Criticism of Moll Flanders
How should readers interpret the seeming contradictory character that Daniel Defoe presents in Moll Flanders? Is her penitence a construction of irony? While the question of irony was prominent in the earlier criticism of the 1950s and 1960s, most scholars have moved away from that question, acknowledging the existence of various types of irony and validating the true reformation of Moll. Critics are now articulating other subtle and complex authorial strategies in Moll Flanders besides the use of irony, crediting Defoe with more of what it takes to be a "father of the novel." Newer critical methodologies involving class and gender are also playing a role in establishing Defoe as advocate of social change.
Unfortunately, critics dealing with Moll Flanders lack as yet a truly definitive text from which to work. The best one can do is to stay with texts founded on the first 1722 edition. Texts taken from later editions, the second and third and later, may be abridged, and scholars have persuasively argued that such editions do not reflect Defoe's intentions or revisions. Despite the short-comings in textual scholarship on the novel, recent years have seen no dearth of literary criticism.
Defoe as innovative developer of narrative technique in the novel is a considerable topic of conversation in critical circles. No longer are we hearing complaints about artificially connected, episodic writing and plot inconsistencies. Ian Watt notes a "lack of co-ordination between the different aspects of [Defoe's] narrative purpose" (118) in "Moll Flanders•, as well as denying a conscious and consistent employment of irony, but he also praises Defoe for narrative successes in the creation of scenes and the development of the theme of individualism. Others have followed Watt's laud for Defoe's technique, uncovering additional complexities in his contribution to the genre of novel. David Blewett finds Defoe's work much more unified along several lines, addressing the incorporation of complex ironies that challenge stable society in such areas as family relations and marriage. Overall, he attributes careful narrative planning to Defoe. In the exploration of Defoe's narrative strategies, critics such as Maximillian E. Novak, Paula R. Backscheider, and Lincoln B. Faller are illuminating the dimensions of his language. In his "Realism, Myth, and History in Defoe's Fiction•, Novak points out patterns of wordplay and double entendre that convey subtle meanings and notes manipulations of tense that enable curious blending of past and present. Faller coins the term "trialogue" in recognizing a dialogue involving two characters and the audience present in "Moll Flanders• and "•rarely occurring in other literature of Defoe's contemporaries. In the critical study, "Moll Flanders: The Making of a Criminal Mind•, Backscheider calls attention to elements of Defoe's prose...