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By 1721, Defoe had become a recognised novelist, with the success of Robinson Crusoe in 1719. His political work was tapering off at this point, due to the fall of both Whig and Tory party leaders with whom he had been associated; Robert Walpole was beginning his rise, and Defoe was never fully at home with the Walpole group. Defoe's Whig views are nevertheless evident in the story of Moll, and the novel's full title gives some insight into this and the outline of the plot:
The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, &c. Who was Born in Newgate, and during a Life of continu'd Variety for Threescore Years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own Brother), Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv'd Honest, and died a Penitent. Written from her own Memorandums.
It is usually assumed that the novel was written by Daniel Defoe, and his name is commonly given as the author in modern printings of the novel. However, the original printing did not have an author, as it was an apparent autobiography. The attribution of Moll Flanders to Defoe was made by bookseller Francis Noble in 1770, after Defoe's death in 1731.
The novel is based partially on the life of Moll King, a London criminal whom Defoe met while visiting Newgate Prison.