Realism and Emotion: Creating the Female Narrator

Within Daniel Defoe’s novel Moll Flanders, he expertly produces the voice of a woman. His ability to make the narrative one that is effortlessly female is aided by numerous factors. The realism of the text, the factuality of the prose, and the uncensored emotions of the narrator lend a feminine persona to Defoe’s protagonist. Despite having no direct experience, Defoe masterfully ventriloquizes the voice of a woman and thus makes the character of Moll Flanders believable and limitlessly interesting.

Through his own personal experiences within seventeenth and eighteenth century England, Defoe acquires the necessary tools to create a believable female character and thus makes Moll Flanders an example of novel that brilliantly captures the emotions and experiences of a woman. Within Moll Flanders, the female voice becomes realistic because of the experiences of the author, Daniel Defoe. It is not what Moll, the protagonist, thinks or does that makes her a relatable character for all women. Rather, it is how she thinks and why she does what she does that makes her realistic.

Defoe grew up in seventeenth and eighteenth century England within a lower class than many of his fellow writers did. His education was not extravagant and he had many aspirations to rise in the social rankings. Similarly, his character Moll was also born in a lower class, her mother being a convict (Defoe 46). Also, just as Defoe aspired to make a name for himself, Moll, when asked by her motherly nurse, says she wants to be a “gentlewoman” (Defoe 49). These two foundations are what Molls entire character is built upon. Because of the class she was born into, Moll intends to rise in the ranks.

This in turn leads to the very calculative nature that becomes inherent in Moll. Besides transferring his nature to Moll, Defoe also uses his experiences in order to make the happenings that Moll goes through seem more real. He spent some time in the Newgate Jail and this allows him to very accurately describe not only the setting but also the horror within this place. When Moll is finally brought to Newgate because of her crimes, she confesses that “when [she] looked round upon all the horrors of that dismal place: [she] looked upon [herself] as lost” (Defoe 275).

This scene seems to embody the experience that anyone would feel if they entered such a terrible place. The experience behind this event allows for Defoe to create a sequence so real for Moll, that male and female readers alike will witness a raw, emotional, and relatable moment in the life of Moll. The nature and experiences that Defoe had reflect in his protagonist. This allows for the making of the colourful character that is Moll and also lends an air of realism that comes only with true experience.

Just as Defoe wanted to leave his lower status, Moll lives her life of crime because she is “pressed” by poverty which makes her soul “desperate by distress” (Defoe, 203). Readers do not necessarily relate to Moll as a female as much as they relate to her as a real person. Her experiences are so real that one feels as if they are witnessing a perfectly ventriloquized female voice. Perhaps in reality, readers are witnessing realism within a novel at its finest more than they are seeing an example of the female voice being ventriloquized by a male author.

If it is the realism of the character that makes Moll a believable human being, capturing her emotions becomes vital in forming her into a woman. While obvious genetic differences separate females from males, differentiating woman from man is done at the emotional level. It seems understandable that Defoe would be able to create a believable character. He places his personal experiences and aspirations into his character. As mentioned before, Defoe transfers his own calculative, money-sexualizing character into Moll.

Moll states that “being well bred, handsome, witty, modest, and agreeable [… all these would not do without the [money], which was now become more valuable than virtue itself” (Defoe 104). This nature, though, is not specific to women. Thus, Defoe must now delve into the emotional state of women. The thoughts of Moll are uncensored and Defoe ensures his audience of the factual quality of Moll. As a former journalist, Defoe constantly backs up Moll’s thoughts with assurances of their truth. Knowing that Moll’s validity as a character would be questioned because he is not a woman, Defoe had to create an alliance between his female narrator and his readers.

To do this, the male author, in true journalistic fashion, uses a fictional editor who claims to have taken the true story of Moll Flanders and put it in a “dress fit to be worn” (Defoe 1). Now that readers are assured of the validity of Moll’s story, Defoe is able to use an emotional approach in order to manipulate his audience into believing that Moll is a woman. The manipulation of his audience is a key factor in creating a valid female protagonist in Moll Flanders and once this is accomplished, Defoe incorporates uncensored thoughts into his protagonist, Moll, in order to make his novel an example of a ventriloquized female voice.

Rather than creating a moral woman of unattainable high standards, Defoe embraces the inner desires of women. He does not write about what woman want to be, but rather, about what they usually are. This becomes evident in the beginning when Moll is maturing into a beautiful woman. Rather than being humble, Moll admits that “if a woman think herself handsome, she never doubts the truth of any man that tells her he is in love with her” (Defoe 59). It is much more reasonable for Defoe to ask his readers to trust in the reality of a character that does not lie in her thoughts but rather is blunt.

Having a humble visage is one thing, but to carry that moral appearance inwardly would have made Moll less believable. Moll does not edit her thoughts; thus, it would be expected that her thoughts would reflect the inner most feelings of most women. Understanding that being attractive is important to most women, Defoe made Moll a “handsome woman” who used her looks to play with lovers “as an angler does with a trout” (Defoe 159). Molls pride and vanity make her much more relatable to women. At the same time, her tender emotions and vulnerability allow her to enter the softer side of womanhood.

While most of her actions are deplorable compared to most standards, Moll remains ‘womanly’ by maintaining her weaknesses. After numerous husbands and a few affairs, Moll settles down with her Lancashire husband, hoping that he has a fortune. Despite finding out that he lives in poverty, just as she does, she is still torn when she wakes up to find him missing from their bed. Moll feels that “nothing that ever befell [her] in [her] life sunk so deep into [her] heart as this farewell” (Defoe 170).

Giving Moll these emotions places her conscious on the page and allows readers to witness her heart breaking. While women may place emphasis on physical appearances and worldly luxuries, they can relate to the few morals that Moll has. Moll understands “how much happier a life of virtue and sobriety is, than that which we call a life of pleasure” (Defoe 200). Her comprehension of this makes her a well rounded character. She may be vain and perhaps even unethical, but by maintaining a conscious, Moll is a woman.

Defoe brilliantly ventriloquizes the female voice through Moll by making her vile, exciting, and capable of causing self reflection all at once. She becomes the woman we are, the woman we were, the woman we do not want to be, and the woman struggle as. In Moll Flanders, Daniel Defoe is able to project the voice of a woman in his female protagonist. He accomplishes this through trust and emotion. In the first place, for readers to believe the voice of Moll to be that of a woman, they need to trust Moll as a character. Defoe does this through realism.

By incorporating his experiences and personal aspirations, he is able develop a character that is genuine enough to manipulate an audience. Secondly, Defoe uses the power of manipulation to make Moll’s emotions womanly. They are uncensored and heartfelt which makes them appeal to women on both sides of the morality spectrum. It is understood that as an audience, we are being manipulated by Defoe. Why else would we not want Moll to be caught or jailed for her crimes? However, despite this persuasion, readers trust Moll and her emotions and struggles as a woman make her authentic.