A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe

Many consciences were awakened; many hard hearts melted into tears; many a penitent confession was made of crimes long concealed. It would wound the soul of any Christian to have heard the dying groans of many a despairing creature, and none durst come near to comfort them. Many a robbery, many a murder, was then confessed aloud, and nobody surviving to record the accounts of it.

London Plague of 1665When A Journal of the Plague Year was first published in 1722 as the “Observations and Memorials” of a “citizen” who called himself “H.F.,” readers accepted it as the real journal of a survivor of the London plague of 1665. That’s not surprising, given the book’s attention to detail, including tables of casualties for different geographical areas. One of the book’s greatest strengths is its feeling of authenticity. Over time, however, it was revealed that the author was actually Daniel Defoe, who was only five years old during the outbreak, and who therefore could not have written his own first-hand account of the plague. Though it reads like an authentic journal, it is actually a well researched work of historical fiction, probably based on the journal of Defoe’s uncle, Henry Foe.

A Journal of the Plague Year is one of those books that is more interesting to me as a literary artifact than as a book in its own right. What I mean is, I can appreciate its importance in the development of fiction, but beyond that it did not mean much to me. It’s also the second book I’ve read in the last twelve months that describes the effects of the plague on a town, the first being Manzoni’s The Betrothed, which dealt with the Milan plague of 1630.

Not a bad read, but not something that I plan on rereading again.

I chose to read it this year as part of several of my 2017 Reading Challenges:

  • It is the letter “J” in the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge
  • It is my “Classic Published before 1800” in the Back to the Classics Challenge
  • It is one of the books for my British Books Challenge
  • In the Wild Good Reading Challenge it is my “Book with an object you might take on a search or hunt in the title.”

A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe
First edition London: E. Nutt, 1722
Kindle edition Open Road Media, 2015
Print length: 185 pages

Deacon Nick

Nick Senger is a husband, a father of four, and a Catholic school teacher, vice principal and technology coordinator. He taught junior high literature and writing for over 25 years, and has been a Catholic school educator since 1990. In 2001 he was named a Distinguished Teacher of the Year by the National Catholic Education Association.

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