Literature / A Journal of the Plague Year

An historical novel by Daniel Defoe, published in 1722. The book describes the experiences of a man staying in London during the the Great Plague of London in 1665. It's not Defoe's journal (he was a small child at the time), although it might be based on his uncle's.

The narrator describes in vivid detail the sufferings of the people of London during the epidemic, ranging from simply recounting the bills of deaths with ominously rising numbers of fatalities from week to week, to several in depth vignettes about how certain groups or individuals weathered the plague - or otherwise. He also includes a more general analysis of the effects of the plague on various institutions such as the Church, trade and the government of the city. There are also a few musings about human nature, piety and some *ahem* slightly uncomfortable speculation about the nature of the plague itself

A Journal of the Plague Year contains the following tropes:

  • Apocalyptic Log
  • Based on a True Story: It's debateble to what extent, which parts (if any) are entirely fictional and which parts (if any) are entirely accurate
  • The Black Death: Obviously
  • Depopulation Bomb: The plague outbreak killed around 100,000 people, which still pales in comparison to the overall death toll from the Black Death
  • The End Is Nigh: Quite a lot of Doomsayers crop up once the plague is in full swing, although subverted somewhat, Defoe dismisses them on the grounds that they all prophesy a relapse of plague more virulent than ever before and failed to foretell the Fire Of London that wrecked the city only a year after the plague.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The author vacillates a bit as to whether he thinks that that plague is natural or divine
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Fearing that they might carry the plague, the city authorities order the destruction of all cats and dogs, the two best animals for tackling the rats whose fleas were really responsible
  • Phony Psychic: Apparently a lot of these sprang up to prey on the fears of the population, much to the author's contempt
  • Science Marches On: Pretty much everything related to medicine and disease in the book has been subsequently disproven
  • Snake Oil Salesman: Similar to the Phony Psychic above, many selling supposedly guaranteed cures and preventatives for the plague. Although, arguably the only difference between them and the actual medical professionals of the time is that these guys knew that their products didn't work