J. Paul Hunter discusses the moralists concern for the novel rooted specifically in young women readers. He says of the lower class women in particular that their “heads might be turned and their passions inflamed” (Hunter 22). At least this was the reasoning behind the moralists’ fears, but how valid were their fears? Novelists themselves attempted to defend their writings by claiming to recommend high morals (Hunter 21).
I believe that this defense could be taken as a confession. It sounds as though moralists are afraid that novels will change these lower class women’s ways of thinking and they will no longer depend on a higher authority for their belief systems such as the church or, God forbid, the moralists themselves! Novelists admit that they write for the purpose of supporting one way of thinking over another, always what the author considers moral. Yet what happens if an author supports a “moral” way of thinking that is not directly from the moral authorities? Defoe hints at strong ideas when he suggests that a woman left on her own, “is just like a bag of money…which is prey to the next comer” (Defoe149). Defoe’s character of Moll not only directly considers the problems in the inequalities for women, but she many times experiences the very effects throughout the novel. Although Defoe considers it moral to put issues of inequality in the heads of his female readers, the moralists would surely consider it as turning heads, though not in the way they may have thought.
I say that the authorities of the time, moral or otherwise, have a valid reason to worry. Their jobs could become obsolete and the “weaker” minds of the time could be swayed against the original intentions of their superiors. Not long after this, women begin to fight for rights through legislation, especially in the next century. Feminist ideas come to a head and women begin to see the injustice of their status in society. Women, as improper as it is, begin to think about their own situation and how to better it without a man’s aid. I wonder how much the novel had to do with that. Since women may have been the majority of readers, how different would women’s rights be today without the novel (Hunter 22)?
Defoe, Daniel. Moll Flanders. Toronto : Broadview, 2005. 45-334. Print.
Hunter, J. Paul. “The Novel and Society/Cultural history. Editor John Richett. 1996. Print.