A Journal Of The Plague Year Summary

Daniel Defoe

A Journal Of The Plague Year

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A Journal Of The Plague Year Summary

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A Journal of the Plague Year is a 1722 novel by Daniel Defoe. It is based on one man’s account of the Great Plague of 1665, in London. The novel is frequently compared to the real life, contemporary accounts of the plague in question, including Samuel Pepys’ diary. Defoe’s account is filled with research and details that seem to be far more reliable and systematic than Pepys. There is a great dispute as to whether the work can be accurately considered a novel, as it was originally read as a work of nonfiction, but was eventually accepted as fiction during the 1780s. Defoe was also considered the editor of the piece for a time, and whether or not it should be considered imaginative fiction or authentic history. It was adapted into a thirty-minute radio drama in 1945 by The Weird Circle, a sixty-minute drama on BBC in 2016, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote a screenplay based on it that was made into the 1980 Mexican film, El Año de la Peste. The short 1999 film based on the novel was nominated for an Oscar.

The protagonist, simply known as the signature H.F. at the end of the narrative, is an unmarried saddler. He begins by repeating several rumours that the plague had come to Holland, and describes the specific mortality rates of the time. It is winter, and the plague seems to have been somewhat discouraged by the cold weather, although certain parishes are badly affected. By the time May comes around, the death rates begin to rise exponentially, and H.F. considers leaving the city, but decides that God wants him to stay. The rich begin to leave the city but the poor are being strongly affected. He tells of the numerous fake healers that the poor population fearfully gave their remaining money to, including fortune tellers, quack doctors, astrologers, and mountebanks.

City officials soon begin to organise. They publish the Orders of the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of the City of London. They put in place several rules and regulations, including appointing searchers, examiners and watchmen to guard and check houses for signs of infection; shutting up the houses that the disease has been found in, and shutting down events which would attract large groups of people. H.F. disagrees with most of these measures, and says it does more harm than good.

Many stories of the plague are included in the novel. Grieving fathers, crazed men who run through the streets, people throwing themselves into burial pits out of grief, men trying to support their families, people discrediting God, looting, and escape attempts after the town is closed off. Nevertheless, H.F. says it was not all chaos, and emphasises the many stories of mercy, charity, and redemption to be found.

Although the narrative is understood to be chronological, it often rambles, and seems to run in circles: that is, H.F. loves to repeat himself. He again maintains that shutting the houses down is not the way to achieve anything, because frightened citizens will do anything, including evading the law, to try avoiding the plague. H.F. believes and argues with the utmost conviction that the only way to escape the plague is to run away from it. He thinks staying in the city was a mistake, and begs God for forgiveness. He holes himself in his house, and then wanders the streets. He questions the cause of the plague, how it is spread and why. He rejects outlandish and fantastical conclusions but believes that ultimately, no matter the human influence involved, the plague is primarily from God.

H.F. writes about the updated mortality rates, which continue to grow at an alarming rate as the epidemic grows and thrives. He decides that the city officials have acted admirably, citing the lack of decomposing bodies left in the streets, the well-maintained provisions that keep everyone adequately fed, and the charity organizations to help the destitute. The foreign trade market does suffer significantly, as it takes a lot of time for others to engage with London again.

September quickly becomes the worst month ever for the death toll. After that, though, as the weather cools, the bills begin to slow once again. Less people are becoming infected, and many who were ill are recovering faster than they had been. For a brief moment, citizens become reckless; as a result, a small outbreak arrives, but this also disappears slowly but surely towards the end of the year. H.F. comments that many of the people are grateful for their lives and second chances for deliverance, but others revert back to their old, sinful lives, having learned nothing from these trials. He ends the novel with a small poetic verse, during which he celebrates his survival through the entire year.