Critical Essays Structure of Moll Flanders


Moll Flanders is characterized by its episodic quality. Events follow events spasmodically with little or no transition. Incidents are arbitrarily held together with such weak transitions as "I had now a new scene of life upon my hands. . . ." or "At length a new scene opened." The phrases "in short" and "in a word" are used repeatedly to loosely tie one episode to another. Note how this occurs in the following passages: "The Captain's lady, in short, put this project . . ."; "in short, we were married, . . ."; "To bring the story short, we agreed to go."; "To make this part of the story short, . . ."; ". . . in short, it put him in a fit something like an apoplex; . . ."; "In short, by an unwearied importunity . . ."; (and again three on one page) "In short, I carried on the argument against this so far, . . ."; "In short, I ventured to avoid signing a contract of marriage, ...."; and "In a word, I avoided a contract; . . ." The story unravels as a series of loosely connected episodes. There is, however, underlying continuity in the gradual unfolding of Moll's character.

Coincidence plays a large part in the work. Moll just happens to see an unattended bundle in an apothecary's shop and steals it when she is in low financial circumstances. This begins her life in crime. The governess, once a midwife, has just turned pawnbroker and therefore knows how to turn Moll's thieving into profit for them both. Jemmy happens to get arrested when Moll is in Newgate where they meet again after being many years apart. He happens to be transported to America on the same boat even after their frantic arrangements to expedite this fail.

The autobiographical method allows us to see Moll through her own eyes as she unfolds her account of events in her life.