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A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe
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A Journal of the Plague Year (1722)

by Daniel Defoe

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Showing 1-5 of 37 (next | show all)
Too long. While there were a few interesting facts scattered in, mostly what this book needed was a good editor to trim off some of the extra and bring more focus to the story. ( )
  ErinMa | Feb 22, 2019 |
“But others, and that in great numbers, built themselves little huts and retreats in the fields and woods, and lived like hermits in holes and caves, or any place they could find, and where, we may be sure, they suffered great extremities, such that many of them were obliged to come back again whatever the danger was; and so those little huts were often found empty, and the country people supposed the inhabitants lay dead in them of the plague, and would not go near them for fear—no, not in a great while; nor is it unlikely but that some of the unhappy wanderers might die so all alone, even sometimes for want of help, as particularly in one tent or hut was found a man dead, and on the gate of a field just by was cut with his knife in uneven letters the following words, by which it may be supposed the other man escaped, or that, one dying first, the other buried him as well as he could:—

O mIsErY!
We BoTH ShaLL DyE,
WoE, WoE.”

It’s not often that I can say I’m excited to read an introduction to a novel. And they really should be afterwords, anyway, since I’d suspect most readers wouldn’t want the narrative ruined by revealing details or hampered by prejudicial information. I usually do go back and read them—mostly they’re vaguely interesting, sometimes as boring as methodically measuring the hardness of cat shit over time, and, at worst, infuriatingly missing the fucking point. Yet, when that introduction is penned by, say, Thomas Pynchon (Warlock), Walter Cronkite (1984), or Neil Gaiman (The Stars My Destination), it serves as a necessary coda without which the main composition would suffer; kind of like listening to “We Will Rock You” and not playing through “We Are the Champions” (sacrilege!). And when that preface is written by Anthony motherfucking Burgess? I just may like it more than the book—and I really, really, really liked the book.

And the book . . . such bleakness could be overbearing. It’s not. The bills of the dead could be a bit mind-numbing and cause one to skip forward a bit (“skip a bit, brother”). I didn’t. Somehow, the pervasiveness, the dutiful tabulation, the catalogue of the fevered families locked up in houses worked much like the factual chapters on whaling (the flensing scene, e.g.) did in "Moby Dick"; namely, as a realistic ground to what could be an all-too-fantastic novel otherwise. I love that shit. And if I hadn’t already known that Defoe most likely had based this work on journals his uncle had written, I could’ve been fooled into believing this as nonfiction. I gladly call it a novel, even though it tests the bounds of what that definition is. And published in 1722? 17 motherfucking 22! And just what does all this “motherfucking” have to do with anything? Nothing, except to say that there aren’t enough intensifiers to show just how highly I regard the seamlessness, the polish and one-shade-below-world-weary poise of this great work. And of how badly I want to read that goddamn introduction. God damn!

And so, to that introduction. I’ll get to my own writing after.

“Besides, if God gave strength to some more than to others, was it to boast of their ability to abide the stroke, and upbraid those that had not the same gift and support, or ought not they rather to have been humble and thankful if they were rendered more useful than their brethren?”

—A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe
1 vote ToddSherman | Aug 24, 2017 |
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.

When 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. ( )
  nsenger | Jul 15, 2017 |
With Ebola outbreaks on the news and debates on vaccinations on every blog, it seemed like a perfect time to return to one of the original records of a disease outbreak. I was particularly curious to read this book because it was mentioned multiple times in “On Immunity”. The author of Robinson Crusoe wrote this fictionalized account of a man who lives through the bubonic plague in England in 1665. Defoe was only 5-years-old at that time, but his account is considered one of the most accurate ones of the plague.

Defoe looks at the plague through the eyes of one man. He’s forced to decide if he should stay or go when the outbreak begins. So many people fled, but some didn’t realize they had already been infected. They carried the plague with them to other towns. Some people who were sick would throw themselves into the pits of the dead and wait their death out.

The book is surprisingly interesting for a nonfiction account written centuries ago. Defoe talked about the actually details of how the outbreak was handle. For example, when one person in a family got sick, the rest of the family was kept in their house with a guard posted out front or other times they were all sent to the sick house, where they often became infected even if they weren’t sick before.

Random Tidbits:
The scene from “Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail” where they are yelling out “Bring out your dead!” was a real thing. People went around with carts and actually yelled that out to collect the dead bodies.

The standard of burying people six feet under was also established at this point. It used to be a very arbitrary depth before the plague.

BOTTOM LINE: It’s less about the plague itself than it is about the study of a society in duress. It was fascinating to see the different ways people reacted. Their fight or flight tendencies haven’t changed much over the last 300 years. ( )
2 vote bookworm12 | Jun 8, 2015 |
This book contains the phrase "Bring out your dead". It also has a scene where a man is put alive onto the dead cart, at which he remarks "But I an't dead though, am I". If those aren't reason enough to read it, then I don't know what is.

My understanding is that historians are unable to tell exactly where the line between truth and fiction lies. This edition is lightly modernised, which perhaps slightly spoils the effect of reading an original document but it is very cleverly written, as if by one who doesn't habitually write. He introduces the story of the three brothers several times before he actually tells it. Ultimately, I think the book is a victim of its own success as once the brothers' story is told it becomes repetitive and rather tiresome. ( )
1 vote Lukerik | May 12, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (43 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Daniel Defoeprimary authorall editionscalculated
Burgess, AnthonyEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gnoli, DomenicoIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pendrey, PeterIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Plumb, J. H.Forewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sutherland, James R.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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It was about the beginning of September 1664, that I, among the rest of my neighbours, heard in ordinary discourse, that the plague was returned again in Holland; for it had been very violent there, and particularly at Amsterdam and Rotterdam, in the year 1663, whither, they say, it was brought, some said from Italy, others from the Levant, among some goods, which were brought home by their Turkey fleet; others said it was brought from Candia; others from Cyprus.
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But even those wholesome reflections -- which, rightly managed, would have most happily led the people to fall upon their knees, make confession of their sins, and look up to their merciful Savior for pardon, imploring His compassion on them in such a time of their distress, by which we might have been as a second Ninevah -- had quite a contrary extreme in the common people, who, ignorant and stupid in their reflections as they were brutishly wicked and thoughtless before, were now led by their fright to extremes of folly; and, as I have said before that they ran to conjurers and witches, and all sort of deceivers to know what should become of them (who fed their fears, and kept them always alarmed and awake on purpose to delude them and pick their pockets), so they were as mad upon their running after quacks and mountebanks, and every practising old woman for medicines and remedies; storing themselves with such multitudes of pills, potions, and presevatives, as they were called, that they not only spent their money but even poisoned themselves beforehand for fear of the poison of the infection; and prepared their bodies for the plague, instead of preserving them against it.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140430156, Paperback)

The shocking immediacy of Daniel Defoe's description of a plague-racked city makes it one of the most convincing accounts of the Great Plague of 1665 ever written.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:42 -0400)

(see all 9 descriptions)

Defoe's account of the bubonic plague that swept London in 1665 remains as vivid as it is harrowing. Based on Defoe's own childhood memories and prodigious research, A Journal of the Plague Year walks the line between fiction, history, and reportage. In meticulous and unsentimental detail it renders the daily life of a city under siege; the often gruesome medical precautions and practices of the time; the mass panics of a frightened citizenry; and the solitary travails of Defoe's narrator, a man who decides to remain in the city through it all, chronicling the course of events with an unwavering eye. Defoe's Journal remains perhaps the greatest account of a natural disaster ever written. A novel recounting the individual tragedies of the great plague of 1665.… (more)

» see all 9 descriptions

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