Moll Flanders and English Marriage Law

Document Type




Format of Original

26 p.

Publication Date



University of Toronto Press

Source Publication

Eighteenth-Century Fiction

Source ISSN



Halfway through Moll Flanders, Daniel Defoe’s eponymous heroine receives a marriage proposal from a bank clerk. A cuckold, the clerk has won a decree of separation from his wife and now seeks to make good on his promise to marry Moll. Moll, however, raises “some Scruples at the Lawfulness of his Marrying again” and advises her friend to “consider very seriously upon [this] Point before he resolv’[s] on it.” Moll’s objection, of course, is richly ironic, as Moll herself is already married. Her husband, the Linnen-Draper, has long since left her, but she remains his lawful wife. Keenly aware of the restrictive nature of English marriage law, Moll has capitalized upon the clerk’s own conjugal trouble. She has advised the clerk to turn to the courts — knowing that he could obtain only a separation from his wife, rather than a full divorce enabling him to remarry — because she wished to delay their match. Now that the clerk has obtained the decree, Moll objects to his proposal because she is pregnant and needs to put him off a little longer. In Moll’s words, in her dealings with her banker friend, she “Plays the Hypocrite” (195). … Moll’s scruples, however, turn out to be more than a matter of convenience.


Eighteenth-Century Fiction, Vol. 17, No. 2 (January 2005): 157-182. Permalink.

Melissa J. Ganz was affiliated with Yale University at the time of publication.