This human portrait of a woman is also an excellent sketch of the living conditions and the social stratification in England in the 18th century: 'the Age is so wicked and the Sex so Debauch'd'.
It shows the immense chasm between a small class of wealthy people and the rest (Swift: a thousand to one). The latter were struggling for sheer survival and praying 'Give me not Poverty, lest I steal' ... to be hanged: 'If I swing by the String, I shall hear the Bell ring, and then there's an End of poor Jenny.'
But both classes intermingled.
As E.J. Burford quotes in his masterful book 'The Synfull Citie':
Those who were riche were hangid by the Pursse
Those who were poore were hangid by the Necke
Defoe's Moll Flanders: 'the passive Jade thinks of no Pleasure but the Money; and when he is as it were drunk in the Extasies of his wicked Pleasure, her Hands are in his Pockets.'
Defoe paints the poor's religion as fatalism. Moll Flanders is all the time reproaching herself her Course of life, 'a horrid Complication of Wickedness, Whoredom, Adultery, Incest, Lying, Theft', but in the face of death at the gallows, 'I had now neither Remorse or Repentance ... no Thought of Heaven or Hell ... I neither had a Heart to ask God's Mercy.'
Defoe's work is eminently modern, with his psychological insight 'What a Felicity is it to Mankind that they cannot see into the Hearts of one another', and 'Modest men are better Hypocrites';
or, the ravages of alcoholism: 'the Drunk are the Men whom Solomon says, they go like an Ox to the Slaughter, till a Dart strikes through their Liver';
and his feminism: 'the Disadvantage of the Women is a terrible Scandal upon Men', and 'Money only made a Woman agreeable.'
Defoe's appeal to the reader - 'every Branch of my Story may be useful to honest People' - seems to be a smokescreen to circumvent censorship, because ultimately Moll Flanders prospers. This book is a perfect illustration of Bernard
Mandeville's 'Triumph of Private Vices' in his 'Fable of the Bees'.
Although some developments in this story are rather improbable, this superbly ironic and lively text constitutes an immortal portrait of the 'horrid Complication' to be a woman, here personified in Moll Flanders.
Not to be missed.