Tuesday 28 November 2017

Defoe, Daniel "A Journal of the Plague Year

Defoe, Daniel "A Journal of the Plague Year" - 1722

What a story! Daniel Defoe shows us how it was to live at the time of the plague, how people coped (or didn't) with the death threat hanging over all of them.

I have read many books that take place during various plagues at various places but this was the most informative, the most vivid one. There are many different figures about how many people actually died but the fact is that this caused more deaths than any other natural catastrophe in England. People always talk about the Great Fire of London ten years later but only very few people were lost there.

Daniel Defoe makes this visible, we can feel like almost having been there. That is great writing. However, it is not an easy read, it is more like an article than a novel. And we have to appreciate when this was written, novels like we are used to nowadays were just being invented, i.a. by Daniel Defoe whose biggest novel "Robinson Crusoe" belongs to one of the earliest ones. But I am glad I read this.

From the back cover:
"The haunting cry of "Bring out your dead!" by a bell-ringing collector of 17th-century plague victims has filled readers across the centuries with cold terror. The chilling cry survives in historical consciousness largely as a result of this classic 1722 account of the epidemic of bubonic plague - known as the Black Death - that ravaged England in 1664-1665.

Actually written nearly 60 years later by Daniel Defoe, the Journal is narrated by a Londoner named 'H. F.', who allegedly lived through the devastating effects of the pestilence and produced this eye witness account. Drawing on his considerable talents as both journalist and novelist, Defoe reconstructed events both historically and fictionally, incorporating realistic, memorable details that enable the novel to surpass even firsthand accounts in its air of authenticity. This verisimilitude is all the more remarkable since Defoe was only five years old when the actual events took place."

And another one that describes this book just as well:
"In 1665, the Great Plague swept through London, claiming nearly 100,000 lives. In A Journal of the Plague Year, Defoe vividly chronicles the progress of the epidemic. We follow his fictional narrator through a city transformed-the streets and alleyways deserted, the houses of death with crosses daubed on their doors, the dead-carts on their way to the pits-and encounter the horrified citizens of the city, as fear, isolation, and hysteria take hold. The shocking immediacy of Defoe's description of plague-racked London makes this one of the most convincing accounts of the Great Plague ever written."


  1. I am impressed you read this. I have read my share of plague books. One of my favorite plague scenes is in Forever Amber, that bodice ripper by Kathleen Winsor, when Amber nurses and cures her lover only to have him leave her for America once he is well. http://keepthewisdom.blogspot.com/2006/04/books-read-from-1944-part-one.html

    1. I'm glad I could impress you. I didn't think this such a difficult book to read and also not one of the most horrible books I have ever read. I think books about war are a lot worse because there are human beings causing the tragedy, mainly for money, whereas this is a natural catastrophy that people just hadn't learned to deal with.

      Thanks for your link, the book sounds highly interesting, I will check your blogpost about it.

      Have a good day,