A Journal of the Plague Year, Paperback Book
3 out of 5 (3 ratings)


In 1665 the plague swept through London, claiming over 97,000 lives. Daniel Defoe was just five at the time of the plague, but he later called on his own memories, as well as his writing experience, to create this vivid chronicle of the epidemic and its victims. 'A Journal' (1722) follows Defoe's fictional narrator as he traces the devastating progress of the plague through the streets of London. Here we see a city transformed: some of its streets suspiciously empty, some - with crosses on their doors - overwhelmingly full of the sounds and smells of human suffering. And every living citizen he meets has a horrifying story that demands to be heard.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Classic fiction (pre c 1945)
  • ISBN: 9780140437850

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Showing 1 - 3 of 3 reviews.

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Daniel Defoe, while only five when the plague ravaged London in 1665, writes a first hand fictional narrative of a citizen who remained in the city throughout the pestilence based upon parish/church records and personal accounts. The telling is consumed with misery, yet I was surprised at how well government officials were able to keep order during such an extreme and uncontrollable calamity. Many well-off families fled to the countryside leaving behind a primarily poor populace. The government, church, and private citizens donated significant funds to provide necessities for those without thus preventing riots. The redonk amount of dead were buried by and the even more numerous sick were cared for by the poor. Defoe details many attempts to escape, alleviate, and contain the disease by city officials acting on the advice of respected physicians and by quacks looking to make a quick profit - largely to no avail. I was, however, impressed with the level of understanding the physicians had of the disease. If a similar scenario occurred today, I believe we would be fucked since the populace was largely controlled by their resignation to God's fury.

Review by

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.

Review by

Yep... Defoe's returns continue to diminish. This reminds me of Dostoevsky's 'House of the Dead,' since both books are absolutely riveting for the first 100 pages or so: you get an immediate impression of what it's like to live in a plague-ridden London (or Russian prison); you get drawn in by the odd 'life is stranger than fiction' moment, but then, before you know it, you're reading exactly the same thing two or even three times for no particular reason other than the narrator's inability to revise his own work. If you know much about the way plague was treated by the early moderns, you won't be surprised by too much here. <br/><br/>This penguin edition has some things going for it, starting with an amazing cover illustration and ending with Anthony Burgess' old introduction which is now an appendix. I suspect that's there because Burgess does what an introducer ought to do: describes a bit about Defoe's life and times, a bit about the book you're about to read, and a very slight interpretation of that book (here: 'can we preserve the societies we build?') The editor of this volume, on the other hand, gives us a semi-rapturous 'analysis' of Defoe's use of 'place' in the book, which sounds interesting until you read the book and realize that it's utterly tendentious. <br/><br/>Literary fashion is an odd beast- wouldn't it have made more sense to redo Roxana than to redo this?