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A Journal of the Plague Year

3.58  ·  Rating details ·  8,497 ratings  ·  1,173 reviews
Actually written sixty years after the plague of 1665 swept through London, Defoe brings the city to life in all of its hardship and fear. With a wealth of detail, "A Journal of the Plague Year" seems almost a firsthand account, taking readers through the neighborhoods, houses, and streets that have drastically changed with the rising death toll. The bustle of business and ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published May 29th 2003 by Penguin Classics (first published March 1722)
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Bill Kerwin
Feb 02, 2011 rated it really liked it

Because writing is an expression of human character, what is true of one's character is true of one's writing as well. A person's strengths and weaknesses are often two sides of the same coin—the sympathetic character is often permissive, the assertive unreasonable, the ardent rash—and the same thing can be said of an author's beauties and his faults. A brief study of Daniel Defoe's book on the London plague of 1665-1666 illustrates this principle.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about “A Journ
Henry Avila
Aug 14, 2015 rated it liked it
In the crowded unhealthy unclean foul, pest dominated filthy city of London the Black Plague breaks out in 1665, no surprise it had occurred before in fact just a few years previously but this escalates, felling some say 100,000 people who never rise again. Daniel Defoe the inventor of the English language novel (Robinson Crusoe, 1719) yet because of his earlier employment, was more a journalist than a novelist, writes a memoir of this catastrophe almost sixty years later. The author was only fi ...more
MJ Nicholls
In 1664, Borif De Pfeffel Jonffon was the Mayor of London. He was widely popular with his flowing blonde wig and extravagant ruff. Having invented the highly successful sport of peacock wiff-waff, where live cocks were thwacked across a bronze table with scimitars, then skinned and served whole to the victors, his electoral success was secured. In spite of his various mistresses, several of them chambermaids and lower-ranking countesses, his re-election the following year seemed certain. He prom ...more
Roy Lotz
It was a very ill time to be sick in…

My pandemic reading continues with this classic work about one of the worst diseases in European history: bubonic plague. Daniel Defoe wrote this account when the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction were looser. He freely mixes invention, hearsay, anecdote, and real statistics, in pursuit of a gripping yarn. Defoe himself was only a young boy when the Great Plague struck London, in 1664-6; but he writes the story in the person of a well-to-do, curi
Aug 26, 2010 rated it liked it
One of the problems with reviewing the earliest authors of fiction is that they were writing at a time before the rules had been properly worked out. Novels took on the form we know and love because of these writer’s successes and because of their failures. It was up to them to forge the templates, and if a certain template didn’t work then they could try a new one with the next book.

‘A Journal of the Plague year’ is a case in point. Although Defoe was alive at the time of plague, this is actual
Jul 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
The year is 1665, and the plague has come to London. It has come like a thief in the night, stealing into town one or two fatalities at a time and then growing to a level that is uncontrollable and unimaginable. The account is fiction, since Devoe was too young to have remembered most of the events he covers, but it is so obviously based on the first-hand memories of those who did survive and the records of the time, that it reads like non-fiction. The voice of the narrator reinforces the feelin ...more
Dave Schaafsma
The Danse Macabre from The Seventh Seal:

It is no mystery to me today why it is that the name of an eighteenth-century novelist (Moll Flanders, Robinson Crusoe) is still known (okay, not to everyone, but to readers of literature). He’s just flat out a great writer! This book, which has been staring me in the face on my “books to be read during the pandemic” list for a few months, is just exactly the kind of literary mountain I have historically liked to cli
Apr 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Daniel Defoe wrote this fictionalised account (by an author known only as H.F.) of the 1664 bubonic plague outbreak in London, otherwise known as the Black Death. He wrote it some 50 years after the events. Defoe was fascinated by plagues and did a huge amount of research, producing a work that was believed to be a true account for some decades after it was published. I bought it several months ago and it seemed to be timely to read it now. The parallels are chilling.

..the Face of Things, I say,
Jason Pettus
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

The CCLaP 100: In which I read for the first time a hundred so-called "classics," then write reports on whether or not they deserve the label

Essay #62: A Journal of the Plague Year (1722), by Daniel Defoe

The story in a nutshell:
Although not actually written until sixty years later (but more on that in a bi
L.S. Popovich
You will notice right away Defoe's journalistic approach, rife with supporting statistics. His powers as a writer and boldness of presentation are clearly beyond the pale. As was the case with Robinson Crusoe, he was not forthright with sources or veracity in the tale. It is often impossible to tell where he obtained his facts, and how much was mere invention.

A Journal of the Plague year is a vast catalogue of deaths, in all manners of protracted agonies, distempers, including plenty of "murther
‘Oh! death, death, death!’ [p.59]
That’s it. That’s the review. No punch line.
Auntie Terror
At least they didn't have to bear with plague-deniers "educating" themselves in online echo-chambers... ^^' otherwise it's almost absurd how similar this account is to the current pandemic. Humanity really seems to actively strive against learning from its own history. (Rtc) ...more
Emily M
May 05, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I bought this a couple of summers ago in a second-hand bookshop because I’ve always been intrigued and it was one of those pretty Modern Library Classics that I love. And then it hovered near the top of my TBR pile but never quite surfaced. Just as well as it turned out, because I got to read it now, in late April of 2020.

Anyone reading this during the coronavirus lockdown is bound to comment on the similarities to our times: blame the foreigners, government dithering, rising death rates in neig
W.D. Clarke
Feb 22, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 18c, 2020
This edition's transplendent "Afterword" (by none other than that anti-DeFoe and scion of Joyce, Anthony Burgess) deftly analyses why this two-star reader's one-star l'il brain cell only afforded him a three-star experience of this five-star novel, viz:
There are people who still find Defoe hard to take as a novelist, and this is because they have become accustomed to regarding the novel as a form almost aggressively 'literary', full of barely concealed machinery, self-conscious fine writing, th
Jul 13, 2018 rated it it was ok
"A journal of the plague year" is actually a fictional account covering this time in history, and although Defoe was alive, we are given a narrator instead, and this was written near enough sixty years afterwards. We are certainly not told much about this narrator, apart from the fact he has family and servants, and we get a brief description of where he lives, but that is about it. I think due to this lack of character description, I was unable to completely empathise with him, and I also notic ...more
Philippe Malzieu
Feb 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
It was the most Serge Gainsbourg's preferred book.
Daniel defoe is not a only-one-book man (Robinson Crusoe).
It is an aesthete book which one exchanges the name between friends.
What is extraordinary, it is the realism of story. All descriptions are extraordinary. They agree elsewhere with what was described. As of the appearance of the signs, death occurred in a few hours.
The plague is well known since the Middle Ages as an apocalyps. René Girard in "the scapegoat" says that people did not even
Feb 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
I taught this a couple times (Soph Eng Lit survey), instead of Moll or Robinson (or, indeed, Pamela or pt of Tristram). Of course it's a historical reconstruction: Defoe was 5 in the Plague Year, a year before the Great Fire, and two before the Dutch sailed to Chatham, on the Bay of Thames, and captured the Royal Charles, its transom still featured in Rijksmuseum.
I think those semesters AIDS featured in news. (Also useful for teaching Freshman Oedipus R, which begins in citywide mortality--to
Jan 09, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
DNF’d at chapter 11
Hákon Gunnarsson
Apr 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
I’m not going to read any books that are about plagues, or pandemics for the next few months. Listening to the news of Covid-19 is enough of that for me right now, but for those that are looking for a good classic plague book, I’d like to recommend this one. I think it’s a pretty good one.

Daniel Defoe, best know for Robinson Crusoe which I still haven’t read, does a good job at a level headed, unsentimental, perhaps a little detached view of a plague. The narrator is a science minded man so the
How little the world really changes!
Dec 27, 2020 rated it liked it
Daniel Defoe, the author of "Robinson Crusoe", was only five years old in 1665. Thus, this book which was published in 1722 falls under the genre of historical fiction. However, the events described are quite real and this "account" of the Bubonic Plague that struck the city of London in 1665 is fairly accurate.

While not the most exciting of books to read, bordering on tedious, those who are interested in an accurate description of life during the Bubonic Plague of 1665, will find a host of inte
Apr 25, 2020 rated it really liked it

Fathers and Mothers have gone about as if they have been well, and have believ’d themselves to be so, till they have insensibly infected, and been the Destruction of their whole Families: Which they would have been far from doing, if they had the least Apprehensions of their being unsound and dangerous themselves.... It is very sad to reflect, how such a Person as this last mentioned above, had been a walking Destroyer, perhaps for a Week or Fortnight before that; how he had ruin’d those, that
J.G. Keely
Aug 04, 2007 rated it it was ok
And so it was that the plague came into London, by the mercy of God, and I thought I would remain in the city despite the plague, for since God made it, I could not escape it if he meant me to perish from it, viz. when that brick fell off the chimney and onto my foot, which I was loathe to move, for since God sent the brick, it would do me no good to move my foot and so avoid his will.

But I would say the best way to avoid the plague and to survive would be to leave the city, as many did, when th
Susanna - Censored by GoodReads
I have seen this taught as a non-fiction account of the Great Plague of 1666; it isn't.

What it actually is: a very early historical novel. (Defoe was alive, but was a small child, in 1666.) There's no reason why it shouldn't be taught in a history class (as it has the virtue of being short, among other things), but an eye-witness non-fiction account it isn't.

I guess that's credit to Defoe's ability as a novelist.
Salem Lorot
Apr 28, 2020 rated it really liked it

Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year offers important lessons amid our COVID-19 pandemic. Here are nine lessons that we can pick.

A dreadful plague in London was
In the year sixty-five,
Which swept an hundred thousand souls
Away; yet I alive!
H. F.

This is the second pandemic book that I have read. The first was Barry's The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History. I shared with you the lessons we could learn from t
This is one of the stranger conglomerations I have ever encountered under the name, "novel." We’ve got a 1722 fictionalized memoir of London’s 1665 bubonic plague epidemic, how-to-survive-plagues advice and 17th-century public health info, and, my favorite part, philosophical speculation about the outbreak’s causes. It’s pretty safe to say that Defoe has an agenda in this book beyond telling tragic, bubo-filled plague stories, though he tells them very movingly indeed.

Like other pre-19th-centur
One of Gainsbourg's favourite books. A clinical, almost naturalistic story. No pathos, the style is cold as death—exciting reading in these times of epidemic. ...more
Defoe lived through the plague (he was about five at the time), so Journal of the Plague Year is an interesting "firsthand experience," although probably mostly secondhand. It is a novel – actually, it is more a set of loose vignettes – but offers a description of what people during this period thought of and remembered about the plague.

The Great Plague: Scenes in the streets of London, 1665-1666 (1905). Artist: Unknown

COVID doesn't match any of the images we (I) have about the plague; thus, pr
Jun 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 10, summer-2009
Historical fiction about the plague of London in 1665. Defoe was just a 5 year old child when it happened but documented about it in exhaustive details so it will sound like a real life journal. It is first person narrative but it does not focus on the person of H.F, a saddler that stayed to protect his business (presumed to be based on Defoe's uncle, Henry Foe that lived through it), but on general means.
There are many details about parishes affected, official decisions, the frauds deceiving pe
Will Ansbacher
Jul 07, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I hadn’t realized that Defoe was only 5 or 6 during the great plague of London; the Journal which was based apparently on an uncle’s diaries, was written some 50 years later, and is more of a dramatized documentary than a first-person account. I’m not sure how much is purely fictional either, but a moralistic tale of how three friends fled London and lived for some time on the outskirts clearly falls into that realm.

There are some interesting parallels with today’s coronavirus pandemic in that t
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Daniel Defoe (1659/1661 [?] - 1731) was an English writer, journalist, and spy, who gained enduring fame for his novel Robinson Crusoe. Defoe is notable for being one of the earliest practitioners of the novel and helped popularize the genre in Britain. In some texts he is even referred to as one of the founders, if not the founder, of the English novel. A prolific and versatile writer, he wrote m ...more

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