Daniel Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year

David Brooks


A Journal of the Plague Year purports to be the memoir of a bourgeois merchant, H.F., who stayed in London during the Great Plague of 1665. It has been observed of Defoe that in his fictions he tends 'to concentrate on characters who find themselves in extremis' (Birdsall 1985:101). In the Journal this is true not only of H.F., the narrator, but of London as a whole. Pat Rogers describes the work as a 'masterly study of a community in extremis' (Rogers 1985:166). The Journal presents responses to a great natural disaster. These are the responses of the City authorities, as they try to cope with the Plague, the varying responses of the London population, divided into their social classes, and the responses of H.F. himself, as he wanders about the City, observing how the extraordinary has suddenly become routine. In addition, H.F's exposition and commentary in the Journal are themselves an attempt to come to terms with the Plague, both as a natural phenomenon, and as having social, moral, and religious implications.

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