Volume 26 Issue 1, Fall 2013, pp. pp. 1-32


As a contribution to debates on the structure of Daniel Defoe’s novels, this article argues that the design and much of the content of Moll Flanders can be better understood through identifying common eighteenth-century reading habits and the ways in which authors sought to cater to them. A significant factor in shaping works was the conviction of authors and publishers that their readers wanted “variety” in prose fiction. Efforts to ensure the provision of variety for readers helped shape Moll Flanders, notably the treatment of Moll’s crimes and the long deferral of her descent into the criminal underworld. This principle of providing variety also meant that certain episodes could unproblematically invite greater attention than the plot strictly required in order to engage a more diverse audience by catering to sociable reading practices and the love of gossip. Considering Moll Flanders in this way invites revision of current critical ideas about what constituted a well-designed prose narrative for readers of the early eighteenth century.