Dec 3, 2008

A Journal of the Plague Year

by Daniel Defoe

I didn't know Defoe wrote anything other than Robinson Crusoe until I happened across A Journal of the Plague Year, which I read in college. My notebook from then reads: the horrors of this book are mitigated by the background distractions of busy waiting rooms: three hours at the DMV and two at the dental office. Thank goodness for distractions, sometimes. It's not a very long book, but crammed with such awful details that I struggled to get through it. Defoe's narrative is fiction, but based so closely on actual events and circumstances of the Black Plague in 1665 that it has been favorably compared to Samuel Pepys' diary of the same time period.

A Journal of the Plague Year describes life in London during the bubonic plague epidemic, through the eyes of one man. There's no real plot, just endless descriptions about what he went through, what he saw, and every bit of news and stories he heard. There are tons of anecdotes, (many which are examined for accuracy within the narrative) descriptions of efforts to halt or evade the disease, the havoc that fear caused, the plethora of superstitions and quack treatments that sprang up, how people turned to (or away from) religion, and much more. Statistics are also listed, and the numbers are staggering. This book is so terribly depressing, yet curiosity kept me turning the pages. What horrible things the people lived through- I don't know if I've ever read anything worse, other than accounts of the Holocaust. I doubt I'll want to pick this book up again, but I do feel it was worth reading once, to bring a piece of history alive for me.

Rating: 3/5                           186 pages, 1722

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2 comments:

thekea.com said...

this sounds really interesting and I think I'm going to have to put it on my TBR list.
I was never really too crazy about The Middle Ages, even being a history major, it's just not my area of interest, but the small descriptions about the plague really caught my attention, pretty much because it's all so horrifying. I can't imagine how crazy it must have been for people, especially since the Middle Ages were a period of such ignorance. People weren't exactly enlightened and they were for the mostpart not very educated. I can't actually explain what I'm trying to say, but it just seems like it would have been utter chaos.
Anyhow.
thanks for the review.

Jeane said...

The details about medieval life is really quite fascinating, even if shocking sometimes because of what people did in their ignorance. I don't hesitate to recommend this book, it's just not a very - well, enjoyable read. More educational.