Producer: David Lascelles
Director: David Atwood
MOLL FLANDERS/Episode 2/Intro by Russell Baker
As we resume the saga of Moll Flanders tonight, Moll is about to take her fourth husband. She left her third in Virginia after being shocked and horrified to discover -- a little late in the day -- that he was her brother. By then they'd had two children.
Her second husband may still be alive somewhere in Europe. What she knows for sure is that her first husband is dead. She is not a woman to worry excessively about committing bigamy and now she is blithely preparing to move ahead into trigamy.
Well of course Moll can't survive if she lives by the high moral code. With no one to provide for her, she's forced to provide for herself, using the few resources at her disposal. These are limited to her sexual charms and, as we'll see tonight, a talent for petty crime.
Daniel DeFoe, the author of "Moll Flanders," was writing a sort of sociological novel, depicting the underside of British society 250 years ago.
He put in none of his anger -- if he had any -- about the system that produced women like Moll. He just laid it out deadpan, as if to say, "This is what happens to the unfortunate in a world like ours."
You may wonder what becomes of Moll's children. She has children by her first marriage and by her third, and all of them simply disappear from our story.
DeFoe seems bored with awkward plot problems, like what to do with too many children. Critics have noted that Moll Flanders is full of loose threads left dangling. And this seems to have been the fate of Moll's children.
Speaking of children, I should caution you that the themes of Moll Flanders -- bigamy, incest, prostitution -- may strike some parents as unsuitable for children's viewing.
Now, concluding episode, Moll Flanders.
MOLL FLANDERS/Episode2/Extro by Russell Baker
Our story ends differently from Daniel DeFoe's book. In the book, Jemmy does not gallop up in the nick of time to save Moll from the hangman.
She saves herself by persuading a clergyman that she has seen the error of her ways, and yearns for divine forgiveness. He intercedes with the authorities, and her sentence is reduced to transportation.
When the book finally ends, we discover -- as we suspected all along -- that she was not as penitent as she claimed to be.
Actually, there would have been nothing unusual about her pardon from the gallows. At that time, practically all crimes were punishable by death, but relatively few people were actually hanged.
Another common way of cheating the law was called "benefit of clergy."
This went back to the Middle Ages when ordained clergymen could not be tried in secular courts, but only by the church. Since ordained clergy had to be able to read, in an age when few other people could, literacy was the court's test for telling whether a defendant had been ordained and had to be set free.
Defendants claiming "benefit of clergy" were required to read a certain verse of the 51st Psalm. Because of its power to save rascals from the hangman, this became known as "the neck verse." Many criminals who could read nothing else could instantly recite it by heart. Oh -- I should also tell you that when Moll is finally transported with Jemmy, she is 61 years old.
For Masterpiece Theatre, I'm Russell Baker. Goodnight.
Episode number: 1 2
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