Excerpts from The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders

Ariane Merida Metz
Writer’s Comment: “Excerpts from The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders” was written for Dr. Brynne Gray’s Eighteenth-century British literature class in the winter of 2009. Since creative writing options in upper division literature classes are so few and far between, I felt compelled to seize this unique opportunity while I could. I have always been fascinated by the process of adapting literature to film, and have often wondered why writers choose to leave in certain details and exclude others and how they make these important decisions. I wanted to experience that process of adaptation; I considered this project more than an assignment; it was also a personal experiment. I discovered that film adaptation is a delicate and perplexing process requiring an intuitive knowledge of the text and a precise grasp of the author’s rhythm and style. To prepare myself for the task of adapting Moll Flanders I spent a lot of time researching both the original work and the author. The final product was much better than expected and when I finally submitted my work (sealed in a manila envelope addressed to my professor from my fictional office at BBC headquarters) I had never felt more proud of a piece of my writing, nor had I ever felt more proud of myself.
–Ariane Merida Metz
Instructor’s Comment: The eighteenth-century British literature course (English 123) for which Ms. Metz wrote this essay focused on criminals and utopians in connection with the theme of the search for happiness. I asked students to consider the cultural and/or literary implications of Defoe’s decision to produce a fictional narrative using a criminal as protagonist and first-person narrator in Moll Flanders. Metz chose the option of presenting a dramatization of the scene in Newgate Prison in which Moll has sunk down to the lowest point but regains her wits when she recognizes her husband’s voice. Metz brilliantly captures the dramatic change that occurs in Moll’s character, elucidating Defoe’s text through the stage directions regarding lighting and action. Moll’s narration in the early section of the screenplay effectively underscores the power of first-person narration under Defoe’s pen. Students were required to write a cover letter explaining the choices made in preparing this scene for the screen, which Metz handles with skill and enthusiasm.
—Brynne Gray, English Department

Ariane Merida Metz
BBC Broadcasting House
London W1A 1AA
United Kingdom


Dear Reader,
Daniel Defoe’s The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders is the story of a woman who is miraculously able to rise above her social level and maintain a level of comfort unequal to another woman of her origins, but who then experiences a great fall and must become a true penitent in order not only to spare her mortal life, but also to preserve her immortal soul. 

The woman, who goes by the alias Moll Flanders, is born in Newgate prison, the daughter of a convicted woman who is transported to the Americas. After being fortuitously raised and educated by a nurse, she experiences more good luck after being accepted into an affluent family, and under the pretense of marriage, allows herself to be sullied by the eldest son. Eventually she is married off to the younger son of the family, Robert, who lives for a few years and dies, leaving Moll penniless and weighted with young children. After depositing her children with her in-laws, Moll spends the rest of her young years going through marriage after marriage—all of which end in disaster. The successful Draper she marries escapes from debtor’s-prison and is never seen again, her Virginian husband ends up being her half brother, and her Gentleman Lover ends their affair after a religious experience. Her next lover is a Banker with an unfaithful wife, and while Moll waits for him to obtain a divorce, she marries a man in Lancashire who turns out to be a fraud, and eventually she returns to her Banker, marries him, and lives with him until he dies. Following the death of this last husband, Moll, impoverished, turns to a life of criminality and after many years of successfully evading arrest, is finally thrown into prison. 

While in prison, Moll Flanders becomes more and more detached, until she sees her Lancashire husband being brought into the prison as well. Moll experiences guilt upon seeing her husband there—this is the beginning of what will become a serious repentance of her sins and her former life and the transformation of Moll into a true penitent. Eventually, Moll’s death sentence is altered to transportation, thanks to the intercession of the minister and her ”Governess” who had helped her with her spiritual healing. Her life saved, Moll finally goes to make her presence known to her Lancashire husband Jemy, who is probably the only husband she ever had any affection for. For Moll, Jemy represents a life of true companionship and compatibility—a kind of love that she never allowed herself to have in her former life. For both Moll and Jemy this is a critical and emotional scene—all their secrets are laid open for the other to see. Both leave themselves utterly vulnerable to the other. This is the miraculous culmination of Moll’s healing; where once she was only ruled by mammonism, now she is governed by her heart. 

Attached are excerpts from two different scenes in the proposed movie. In the first scene the viewer glimpses Moll at her lowest point during her imprisonment in Newgate prison. Moll sits in her prison cell, a broken woman, until she unexpectedly sees her “Lancashire Husband” in the prison as well. The second excerpt details the meeting between a newly penitent Moll and Jemy. In this scene, I designed the setting to act as a window into our two characters’ souls. In the sparse surroundings, the only thing of beauty in the cell is the bright sunshine from the outside. Sunshine represents happiness and freedom, things which seem quite distant for Jemy. For Moll, however, the sunshine, and Jemy bathed in it, represent a potential life and love that she had never allowed herself to have. This additional longing for love seems just as impossible to her as Jemy’s freedom is to him. 

Moll enters the cell in darkness, concealed in a cloak. This cloak carries great significance because throughout her entire life, the reader never gets to know who Moll really is. This disguise mirrors the lies Moll has used to hide her own identity. When Moll casts off her disguise, she also casts off the façade she had upheld for years, baring to Jemy her true self. Her identity revealed, Moll runs to Jemy and they are both bathed in light. For a moment Jemy allows himself to get lost in the moment of carefree emotion, before the reality of their situation causes him to be verbally and physically distant from Moll.

Throughout the scene, both characters are constantly moving in and out of the sunshine, illustrating their inconstant feelings and thoughts. Physical contact and eye-contact is also sporadic, mostly on the part of Jemy. Jemy is resigned to his fate and does not want to create any false hope for Moll. Unfortunately, Moll has already filled herself with more false hope than Jemy could ever hope to deter. They fight against each other in a dance of intimacy and distance, Moll always trying to push forward, Jemy always trying to push away. At the end of the scene, however, the couple’s love seems reaffirmed, no secrets remain between them, and they are cast in the warm glow of a setting sun—representing the end of one chapter of their life and the rebirth of a new life all together. 

With my love for eighteenth-century British literature, I was obligated to try to make this scene as authentic to the actual text as possible. I tried very hard to also convey the emotions which I felt Defoe wanted to transmit, and spent many hours studying the text and these scenes in particular. I sincerely hope that you enjoy the enclosed script, and the entire mini-series, which is set for completion and debut on PBS in the US in the next few years.

Ariane Merida Metz,
Screenwriter, Moll Flanders

Excerpts from The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders
Adapted Screenplay

Major Characters (in order of appearance)

Nurse     Miriam Margolyes
Moll Flanders     Keira Knightley
“The Older Brother”     Hugh Dancy
Robert     Sean Biggerstaff
The Draper     Joe Anderson
The Plantation Owner/Moll’s Brother     Matthew Macfadyen
Moll’s Mother     Helen Mirren
The Gentleman     Tom Hollander
The Banker     Jeremy Northam
Jemy (“my Lancashire Husband”)     James McAvoy
The Governess     Charlotte Rampling
The Minister     Simon McBurney
Humphrey     Freddie Stroma


Scene 1: Moll in Newgate
Scene Moll in Newgate, Part 1

Amid the moanings and yellings of prison, Moll Flanders (filthy) sits chained in her cell in Newgate, staring off into space. Spittle has collected around her mouth and she has severely deteriorated physically. So significant is her change that she looks like another person. Throughout the sequence, Moll narrates in voiceover. As she narrates, the camera slowly zooms in on her. The incessant buzzing of flies is constant throughout this scene. 

Moll Flanders:    I had a weight of guilt upon me enough to sink any Creature who had the least power of Reflection left, and had any Sense upon them of the Happiness of this Life, or the Misery of another then; I had at first remorse indeed, but no Repentance. 

I had nothing to expect but Death in a few Weeks time, neither had I myself any thoughts of Escaping. Yet, a certain strange Lethargy of Soul possessed me, I had no Trouble, no Apprehensions, no Sorrow about me, the first Surprise was gone; I was, I may well say I know not how my Senses, my Reason, nay, my Conscience were all a-sleep; my Course of Life for forty Years had been a horrid Complication of Wickedness, Whoredom, Adultery, Incest, Lying, Theft, and in a Word, every thing but Murther and Treason had been my Practice from the Age of Eighteen, or thereabouts to Threescore. 

Fly lands on Moll’s arm; camera focuses on the fly, zooming in closer and closer as Moll continues. 

All my terrifying Thoughts were past the Horrors of the Place, were become Familiar, and I felt no more uneasiness at the Noise and Clamours of the Prison, than they did who made that Noise; in ragious as any of them. 

Abrupt cut to a full-body shot of Moll. Moll smacks fly. Commotion is heard outside. Moll’s eyes refocus, and she sits up. Jailers come by escorting a group of new male prisoners.

Moll Flanders:    In the middle of this hardened Part of my Life, I had another sudden Surprise, which called me back a little to that thing called Sorrow. 

Moll continues to narrate as the men struggle against their jailers and are slowly led off down the corridor. Moll stands and goes to the entrance of her cell to get a better look at the men as they pass by and away. Fade out.

Scene Moll in Newgate, Part 2

Fade in to a long shot of Moll, clamouring at a window with a number of other female prisoners in their cell at Newgate. Camera slowly zooms in on Moll.

Moll Flanders:    (voiceover) There was brought into the Prison three Highway-Men, who had committed a Robbery somewhere on the Road to Windsor. It is not to be wondered that we were all desirous enough to see these brave topping Gentlemen that were talked up to be such. It was said they would be removed into the Press-Yard, having given Money to the Head-master of the Prison, to be allowed the liberty of that better Part of the Prison.

Down below the window, an outer door is opened. The ladies around Moll begin to buzz excitedly; she pushes slightly to get a better look, and gasps suddenly, pulling away from the window. The camera cranes up and above the women’s heads, and then through the window and down below where Jemy exits, escorted by his jailers. Moll, breathing heavily against the wall, clutches at her heart.

Moll Flanders:    Nothing could express the Amazement and Surprise I was in, when the first Man that came out I knew to be my Lancashire Husband (Moll steals a glance back out the window. Down below, Jemy is being led by his jailers. Moll continues to narrate,) the same who lived so well at Dunstable, and the same who I afterwards saw at Brickhill, when I was married to my last Husband, as has been related. 

Fade out. 

Fade in to a shot of Moll, standing at the door to her cell as it is closed behind her. Robotically, she moves across the room to her cot where she collapses, eagle-spread. Through this scene she continues to narrate. 

Moll Flanders:    I Was struck Dumb at the Sight and knew neither what to say or what to do.

Moll turns towards the wall of her cell, tears start to stream down her face, and she silently begins to cry, curling herself up into a ball on the narrow cot.

Moll Flanders:    (voiceover) How many poor People have I made Miserable? How many desperate Wretches have I sent to the Devil; This Gentleman’s Misfortunes I place all to my own Account: He had told me at Chester, he was ruined by that match, and that his Fortunes were made Desperate on my Account.

Camera zooms out. Moll continues to lie on her bed until twilight, the passing of time indicated by a quick series of time-lapse shots.
Moll Flanders:    The Surprise of this thing only, struck deeper into my Thoughts, and gave me stronger Reflections than all that had befallen me before; I grieved Day and Night for him. Fade out.

Scene 2: Moll and Jemy

Scene Moll and Jemy, Part 1

Setting: Moll’s cell in Newgate

Fade in to a shot of Moll Flanders, still filthy and dressed in poor attire but looking a bit more sane, peeking out of the small hole in the wall of her cell to see the comings and goings of her husband. Background sound fades, as Moll narrates in voiceover. Throughout narration, shots of Jemy being led by guards (and dealing with the guards) as seen through the hole are alternated with shots from Moll’s daily life: visits from the Minister and her Mistress, taking her meals, lying down to sleep, and peeking out at the Press-Yard for a glimpse of her husband.

Moll Flanders:    He had, as I have observed already, been carried from the Master’s side of the ordinary prison to the Press-Yard, with three of his Comrades. For what reason I knew not, they were kept in Custody without being brought to trial almost three months. It seems they found means to bribe or buy off some of those who were expected to come in against them. At first they made a shift to get proof enough against the two of them, to carry them off; but the other two, of which my Lancashire Husband was one, lay still in suspense. They had, I think, one positive piece of evidence against each of them, but the law strictly obliged them to have two. They were resolved not to part with the Men, not doubting that further Evidence would come. 

Background sound fades as Moll continues to narrate in voiceover. Moll stands and moves to the barred entrance of her cell. She throws her hands out and calls out to someone, waving her hand. 

Moll Flanders:    I took this opportunity to satisfy my curiosity.

A jailer comes to her cell and she whispers into his ear. 

Moll Flanders:     Pretending that I had been robbed in the Dunstable Coach, I was brought to see them.

Moll, shackled, wearing a hooded cloak, is escorted out of her cell by two jailers. The jailers lead her down a hallway.

Voice from down the hallway: (softly) ‘ear one whats called Moll Flanders ‘as summat ‘gainst them Highwaymen whats been ‘ere these last few months.

Second voice from down the hallway: (whispering) Aye, and I ‘ear she’ll be gitten some-at out o’ it, Transportation what, ‘stead o’ a hanging.
Voice from down the hallway: (a bit louder) Right shame what some’l do to spark a bargain, eh? Sell one’s own honour in’ere for a drink o’ spirits, or ‘nother’s life fer yours, eh?

Moll, hearing this, bows her head slightly. Moll is brought before a cell filled with young men. Many are drinking or gambling and raucously laughing and talking. They are all filthy and skinny; a few retain open wounds on their hands and heads from apparent torture. When Moll and the Jailers approach, the prisoners seem undeterred. Jemy sits in the corner speaking in a low voice with another prisoner. The jailer shoves Moll closer to the cell’s entrance, and she draws the eyes of a few of the inmates. Clutching her cloak at her breast and bowing her head down, she peeks out towards Jemy, who has taken no notice of her. Sound fades into a faint buzzing, and Moll gazes at Jemy for a long moment. She turns her head, lifting it so that only her lower face is visible:

Moll Flanders: (quietly) Yes sir, I know them very well. 

Fade out.

Scene Moll and Jemy, Part 2

Jailer: (Yelling)     Flanders!

Moll, who has been sleeping, starts, looking towards her door.

Jailer:    Up wit you wench, them who you be ‘cusing wish tah speak wi’ you.

The doors are slammed shut again and Moll quickly dashes out of bed. Dragging out the trunk under her cot, where she has been storing her possessions, she pulls out a dusty dark blue gown. In the next shot she is smoothing the gown out and running her fingers through her matted hair. She throws her cloak on again, swiftly exiting the cell as the jailers allow her out. As she walks down the hallway she purposefully ignores the gazes of the other female inmates, save for two older women in the last cell who appear to have been formerly engaged in whispers, but who stop to look at Moll as she goes past (these are presumably the gossips from earlier in the scene). She meets the gaze of these two women, holds it for a moment and smirks. 

Cut to a small chamber with a single barred window high in the right corner of the back wall. The room is bare save for a single desk and chair.
Moll is standing at the open door with her face hidden by the cloak’s hood; a jailer stands close behind her, outside of the room. Pan across the room where Jemy stands in the light streaming from the window. He is looking up towards the light. Slowly he turns and begins to walk towards Moll, who doesn’t move an inch. He stops within a few feet of her, studying her closely. While he speaks, he paces. 

Jemy:    Mrs. Flanders? (pause) Mrs. Flanders, eh? (pause). I know no Mrs. Flanders (pause . . . steps closer . . . pause . . . stepping even closer . . .) Pray tell me what evidence you have to bring against me. 

Zoom out and pan right to characters in profile, Moll (up against the open door) and Jemy, both out of the light. Jemy takes a step closer; he is so close his breath can move the fabric of Moll’s cloak. Zoom in.

Jemy:     Do you know me?

Moll Flanders:     (in an altered voice, cracking) Yes, very well.

Jemy moves away from Moll quickly, pausing just outside the stream of light, and then takes a step back towards Moll. From Moll’s perspective (hood in shot) we see Jemy turn his back on Moll, facing the light. 

Jemy:     (quietly) From where do you know me?

Moll Flanders:    (pause, in an altered voice) Between Dunstable and Brickhill.

The camera zooms in on Moll. Moll turns her head to whisper something to the jailer and the door is closed behind her.

Zoom out to previous shot. The position of the light has changed so that Jemy is bathed in it again, Moll still in darkness. Zoom in on Moll in profile. Throwing off her hood, she rushes towards him. As Moll runs to Jemy, zoom out until both characters are in the shot. When Moll reaches Jemy, zoom in on Moll. Bathed in light, she grabs hold of his hand and holds it against her face, falling to the ground at his feet, sobbing.

Moll Flanders:     My Dear! Do you not know me?

Zoom out to previous shot encompassing both characters. Jemy turns pale and falters for a moment. His hand slowly moves to touch a loose strand of Moll’s hair. Moll continues to weep into his other hand. He reaches away from Moll towards the desk chair.

Jemy:     (weakly) Let me sit down.

Jemy stumbles into the chair; Moll looses her grip on his hand, but throws herself back at him, weeping into his lap bitterly. Jemy looks on at her with an expression of confusion and pain. He turns his face away from her and leans his elbow on the desk. He buries his face in his hand. Moll chokes on her tears, grabbing at the bottom of his shirt. Tears running down her face, she looks up at Jemy.

Moll Flanders:     (crying . . . then softly) My dear, do you not know me?

Camera pulls back. Jemy is seated, his hand in his face. Moll looks up at him from his lap. There is silence, except for Moll’s crying, which has faded to a soft whimper. Pause.

Jemy:     (quietly) Yes.

Resume sound, suddenly. Pause. Zoom in on Jemy and Moll. Jemy, a pained look on his face, looks into Moll’s.

Jemy:     (quietly, gradually getting louder) How could you, how could you (pause) be so cruel? 

Moll continues to look into his face, silently crying.

Jemy looks up towards the light, and then back down at the desk. He thumps the desk in frustration, causing Moll to gasp. Zoom out slightly.
Moll Flanders:     How can you call me cruel (quickly rising up on her knees). What have I been cruel to you in?

Jemy:     (nearly cutting her off, with a raised voice, whipping his face towards Moll) To come to me . . . In such a place as this, is it not to insult me? Have I not robb’d you? At least, not on the highway . . .

Jemy turns away from Moll completely, burying his face in both hands. Zoom in again on Moll and Jemy. Moll clasps her hands at her breast, desperately looking at Jemy. 

Moll Flanders:     (quietly) You know nothing of my miserable circumstances, do you? You must think . . . (looking away) why, you must think I have come to upbraid you because you left me. (pause . . . Moll turns back to Jemy) My dear (touching his leg), I have not come to insult you, but to condole mutually. You will be easily satisfied that I had no such view . . . when I tell you that my condition is worse than yours, and in many ways.

Jemy turns with a concerned look to face Moll, who soberly meets his gaze. 

Jemy:     (with a small smile, not looking directly into Moll’s eyes) And how can that be? When you see me fettered and in Newgate—with two of my companions executed already—how can you say that your condition is worse than mine?

Moll quietly gazes at Jemy, who continues to look at her with his pained smile. She stands up, still holding his gaze . . . then faltering slightly she turns her back on him and looks up into the window of light. Camera focuses on Moll, slowly rotating around her until the end of her line; the last shot includes a shot of Moll in the foreground with Jemy looking at her in the background. 

Moll Flanders:     Come, my dear, we have a long piece of work to do if I should be to relate (pause) or you to hear my unfortunate history. (pause) But, if you are disposed to hear it, you will soon conclude with me that my condition is far worse than yours.

Jemy:     (from the background) How is that possible when I expect to be cast for my Life the very next Sessions?
Camera pans to Moll’s profile.

Moll Flanders:     Yes (looking down), ‘tis very possible . . .

Camera zooms to a close-up of Moll’s profile. Moll swallows, eyes watering. She closes her eyes, letting a few tears fall.

Moll Flanders:     . . . When I tell you . . . that I have been cast for my Life three Sessions ago, and am under Sentence. 

Zoom out slightly (shot includes Moll’s shoulders and back). Slight pause. The sound of a chair falling back is heard off camera. Moll slightly flinches at the loud noise. Slowly zoom out until Moll’s waist is visible. Jemy walks into range behind Moll. She buries her hands into her face and begins to cry softly again. Hesitantly, Jemy slowly reaches out and touches Moll on her upper back. Moll cries out, and then stifles the cry with her fist. Jemy leans forward, slowly resting his forehead on his hand. Pause.

Jemy:     (whispering) Unhappy couple.

Camera follows the characters as they move around the room. Jemy places his hand on Moll’s shoulders and guides her to the chair. Zoom in slightly so that only the two characters are in the shot. She sits, crying softly and less hysterically. Jemy kneels next to her and holds her hand. Jemy smoothes her hair, then he touches her cheek softly before taking her hands into both of his. 

Moll Flanders:     (half joking, half crying) Come now, my dear, let us compare our sorrows. 

Jemy:     (softly) Now . . .

Slight zoom in. Moll shifts so that she faces Jemy, but does not meet his gaze. She looks instead at his hands holding hers, his thumb rubbing therapeutic circles. Camera focuses first on Moll’s face, then follows her gaze downward. 

Moll Flanders: (sniffing) I am a prisoner in this very House and in much worse circumstances than you. (looking straight into Jemy’s eyes) You will be satisfied that I do not come to insult you  . . . when I tell you the particulars . . .

Tracking back, we see Moll seated at the desk with Jemy beside her holding her hands. The light from outside is fading, but both characters are still caught in the glow. 

Fade out.