Women and Western American Literature

By Helen Winter Stauffer; Susan J. Rosowski | Go to book overview

Marian Forrester and Moll Flanders:
Fortunes and Misfortunes

Patricia Lee Yongue

In addition to sharing a set of initials, the heroines of Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders ( 1722) and Willa A Lost Lady ( 1923) resemble one another in ways that indicate greater correspondence between the two novels than might at first be presumed likely. 1 Specifically, the special emphasis on Marian Forrester and Moll Flanders as fortunate, if desperate, survivors in worlds described as caring little or nothing about their human rights unites Cather with Defoe in an inquiry into an aspect of social history and morality important to them both: the economic situation of women in a man's world and the psychological and moral ramifications of that situation. Indeed, a view of the charming and aristocratic Marian Forrester in the light of the oppressed and wicked Moll Flanders introduces a fine ambiguity into Marian's characterization, at the same time that it contributes to the layering of theme, action, point-of-view, and irony in A Lost Lady, a remarkable novel which is proving to be one of Willa Cather's most intricate studies. 2

A Lost Lady is, perhaps, Willa Cather's most explicit, though characteristically subdued, treatment of society's diffidence with respect to women and their needs. 3 The subtle traces of Moll Flanders in the novel, which seem deliberate, serve to remind the reader that Marian, like Moll, is "unprotected" -- even, or especially, in the company of the men and mores so eagerly claiming to be her protectors. Marian's affiliations with heroines as diverse and psychologically complex as Moll Flanders, Hawthorne's Hester Prynne, and Flaubert's Emma Bovary offset the more prominent resemblance she bears to women like Queen Guinevere and Robin Hood's Maid Marion. 4 The tension created by these myriad images of woman -- each representing a different perception or facet of her character -- approximates the tension

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