Money Acting As A Corrupting Force English Literature Essay
In both Middlemarch and Moll Flanders, George Eliot and Daniel Defoe explore the motif of money acting as a corrupting force. Debt appears throughout Middlemarch, often indicating elements of certain character’s personalities; giving the reader insight into characters such as Lydgate, Rosamond and Bulstrode. He shows the profound effect that money can have; being the root of many problems involving marriage, friendship and business within Middlemarch society. Moll Flanders is a novel fundamentally about economic imperialism within eighteenth-century capitalist economy. Defoe uses the character of Moll to illustrate a lower class woman looking for security through the use of money. He explores the opportunities given to Moll to acquire money through marriage, prostitution and stealing. Moll Flanders reveals an 18th century woman’s role in society and the constant struggle for a woman of lower class to accumulate wealth, perhaps resulting in degrading oneself to achieve this.
Defoe implies that money is the key, not husbands or institutions, which allow women to survive within society. Moll wanted to ‘get [her] Bread by [her] own Work’ (p. 12). One of the most serious hardships society imposed on women was the inability for women to get and keep money independently. Fahmida Haque, IBAIS University wrote that Defoe ‘epitomizes her as a representative of all capitalist society’. Moll is an iconic figure who represents the struggle of women for their own independence and wealth in a patriarchal world. Defoe uses Moll as an example of the abandoned woman, with no family or support in life. Her pursuit of wealth is arguably not a quest for riches, but rather Moll’s desire to feel secure, resulting from the lack of security she has had in her life thus far. Moll is told that ‘if a young Woman have Beauty, Birth, Breeding, Wit, Sense, Manners, Modesty, and all these to an Extream; yet if she have not Money, she’s no Body’ (p. 17). Moll’s obsessive desire to make money can be seen as stemming from this particular line; she is afraid of poverty and the fear of slipping back into it.
Ultimately, the biggest sign of corruption within Moll is the greed that the reader witnesses take over her personality, 'as for the gold, I spent whole hours in looking upon it; I told the guineas over a thousand times a day' (p. 20). The language used here ‘whole hours’ and ‘thousand times a day’ show the infatuation and lust she now has for money. There is a proud tone as she comments on the money she has received being a ‘whore’. Moll allows her morals to disintegrate as she succumbs to prostitution, thievery and delinquency; this ultimately plays a major role in developing the theme of greed in Moll Flanders and leads to Molls eventual corruption.
She unknowingly commits her first act of prostitution at the beginning of the novel, as she is seduced into becoming the older brother’s lover, ‘but he put almost a Handful of Gold in my Hand [...] I made no more Resistance to him, but let him do just what he pleas’d; and as often as he pleas’d’ (p. 20-23) She mistakes her lust for the older brother with her lust for the money she is receiving, confusing the two. It is clear that it is the money that she is anticipating, ‘I was more confounded with the Money than I was before with the Love,’ (p. 19). It is the money here that actually sweeps Moll off her feet, preceding sex, as it becomes the most exciting part of the affair. Defoe therefore presents sex as a transaction almost or an investment to Moll, as she then adds up her wealth after each relationship.
Defoe conveys Moll‘s and the older brother’s relationship as degrading, as she refers to their sex as a ‘wicked pleasure’ (p. 23) or their ‘crime’ (p. 23). This highlights the dirtiness almost of the affair and the greediness of her pleasure, in which she accepts a lot of money. This is later replicated, ‘I exchang’d the Place of Friend for that unmusical harsh- sounding Title of WHORE.’ (p. 91). Moll's acts of prostitution show that she will carry out illegal practices with no regret, in order to get money. She discovers that immorality and delinquency will bring her more money, security and almost respectability than any other female occupation would allow.
In Moll Flanders, there is a lot of what Marx calls ‘the language of commodities’. Defoe arguably presents Moll as a commodity; a product or a service to exchange for money. Moll refers to finding a husband in ‘the Market’ (p. 17) and becomes a thief after realising her “stock” (p. 61) of cash and beauty have deteriorated. She notes that she ‘was now at a loss for a Market for my goods’ (p. 153). Defoe purposely uses the words ‘market’ and ‘goods’ to present Moll as a product herself ready to be put onto the market. Her relationships are made purely based on her accumulation of wealth rather than any personal feelings.
The reader eventually witnesses Moll turn to thievery in many instances throughout the latter part of the novel, to support herself. Theft functions almost as a substitution for Moll’s desire for ‘company’. Defoe employs language that conveys almost dark and hellish imagery, ‘This was the Bait; and the Devil’ (p. 149). Her referral to the bait as ‘the devil’ shows the corruption and desire beginning to take over herself. There is a continuation of dark language associated with theft as Defoe writes about the ‘evil Counsellor within,’ (p. 150) and ‘the devil put me upon killing the Child in the dark Alley,’ She is placing the responsibility of her darkest actions to another ‘being’, a ‘Counsellor within’. This could symbolise the change within herself and the new part of her character that has become tarnished with greed and theft. Writer Lois A. Chaber wrote, ‘Defoe uses Moll’s roles as criminal and woman – both outsiders – to criticize emergent capitalism, but in so doing he also reveals the more long-standing evils of sexism’ He exposes the worst evils of a capitalist society through the activities of women, showing the lengths that women had to go to acquire economic security.
Fahmida Haque wrote, ‘the only means available to Moll of producing enough capital to assure herself of living the kind life she aspired to was a series of financial transactions which were demeaning to her moral stature.’. Defoe implies through the use of Moll’s character that society forces women to be anti-social to ensure their success and survival through sex and deceit.
Sally Shuttleworth wrote, ‘Middlemarch, as George Eliot clearly reveals, is not a harmonious whole; it possesses all the vices of a capitalist economy, and the social antagonisms of a class-ridden society.’ In the Victorian era, female writers were confined to writing conventional romance fiction. Eliot disliked the constraints over women’s writing and the stories they were expected to produce. This resentment is made apparent in her treatment of marriage, especially between Rosamond and Lydgate. Eliot refused to conform to the typical Victorian female novel, which demonstrated the idea that Middlemarch was meant to be about real-life problems and the complex society in which we life.
Focusing on the corruption of Lydgate in Middlemarch, he initially began a ‘proud’ man that ‘[W]alked by hereditary habit; half from that personal pride and unreflecting egoism [...] called commonness’ (p. 362) He starts as a heroic individual, like a ‘modern Augustine who united the glories of doctor and saint’ (p. 25) being described as ‘an emotional creature’ (145). This could not be more different to how he changes in Middlemarch.
Henry Staten wrote, ‘Lydgate [...] is not undone by need, greed, or appetite, the typical “moral” motives of over expenditure in the realist novel, but purely by a class ideology that has come unglued from its material conditions of possibility;’ Eliot presents Lydgate as a man of small inheritance, yet he remains superior even as he is amongst the lower ranks of society. He does not care for the cost of things but instead lets the unpaid debt climax, unable to face up to the reality of his situation until it is too late. Lydgate himself is portrayed as being materialist through his profession and through his interest in Rosamond.
Eliot presents a noticeable disintegration within Lydgate, describing him as ‘intensely miserable’ and with a ‘blank despair’. His mood is constantly low with ‘a self-discontent’; it climaxes almost to an extreme level as Lydgate says ‘At that moment, suicide seemed easier’. There is a change within him as the corruption of debt and money begins to take place and overpowers him completely. His contempt for money grows as, ‘he had never known the eager want of small sums, and felt rather a burning contempt for any who descended a step in order to gain them.’ The language reflects the more extreme emotions Lydgate feels for his unpaid debts. Unlike Defoe, Eliot shows the corruption of money within someone who believes they are higher class than they are. Eliot shows the effect of debt on a strong figure and those around him.
At the beginning of Middlemarch, Lydgate expressed his opinion on gambling, ‘watching as if it had been a disease’. He speaks about gambling with a vulgarity calling the game ‘half-barbarous, half-idiotic’. This extreme view highly contradicts his character further on in the novel as ‘his thought now began to turn upon gambling – [...] with a sort of wistful inward gaze after that easy way of getting money, which implied no asking and brought no responsibility.” (p. 648) He completely changes his strong opinion on the subject in his desperation to fix things, contradicting his strong views, it ‘might have been a trifle in another man; but on Lydgate it was one of several signs that he was getting unlike his former self.’
Rosamond been raised with tastes above her own class in the expectation that she will acquire a wealthy husband, ‘Rosamond, accustomed from her childhood to an extravagant household, thought that good housekeeping consisted simply in ordering the best of everything’. This was her only way of achieving financial security being a woman. She is conditioned to use her social graces, eloquence and physical beauty to attract an appropriate match. Similar to the way that Defoe uses Moll as a ‘product, Rosamond has a face and figure to ‘market’ within society. Rosamond relentlessly pursues economic gain making it the sole purpose in her life to be wealthy.
Arguably, Rosamond entraps Lydgate, manipulating him to marry her with her beauty and etiquette, ‘Nevertheless she had mastered him’. Rosamond relies on tears and manipulation to pursue her social-climbing aspirations, ‘I wish I had died with the baby’. Henry Staten wrote, ‘The much maligned Rosamond [...] is not the root cause of Lydgate’s downfall; it is his lack of critical consciousness regarding his position in the social hierarchy.’ Rosamond’s expensive tastes sink him because they are the mirror of his own.’ It could be argued that Rosamond’s manipulation over him and her general influence forces him to overspend. The pressures of keeping Rosamond happy forced him arguably to fall into debt. An intelligent wife like that of Dorothea would not desire materialistic things but would just desire to help with his career. Yet, Lydgate was so concerned with outwards appearances, choosing Rosamond for her beauty and tranquillity alone rather than somebody with intelligence, perhaps proving it to be as much his own fault.
Eliot portrays almost a dark side to Lydgate that appears as he begins to become more corrupted with debt. This new representation of Lydgate is entirely unpleasant and Eliot uses a lot of dark imagery, especially to describe his eyes, ‘Lydgate turned his dark eyes on her and watched her’. The use of imagery towards the end of the novel almost likens him to an unpleasant animal, withering in its own degradation and corruption. The change from his old self to this new dark, bitter man ‘which reminds one of an animal with fierce eyes and retractile claws’ is an unpleasant one. His image has slowly declined to become withered and corrupted; his normally proud and cheerful attitude degraded to a bitter ironic tone, ‘I may get my neck broken, and that may make things easier to you.’.
It is clear that in Middlemarch, only those who know the supremacy of the aristocratic, intellectual life can understand the pain of falling from that into a lower status. Lydgate is surrounded by upper class that he almost craves it for himself, being immersed with specifically an egotistic, materialistic wife.
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