1. What is added by Defoe’s preface? (asserts attitude of moralistic disapproval consistent with a fascination with intrigue and crime)
2. What features of this work reflect its origins in the genre of prisoner’s narrative?
3. Did the ending of this novel/adventure story surprise you? How convincing is Moll Flanders’ final repentance and turn to virtue? Is her final state as a plantation owner in character?
4. Why do you think Defoe chose to grant his heroine a latter-day ascension to respectability in retirement? Does the novel point the moral that crime pays? (Moll is the Horatio Alger of crime; no restitution or punishment is demanded) Is the ending ironic? A success story?
5. In his Poetics Aristotle states that a work in which the evil are rewarded is incoherent—is this the case here? Or can a case be made for realism, or alternately, for sensationalism?
6. What does the narrative’s frequent juxtaposition of moralism with blunt narration add to the novel’s effect? (increases the reader’s suspense and anxiety, emphasizes arresting nature of crime which triumphs over all; exaggerates the account of her sexual crimes to make her more interesting, yet keeps her liaisons reasonably defensible; she is never really a common prostitute –compare Thackeray’s later Becky Sharp)
7. Does Defoe like his own heroine?
8. What retains the reader’s interest in an episodic plot? (suspense; presentation of guilt and fear; episodes constitute excellent short stories, expertly told but not necessarily consistent)
9. Is this work in some sense proto-pornographic? An early detective or crime novel?
10. What do you make of the juxtaposition of themes of religion, sex, and financial speculation?
11. To what extent do the features of the narrative reflect Defoe’s own background and the period of the novel’s composition?
12. What, if anything, unifies the work?
13. Are there shifts in tone between the early and later sections of the work, and if so, are these inconsistencies? (seems a social novel of marriage; then a crime/detective novel)
14. Could this novel be described as in some sense a portrayal of different kinds of gambling? (marriage, crime, financial speculation)
15. To what extent is the reader expected to sympathize with Moll Flanders? (moralistic disapproval combined with near prurient interest in her exploits—hypocrisy)
16. Is Moll Flanders a fictional oppressed woman? Is she actively evil, driven to crime from helplessness, or both? Does Defoe intentionally blur this distinction? And if so, what may be significant about the blurring of moral boundaries? (he makes the case both ways—at important junctures he emphasizes her necessities, yet he carefully presents her last adventures as unnecessary speculations; at times she unable to work and yet unsatisfied with the chances she has.
17. What might be a feminist reading of the novel?
18. To what extent is the character of Moll Flanders psychologically credible? If not completely so, is this because Defoe has failed in his intention to create a believable character, or has he intended something else?
18. What makes this a novel rather than, say, a documentary or a fictional confession? (the novel an epic in prose, in this case a comic, low epic; epic tended to present a series of episodes centered on one hero, e. g. The Odyssey)
19. What is the effect of the novel’s conversational narrative style? Is it effective?