during the "Season". He is married, but his wife is "distempered in the head". He does not want a wife, but a mistress and he and Moll first become close friends.

The Bath Lover

Eventually Moll and her gentleman friend become lovers, but only after two years of close and supportive friendship and after Moll has nursed the gentleman through a severe illness. It is Moll who suggests they sleep together and she quickly finds she is pregnant. Her lover supports her and the child and their relationship continues for six years. Moll moves back into an apartment in London, maintained by the gentleman. All comes to an end when he becomes seriously ill. He recovers, but repents of his association with Moll and pays her off (offering also to take care of the child). Moll is now 42 years old and has to try to start her life all over again.


Moll meets a respectable bank clerk who offers to help her with her finances. He is married, but seeks a divorce. He asks Moll to marry him when he is free. Moll carefully keeps him dangling in hopes of a better deal.

A North Country woman who Moll meets in a lodging house invites her to come for a visit to Lancashire, where the living costs are cheap. Moll accepts the invitation and meets the woman’s brother. Both are apparently well off and eventually Moll accepts a proposal of marriage from her friend’s brother. All parties believe the others are rich and prosperous.

Marriage #4

Moll marries Jemmy and after two months realises that he is as penniless as she is. There are no Irish estates and no funds. Nor is Jemmy her friend’s "brother", but an ex-lover. There is, though a genuine affection between them, but both know that it is inevitable that they must part. Jemmy will not go to Virginia with Moll, but goes off to "seek his fortune". Moll goes back to London, into another lodging house.

Another Child

Moll soon realises she is pregnant again and is introduced to a "midwife" who offers to take Moll as a lodger. She has her child and then is contacted by the banker, who has obtained his divorce and wants to marry her as soon as possible. With the help of the midwife who has by this time become a friend, Moll puts her new baby up for adoption and sets about deceiving the banker as to her whereabouts.

Marriage #5

Moll marries her bank clerk in an inn outside London. Next day she sees Jemmy with two companions in the inn opposite hers. They are found to be highwaymen and Moll is able to throw their pursuers off the scent.

In typical fashion, Moll decides to settle down to be as virtuous a wife as she can be to her new husband. "Now I seemed landed in a safe harbour, after the stormy voyage of life past was at an end, and I began to be thankful for my deliverance."

Descent into Crime

Life continues tranquil for five years before the banker loses most of his money in unwise business speculations. He falls ill and dies so Moll, at 48, is left with (another!) two children, alone, penniless and destitute. She survives for two years, growing poorer every day and living in rooms.

Eventually she wanders into an apothecary’s shop and sees an unattended bundle on a stool. She steals it and walks away.

From then, she begins to steal regularly and discovers a real talent for theft.

Moll and the Governess

Moll renews her acquaintance with the "midwife" who is now a pawnbroker, as she needs someone to "fence" the stolen goods for her. Together, they form an efficient partnership. Molls children are adopted and the "governess" talks Moll into thieving full time. Pickpocketing lessons are arranged and soon Moll is an extremely successful and wealthy thief. Moll starts to call the governess "Mother".

Moll’s career in crime continues and she finds she is more successful working alone. Her reputation increases and she is becoming proud of her notoriety.

Another Lover

At Bartholomew Fair, Moll robs a gentleman, who is later recognised by her "mother". Together they blackmail him and extort money from him and Moll eventually agrees to see him again. They become lovers for about a year and he supports Moll. She does not steal while she is with him.

Return to Crime

When the affair is over, Moll returns to crime again, but by now she is so well known by reputation that she begins to find it difficult not to be recognised. She is accused of theft one day when she is, in fact, innocent and risks exposure by laying a charge against the shopkeeper for "reparation". She is forced to disclose her name and gives it as "Mary Flanders". Although she fears an open trial might expose her identity, she is lucky enough to settle out of court and comes out of the incident slightly richer and very relieved.

The Unwanted Horse

By this time Moll is so addicted to crime that she really steals just for the sake of it. She has a considerable amount of money and property, but has become greedy.

The theft of the horse illustrates how habitual her thieving has become "never was poor thief more at a loss to know what to do with anything that was stolen."

She experiments with various "styles" of theft, but despite her governess’ suggestions that it is time to call a halt, Moll "grew more hardened and audacious than ever". Her pride, of course, leads to her downfall.


After an adventure in Ipswich, with stolen luggage, and a close shave when she is almost caught stealing from a silversmith's shop, Moll finally comes to grief three days after Christmas Day, when she is caught stealing linen from a shop. She is arrested and taken to Newgate.

Newgate Prison

Newgate is like Hell. Moll is distressed and terrified. "I degenerated into stone". She loses heart and when she sees her former husband Jemmy is also in Newgate, to be tried for highway robbery, she "grieved day and night for him."

Moll is tried and sentenced to death.

Her governess works hard but unsuccessfully, to buy off the judges and have Moll’s sentence of death reduced. A priest also intercedes for Moll, after she repents and confesses to him how sinful she has been. Eventually, the priest is able to have Moll’s death sentence changed to transportation.

"It was now for the first time I felt any real signs of repentance"

The governess now suggests that Moll might be able to buy her way out of transportation, too.

Reunion with Jemmy

Moll is able to visit Jemmy, who is also to be transported and they agree at last to travel together, if possible, to the New World where they will try to make a new start together. Again, the governess works hard to arrange passage together for Moll and Jemmy and they eventually set sail for Virginia, with enough money and goods to start afresh as planters, when their "time" is up.


Again with help from the governess, and the ship’s captain, whom they bribe, with "six thousand weight of tobacco" and twenty pounds in money, Moll and Jemmy arrange to have their sentences paid off immediately they land in Virginia. After 42 days they land and are freed immediately.

A New Life

Moll makes enquiries about her mother and her brother and discovers that her mother has died and left her an inheritance and a plantation. She also sees her brother (husband) and her son, but does not reveal herself to them. Nor does she tell the truth to Jemmy, who suspects that something, is wrong. The secret weighs on her mind and she decides they must leave the area in case she is recognised. They end up in Maryland, on the Chesapeake Bay, where they clear a plantation and begin to make a modest living, with the help of an "honest Quaker" who is pleased to assist them.

After a year they have "fifty acres of land cleared..and some of it planted with tobacco".

Reunion with her son

Moll decides to go back alone to Virginia to try to make contact with her son and her brother. She sends a letter and is reunited with her son, who is affectionate towards her. She does not, though speak with her brother, who is almost blind and very feeble witted, nor does she tell her son she is married to Jemmy.

The son is a kind and generous man, who offers to run Moll’s plantation for her and gives her money from her crop. Moll stays five weeks with him. She decides, though, not to reveal his true identity to Jemmy, preferring to say that the young man is a "cousin".

Moll and Jemmy make a success of their venture in Maryland and become comfortable and prosperous. By the time eight years have passed they have an income of £300 a year.

Return to England

Moll eventually tells her husband the truth about the identity of the "cousin" in Virginia who manages the inherited plantation and also confesses to her son that she is married to Jemmy. She waits until her brother (husband) is dead and is surprised to find that Jemmy is "perfectly easy" about the incestuous relationship and its outcome.

The couple decide eventually to return to England "in good heart and health" at 68 and 70 years of age and they "resolve to spend the remainder of our years in sincere penitence for the wicked lives we have lived"

Copyright© 2000 Val Pope