A Fortunate Dialect: Class, Language, and Survival in Defoe’s Moll Flanders

A Fortunate Dialect: Class, Language, and Survival in Defoe’s Moll Flanders

Chaskavich, Jennifer

Idiom: English Undergraduate Academic Journal, Vol.3 (2009)


In Daniel Defoe’s novel The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, the eponymous protagonist is born into the lower class but spends her adolescence living with upper-class benefactors, almost as family. This transition during Moll’s formative years allows her the opportunity to absorb and emulate the language and behaviour of gentility, transforming her into a hybrid of lower- and upper-class mentalities within the otherwise highly polarized social hierarchy of eighteenth-century England. One side of her personality aspires to the virtuous and private nature of the upper-class sphere, while the other is heavily influenced by the ambiguous morality and public nature associated with the survivalist impulse of her lower-class origins as understood by her contemporaries (Porter 48-97).

The dichotomy between these two spheres becomes evident in Moll’s hybridized use of language. Her access to each dialect allows her to survive both physically and psychologically through her circumstances. Moll aspires to the mentality of a gentlewoman, but acknowledges the low-class equivalent when dictated by practicality, and appeals to the higher moral meaning of an upper-class mentality to justify her immoral actions. Moll’s utilization of social dialect facilitates her self-preservation and reconciles her means of survival with her personal interests in a world where survival and morality conflict.

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