What’s in a name?

My favourite title of any novel is this:

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.

This title is usually shorted to Moll Flanders, and that’s a bit of a shame. I’d love to see an edition that prints the full title on the cover.


15 responses to this post.

  1. 🙂 I’d love to see that too – in all its mishievous magnificence! I do love Defoe’s writing – deep thought served up like a favourite, naughty-but-nice-double-cream-topped pudding! What a wonderful romp ‘Moll Flanders’ is. A couple of years ago, I treated myself to a lovely Folio Society edition of ‘Roxana’ which is still waiting on my shelf to be read. Another indulgent treat to look forward to!



    • It’s terrific stuff, isn’t it? I have really come to enjoy 18th century novels. I’m currently reading Fielding’s Joseph Andrews (it’s the one Fielding novel I haven’t yet read), and it’s a great romp so far. There are at least three English novels of the 18th century that are in the absolute top drawer – Tristram Shandy, Tom Jones, and Clarissa. And Gulliver’s Travels too – if you count that as a novel.

      Defoe has long struck me as a very underrated novelist. Everyone knows him by Robinson Crusoe, and possibly by Mol Flanders, but Roxana and Journal of the Plague Year are both superb works.


      • He’s brilliant isn’t he – a jewel; such an important part in the development of the novel, and in the deft treatment of so many fabulous literary devices – as is Fielding. What marvellous novels ‘Tom Jones’ and ‘Joseph Andrews’ are! I had a wonderful time studying the 18th century novel (so many years ago now!) during my degree. ‘Joseph Andrews’ was an absolute delight. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on it!

  2. Posted by Brian Joseph on November 2, 2012 at 2:07 am

    I never realized that Moll Flanders was shortened! Looks like Amazon does not even mention the full title on their site. I wonder what Defoe was thinking.


  3. Wonderful. There are so many other shorthand possibilities within that title that one has to question how Moll Flanders came out on top – I mean, a Life of continu’d Variety or Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife might seem a bit more enticing.


    • Brilliant! From now on, I’m going to think of this novel as Twelve Year a Whore, Five Times a Wife!

      Reminds me of that silly gag in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, where someone says about the wonderfully named Mistress Overdone: “She has had nine husbands, and was Overdone by the last.”


  4. Posted by kumud biswas on November 4, 2012 at 11:49 pm

    Read them all years ago when I was in my teens, most have been filmed. I shall enjoy them not so well if I read them now.


    • I’m sorry, I don’t understand this comment. The post to which this comment is responding is about the full title of Defoe’s Moll Flanders. Did you intend to post this elsewhere in the blog?


      • Posted by kumud biswas on November 5, 2012 at 11:07 pm

        It is very much meant for this blog, because this kind of irrelevant comment you will not remove.

      • Your latest comment above I find as incomprehensible as your previous one.

        The comment section on ths blog is intended for debate, discussion, and for friendly chat. I very rarely delete any post, unless it is spam, or unless the poster specifically asks me to delete.

  5. It’s a great title isn’t it? I have this somewhere, but haven’t read it for many years. I remember Moll’s enthusiasm for life, and her endless optimism through every twist and turn of fate that this time around things would turn out well, and the way she uses her wits, as well as her looks, to get by as best she can. I shall have to hunt it out for a re-read.


    • Hello Chris, and weclcome. It has been some time also since I last read it. Defoe really is, I think, a much underrated novelist: in addition to this and to Robinson Crusoe, his last novel, Roxana, seems to me quite exceptional. It is comparable to Moll Flanders in many ways, in that its protagonist has to use her wits and her looks to get on as best she can in a hostiel world, but the tone there is dark and tragic; and it is clear, I think, that Roxana (who tells her own story) progressively loses her grasp on reality, so that by the end, the reader can no longer trust her narrative, and is left unsure as to what really has happened.

      The Journal of the Plague Year is also a remarkabble novel.


  6. Posted by Shonti Mukherjee on November 5, 2012 at 7:34 pm

    Explain to me why it would be good for the original title to appear on a cover.


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