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History of the Plague in London

Daniel Defoe

Book Overview: 

Daniel Defoe’s ‘The History of the Plague in London’ is a fictionalized account of the bubonic plague epidemic that struck London in 1665 which Defoe witnessed as a five-year old, the year before the Great Fire of London.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .use, which, as he supposed, was occasioned by some of the family dying just at that time. It seems the night before, the "dead cart," as it was called, had been stopped there, and a servant maid had been brought down to the door dead; and the "buriers" or "bearers," as they were called, put her into the cart, wrapped only in a green rug, and carried her away.

The watchman had knocked at the door, it seems, when he heard that noise and crying, as above, and nobody answered a great while; but at last one looked out and said with an angry, quick tone, and yet a kind of crying voice, or a voice of one that was crying, "What d'ye want, that you make such a knocking?" He answered, "I am the watchman. How do you do? What is the matter?" The person answered, "What is that to you? Stop the dead cart." This, it seems, was about one o'clock. Soon after, as the fellow said, he stopped the dead cart, and then knocked again, but nobody answered; he continued knocking, and the . . . Read More

Community Reviews

It was the most Serge Gainsbourg's preferred book.
Daniel defoe is not a only-one-book man (Robinson Crusoe).
It is an aesthete book which one exchanges the name between friends.
What is extraordinary, it is the realism of story. All descriptions are extraordinary. They agree elsewhere with what wa...more

I have seen this taught as a non-fiction account of the Great Plague of 1666; it isn't.

What it actually is: a very early historical novel. (Defoe was alive, but was a small child, in 1666.) There's no reason why it shouldn't be taught in a history class (as it has the virtue of being short, amon...more

In 1664, Borif De Pfeffel Jonffon was the Mayor of London. He was widely popular with his flowing blonde wig and extravagant ruff. Having invented the highly successful sport of peacock wiff-waff, where live cocks were thwacked across a bronze table with scimitars, then skinned and served whole t...more

This is one of the stranger conglomerations I have ever encountered under the name, “novel.” We’ve got a 1722 fictionalized memoir of London’s 1665 bubonic plague epidemic, how-to-survive-plagues advice and 17th-century public health info, and, my favorite part, philosophical speculation about th...more

"A journal of the plague year" is actually a fictional account covering this time in history, and although Defoe was alive, we are given a narrator instead, and this was written near enough sixty years afterwards. We are certainly not told much about this narrator, apart from the fact he has fami...more

I taught this a couple times (Soph Eng Lit survey), instead of Moll or Robinson (or, indeed, Pamela or pt of Tristram). Of course it's a historical reconstruction: Defoe was 5 in the Plague Year, a year before the Great Fire, and two before the Dutch sailed to Chatham, on the Bay of Thames, and c...more

Because writing is an expression of human character, what is true of one's character is true of one's writing as well. A person's strengths and weaknesses are often two sides of the same coin—the sympathetic character is often permissive, the assertive unreasonable, the ardent rash—and the same t...more

In the crowded unhealthy unclean foul, pest dominated filthy city of London the Black Plague breaks out in 1665, no surprise it had occurred before in fact just a few years previously but this escalates, felling some say 100,000 people who never rise again. Daniel Defoe the inventor of the Englis...more

One of the problems with reviewing the earliest authors of fiction is that they were writing at a time before the rules had been properly worked out. Novels took on the form we know and love because of these writer’s successes and because of their failures. It was up to them to forge the template...more

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