Summary and Analysis
Chapter 16 - Adventures with the Midwife
The friendship Moll intended to renew was with the midwife, to whom she had sent £5 a year for the support of her child until, after the death of her banker husband, she became too poor to continue to do so. However, Moll had written a letter explaining that her husband had died and that she was unable to continue sending money for her child, and requested that the child not suffer because of her misfortunes.
Moll now paid a visit to her old "governess," as she called the midwife. While there, she learned that her governess still occasionally acted as a midwife, but that she had lost much of her trade and money because of a law suit brought against her by a man whose daughter the midwife had helped to run away from him. The incident had taken the midwife near the gallows, but she was still an enterprising woman and became a pawnbroker, living by this pretty well.
She received Moll kindly and told her that she could stop worrying about her son for he was well cared for. Moll showed the governess the silk, beads, and ring and asked for advice on how to get money for them. The governess said she could sell them because she had turned pawnbroker. This she did. Moll hoped that now her governess could help her make an honest living, but the governess knew of no way to do so. Moll was now past fifty and knew she needed a stable business.
The governess invited Moll to stay with her until she could find something to do. Further, Moll's governess made arrangements to have her son by the banker adopted at a cost of £5 a year. Moll was happy with her present circumstances and resolved to make her living sewing, if she could get work. This was difficult, though, because Moll had few friends. Nevertheless, she managed to get a little sewing and worked very hard. Soon, however, she felt the urge to steal again. Prompted by the urgings of "the diligent devil," she stole a silver tankard from a tavern and took it home. Wanting to test her governess, she pretended to her that, "without any design," she'd walked off with the tankard and now wondered what she should do about it. The governess convinced her not to return the tankard lest she be sent to Newgate Prison. The governess then told Moll it would be nice if she "could light of such a bargain once a week." Moll now learned that her governess quite frequently received stolen goods, and melted down plate in order to disguise it from its rightful owners. She did this with Moll's tankard and gave her its full value in money, though she never did this for the rest of her customers.
The governess soon talked Moll into becoming a full-time thief and introduced her to a woman who taught her how to be much more skillful at shoplifting, stealing pocketbooks, and lifting watches from ladies' sides. Moll became this woman's apprentice, for some time practicing on the women herself. Soon Moll was sent out to steal a watch from a young lady. As the instructor bumped into the young lady, Moll lifted her watch and ran away; subsequently, the instructor told the young lady that the "rogues who thrust [her] down" must have stolen the watch.
This was the first time Moll had worked with an accomplice; together they did very well. Moll was now "a complete thief, hardened to a pitch above all the reflections of conscience or modesty," even though she no longer had need to fear being poor, since she was doing well with her needlework. Moll maintains, though, that if she had been able to get honest work when she had desperately needed it, she would not have returned to a life of crime. Success had now hardened her. She had shifted from need to greed.
The capture and execution of her accomplice made Moll more cautious, but did not make her stop stealing. Her governess, ever alert for opportunities, sent Moll to a burning house under the pretext of helping the occupants but with the actual intention of stealing what she could during the excitement. This Moll per-formed well and brought home rings, lockets, a watch, and money. For a brief time, Moll was remorseful about this particular thievery, but this feeling soon wore off; her greed had become too strong. She soon met other partners and continued her criminal activities.
The other accomplices were caught and hanged. Though Moll was inclined to be very cautious about stealing so often, she now had two prompters: the devil and her governess. Moll would make deals with custom-house officers to share in the value of goods that had been smuggled in and that Moll had learned about from her governess. At other times she would buy prohibited goods, and then betray the owners. Moll was now not only a thief but also a betrayer of thieves.
Notice how Moll focused on the circumstances which caused the midwife to become a pawnbroker and then a receiver of stolen goods. Note, too, that the bond between Moll and the midwife was becoming stronger. Moll occasionally called her "mother" and referred to her as "my governess."
As she has done before, Moll in this chapter shows the odd combination of calculated and deliberate criminality and an almost puritanical morality.