Moll Flanders recounts the story of her extraordinary life, from her birth in Newgate prison to her declining years in married prosperity. After being seduced in the home of her adoptive family she lives off her wits and her beauty, as a whore, 'five times a Wife', and a thief, and is eventually transported to Virginia for her crimes. Rich and penitent, Moll reflects on a world that is both good and evil, just as the reader both abhors and admires her. Arguably the first English novel, Moll Flanders is also a romance, its heroine in perpetual search for a lost familial paradise.
My true name is so well known in the records or registers at Newgate, and in the Old Bailey, and there are some things of such consequence still depending there, relating to my particular conduct, that it is not be expected I should set my name or the account of my family to this work; perhaps, after my death, it may be better known; at present it would not be proper, no not though a general pardon should be issued, even without exceptions and reserve of persons or crimes. It is enough to tell you, that as some of my worst comrades, who are out of the way of doing me harm (having gone out of the world by the steps and the string, as I often expected to go ), knew me by the name of Moll Flanders, so you may give me leave to speak of myself under that name till I dare own who I have been, as well as who I am. I have been told that in one of neighbour nations, whether it be in France or where else I know not, they have an order from the king, that when any criminal is condemned, either to die, or to the galleys, or to be transported, if they leave any children, as such are generally unprovided for, by the poverty or forfeiture of their parents, so they are immediately taken into the care of the Government, and put into a hospital called the House of Orphans, where they are bred up, clothed, fed, taught, and when fit to go out, are placed out to trades or to services, so as to be well able to provide for themselves by an honest, industrious behaviour.