Moll Flanders By Daniel Defoe Summary and Analysis Chapter 20 - A New Disguise

Summary

Because of her most recent activities, Moll now had £700 in money besides clothes, rings, some plate, and two gold watches. There was no need for her to continue her evil ways, but greed forced her on. Since her near-capture in widow's clothes, Moll decided to change her disguise to that of a beggar woman.

One time when she was standing near a tavern door, a gentleman got off his horse, asked a servant to hold it, and went into the tavern. Shortly thereafter, the servant's master called him and seeing no one but Moll, he asked her to hold the horse. She agreed, and took it to her governess. Neither woman knew what to do with the horse; "never was a poor thief more at a loss to know what to do with anything that was stolen." Finally, they had the horse taken to another tavern and sent a note to the owner telling him that the poor lady who had held the horse had not been able to lead him back to the right tavern. This then was a theft and no theft.

While Moll was still disguised as a beggar she met some counterfeiters who frightened her so much she decided to discard her beggar's disguise so that they could not find her again and perhaps murder her to assure them their secret.

As Moll stated, counterfeiting, horse-stealing, and housebreaking were not in her line; her trade was in another direction. Though risky, it was more suitable to her and allowed more chances for escape.

Soon Moll met a woman who had success on the dock by stealing smuggled goods. She joined the woman in several adventures. Later, when Moll tried it alone, she had no success and so gave it up.

Moll's next adventure involved a different disguise. She dressed in fine clothes and walked to the other end of town where she had an opportunity to steal some lace while a crowd of people were distracted by news that the Queen was approaching. Moll escaped by shutting herself up in a coach minutes before she heard cries of "robbed" and "lace."

The next day she wore a different outfit of fine clothes and walked in the Mall in St. James Park, where she saw many elegant ladies. She also saw two little girls, aged about twelve and nine. The older girl wore a fine gold watch and a good pearl necklace. As soon as the young ladies had walked on a bit, Moll asked their footman many questions about the girls; then she went up to the children and spoke to them so familiarly that they assumed Moll was a friend of the family. While Moll and the girls were walking and talking, a crowd gathered to see the King go by on his way to the Parliament Houses. As Moll lifted both girls up so they could see, she was carefully removing the gold watch. She then hastened away, after telling the older girl to take care of her little sister.

Moll next had an adventure quite different from all the rest. This one was at a gaming-house near Covent Garden. She gambled with money given her by a gentleman there, and repeatedly won for him. Soon Moll began easing some of the money into her own pocket. At the end, Moll gave him all of the money in sight, half of which he returned to her. From this adventure, Moll returned home with seventy-three guineas. When she told her governess about this adventure, Moll was cautioned against doing it again for fear she might get the itch to gamble.

Since Moll and her governess had done so well financially, the governess felt they should stop and be satisfied with what they had. Moll resisted this suggestion: since she had escaped capture, she "grew more hardened and audacious than ever." She felt pride that her name was as famous as that of any thief of her type who had ever been at Newgate or Old Bailey.

Analysis

Moll acknowledges that she had no need to continue stealing because she was the richest thief in England. She was not yet ready to repent, but instead adopted new disguises. In her pride, she was becoming increasingly daring and reckless.

In this chapter, Moll stole a horse for which she had no use. Stealing the horse became a symbol of her degradation.

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