Summary and Analysis
Chapter 22 - Newgate Prison
The very name of Newgate sent chills through Moll's body. This was the place where so many of her accomplices and comrades had been sent, from where many were hanged; this was the place where her mother had been housed, and where she herself had been born and where she feared she would die.
The noise, the odors, and the crowd terribly distressed Moll. She now reproached herself repeatedly for having continued her criminal activities in spite of her many narrow escapes and her more-than-sufficient money. She did not reproach herself because she had sinned against God and man, but because she had been caught.
Her arrival at Newgate was greeted by a great uproar from the inmates, for she was the most notorious among them. They scorned her for having been captured: "What! Mrs. Flanders come to Newgate at last? What! Mrs. Mary, Mrs. Molly, and after that plain Moll Flanders?"
That night Moll sent news of her capture to her old governess, who was quite upset by it. The next morning she came to see Moll and comforted her as best she could. After this the governess found the women who had caught Moll, and tried to bribe them not to appear against her. Neither would take her bribes. She then appealed to the man whose goods had been stolen and to his wife. They were too much afraid to withdraw the charges against Moll. Thus, Moll lived many days at Newgate with constant fears of death. The longer she stayed, the harder she became. "I degenerated into stone." She felt neither remorse nor repentance despite the fact that she was sure her sentence would be death since she was an old offender. She lost heart and had no thought for escape.
While Moll was in this apathetic state, she heard that three highwaymen had been brought into the prison. When Moll got a chance to see the men, she discovered that one was her Lancashire husband, Jemmy. She became speechless at the sight of him and was relieved that he did not know her. She retired to meditate upon this turn of events and blamed his misfortunes on her having married him under false pretenses. She grieved day and night for him.
Moll learned that she would soon be sentenced. Her hard shell fell off and she began to meditate again. This made her even more distressed and dejected than when she had arrived. In this state Moll sent for her old governess, who tried, unsuccessfully, to bribe the jurymen. For the first time in a long while, Moll prayed — but she still expressed no real sorrow or repentance for her crimes.
At her arraignment, Moll pleaded not guilty; the following day she was brought to trial and was found guilty of felony, but acquitted of burglary. However, the felony alone carried the death sentence. Despite Moll's plea for mercy, the sentence of death was pronounced upon her.
The governess was terribly upset: disconsolate about Moll's sentence and penitent about her own sins. She arranged for a minister to visit Moll, and Moll spent two days telling him about her wicked life, Moll said, "It was now that for the first time, I felt any real signs of repentance.... The word eternity represented itself with all its incomprehensible additions." Because the minister believed Moll, he worked to get her a reprieve. Later he managed to have her sentence changed to transportation, "which indeed was a hard condition in itself, but not when comparatively considered."
Moll's governess had been made very ill by the news of Moll's sentence of death. When she recovered she came to the prison and, learning of the new sentence, hinted that there might be a way around it: Moll might be able to buy her way out of transportation.
When Moll was taken to prison she at first seemed to repent, but she merely regretted her imprisonment. She seemed more sincere in her sorrow about Jemmy's imprisonment. Notice that throughout this personal history, Moll takes no responsibility for her acts. She blames her evil ways on her innocence, her poverty, her greed, her governess, the devil, or fate.
Defoe's vivid account of Newgate Prison indicates his familiarity with the place. His descriptions of the people there are probably based on the prisoners he met when he spent several months there in 1703.
Note Moll's explanation of how her constant contact with the other prisoners made her "first stupid and senseless, then brutish and thoughtless, and at last raving mad as any of them were."