Summary and Analysis
Chapter 8 - A Tragic Marriage
Moll was very happy until her mother-in-law, a good-humored old woman, began one of the numerous stories of her youth. She told Moll that most of the inhabitants of the colony had either been brought by captains of ships and sold as servants or "transported from Newgate and other prisons, after having been found guilty of felony and other crimes punishable with death." They worked out their time and then were given a few acres of land by the government, were encouraged to work the land, and were extended credit for tools and other necessities by local tradesmen and merchants. Many, she told Moll, became great men and were not ashamed of the brand on their hands which indicated that they had been in prison. Then she took off her glove and showed Moll the burn in her own hand. Moll's mother-in-law related that she had fallen into bad company in her youth and was saved from hanging only because she was pregnant. When the mother-in-law happened to mention her own name, Moll became very much upset and begged her mother-in-law to discontinue her story. Nevertheless, the woman went on to say that she had eventually married her master, after the death of his wife, and had brought up the two children she had had by him. At this point, Moll felt certain that her mother-in-law was her own mother, and that the two children she herself had, and the third on the way, were all got by her own brother. Moll was horrified by this knowledge but decided to keep it to herself, sure that she would be even further "undone" if either her mother or her brother learned the truth.
Moll was now a most unhappy woman and lived for three more years "with the greatest pressure imaginable"; but she had no more children. Her mother continued telling her of her past life of prostitution, thievery, and prison. Soon Moll's anguish became noticeable and caused her husband to be jealous and act unkindly toward her. Taking him up on an earlier promise, Moll begged her husband to allow her to return to England, saying only that Virginia was not agreeable to her. Her brother — as she now viewed her husband — refused her appeal. They quarreled frequently and heatedly; he called her "an unnatural mother" for being willing to leave her children; she refused to sleep with him anymore. Moll's behavior was so inexplicable to her brother that he threatened to put her "into a madhouse." Thoroughly frightened by this threat and distressed by the whole situation, Moll determined to tell the truth to someone. But before she could decide how and to whom to speak, she had a particularly fierce quarrel with her brother and was provoked into telling him that he was not her lawful husband nor were their children legal. Her half-confession caused him to become quite ill. He begged her to explain her words, but she refused. Finding Moll adamant on this point, he finally told his mother about their trouble and urged her to get the secret from Moll. Eventually, Moll told her mother-in-law that she believed she was her long-lost daughter. She made her promise to keep this information secret unless Moll gave her permission to reveal it. When she recovered from her astonishment, Moll's mother-in-law, now her acknowledged mother, advised Moll to "bury the whole thing entirely" and try to restore harmony within the family. Finding this advice distasteful, Moll asked her mother to convince her son that Moll should be allowed to return to England. Although the two women could not reconcile their differences, a kind of truce was established between Moll and her brother. In this easier atmosphere, Moll found it possible to tell her brother their true relationship. Understandably shocked, he first fell ill, then unsuccessfully attempted suicide. Finally, however, they agreed that she would return to England; that he would pretend she was dead; that they would continue to correspond, as brother and sister; and that he would support her as long as she lived. Accordingly, Moll sailed for England in August, having lived in America for eight years.
Moll's behavior in this chapter shows both her strong determination to look out for herself and her real concern for her husband/brother, whom she honestly liked. Note the different reactions to Moll's secret. Note, too, that Moll again found it necessary to leave her children.