Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders, with Bob Chibka
Sundays from 2:30-4:30 at the Wellfleet Library
Class dates: January 13,20,27, February 3,10.
In 1719, a 59-year-old Englishman with a résumé full of bankruptcies, imprisonments, and pilloryings both literary and literal began writing books we call novels but some of his contemporaries condemned as fake news.
Three years after Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe published one Disney never adapted for children: “The FORTUNES and MISFORTUNES Of the Famous Moll Flanders, &c. Who was Born in Newgate,* and during a Life of continu’d Variety for Threescore Years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own Brother) Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv’d Honest, and died a Penitent. Written from her own Memorandums.” That spoiler of a full title says a lot about the novel’s contradictory aims. Capitalizing on a hunger for salacious “true crime” stories as well as a thirst for high-purposed “spiritual autobiographies,” Defoe paints the respectable façades and criminal undergrounds of late-17th-century society through one woman’s rollercoaster life. Realistic and contrived, harrowing and hilarious, Moll Flanders is a case study in problems of narrative tone and structure, an important text for students of gender and class inequalities, and just a weirdly good read.
We’ll also read “Fantomina, or Love in a Maze,” a near-contemporary shorter story by Eliza Haywood featuring a wildly different female shape-shifter, and a smattering of literary criticism.
I’ll distribute the Haywood story and any other shorter readings electronically; for the text of Moll, students should acquire before the course begins the second Norton Critical Edition, ed. Albert J. Rivero (W.W. Norton, 2004, ISBN #0-393-97862-1 or ASIN #B017P07A92). On the day I’m typing this, I see dozens of used copies on Amazon, from about $12, including shipping. Here’s that link:
* London’s most notorious prison