Moll: the life and true times of Moll Flanders.
Sian Rees

Moll:  the life and true times of Moll Flanders.

Daniel Defoe’s fictional Moll Flanders is famous for her criminal and sexual adventures, which have been racily portrayed on big and small screens. But who was she? And what world did she really inhabit?

'Moll' takes its readers on a literary and historical detective story across continents, cultures and centuries: from Jacobean England to Jamestown, Virginia in 1614; from the battles of the English Civil War to those of the Powhatan Indians of Virginia in the 1640s; from the decadence of the English Restoration to the godliness of Maryland tobacco farms in the 1670s; and from the heaving, dissolute metropolis of London to the hamlet of Annapolis in 1722.

We are led through Moll’s tumultuous life by other figures from Daniel Defoe’s novels, and by historical characters: the real-life versions of Defoe’s heroine, her mother, her amoral ‘governess’ and her many husbands and lovers. Principal among these are Moll Cutpurse: thief, receiver, procuress and gangmaster; Mary Moders, also known as the ‘Kentish Moll’ and the ‘German Princess’, who adopted the persona of distressed noblewoman to hook rich men; and Moll King (alias Gold alias Gilstone alias Bird), the thief reprieved from death in England to be transported as a convict to ‘His Majesty’s plantations in Virginia’.

Combining meticulously researched tales of London’s underworld with the little-known story of penal transportation to America, Moll is inventive, absorbing and as rich in incident as Defoe’s great novel.

Book Details:

  • Author: Sian Rees
  • Published Year: 2011
  • Rights Sold
    • UK: Chatto
Sian Rees

Sian Rees

Siân Rees was born and brought up in Cornwall, spending much of her childhood in boatyards and at sea. She read Modern History at Magdalen College, Oxford and then spent a decade travelling and living abroad. Her first book, The Floating Brothel: the extraordinary true story of the Lady Julian and its cargo of female convicts bound for Botany Bay was written after living in Melbourne, Australia, and published in 2001. It was followed by The Shadows of Elisa Lynch: how a nineteenth-century Irish courtesan became the most powerful woman in Paraguay (2003) after a stint in South America,...
More about Sian Rees

Book Reviews

  • " eye-opening introduction to an underworld of sex and crime..."
    The Sunday Times
  • "...wonderfully colourful..."
    The Scotsman
  • "...what Rees does in this engaging book is to give us the extra historical information we need to create a richer context for Moll's story.  "
    Katherine Hughes, The Guardian
  • "  Ably and entertainingly Rees pictures Moll’s world of Stuart London. She traces the sources of her remarkable story and the overlaps between Defoe’s life and that of his heroine.This is a readable, informative and colourful account."
  • "...lively and bracing..."
    Valerie Grove, The Times
  • "Sian Rees brings alive this fictional woman and makes her live and breathe in the teeming London of her birth. The city is a character in itself, full of thieves and vagabonds and highwaymen. For me, however, the particular fascination of this work lies in the vivid detail of what it means to have been female in the 1600s...This book raises many relevant issues such as the relationship between the state and private morality and the rights of children. Rees has written history at its most accessible: learned, informative and highly entertaining."
    Catherine Dunne, Sunday Express
  • "...her fascinating and expertly researched new book...Rees firmly repositions Defoe's work back in its appropriate context...Rees's skill as a masterful researcher and a story teller truly shines. We are given a detailed tour of the workings and contexts of Moll's world - taken from London to Virginia, and introduced to everything from the practices of midwifery to indentured servitude...Sian Rees has suceeded in painting an almost three dimensional context for Defoe's celebrated novel. Moll Flanders is meely the peg on which she hangs a thoroughly engrossing study of 17th-century life,"
    Hallie Rubenhold, BBC History Magazine
  • "...this vivid look at both the character and the culture that created her."
  • "...a lucid, intelligent guide.  "
    Sunday Herald
  • "Making clever use of the online Old Bailey records and the plethora of best-selling criminal biographies from the 17th and 18th centuries, Rees uncovers all manner of entertaining stories ... Foregrounding riveting historical fact to colour Defoe’s famous fiction, Rees offers a lively 17th-century history with the misfortunate Moll Flanders as its inspiration."
    History Today
  • "  Rees writes vividly about the lives of the early colonial settlers…Rees has a magpie’s eye for the details that make history sparkle. She also has the dexterity needed to turn this pick ‘n’ mix approach into a neat, coherent whole. The result is a wonderfully entertaining, enlightening book, which in its own way is just as much fun as the original."
    Mail on Sunday
  • "Rees is an assiduous researcher with a perceptive and unflinching eye for the sordid and outrageous minutiae of 17th-century English low-life…Defoe’s novel is a compulsive page-turner and so is this latest work of Sian Rees."
    Patrick Skene Catling, Irish Times
  • "... this slim volume is brisk, lucid and packed with color…If you haven’t read the original , this book will surely prove the necessary spur; to Rees’s credit, it’s also highly enjoyable in its own right."
    The Lady