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Friday, April 3, 2015

*****A Journal of the Plague Year, by Daniel Defoe

Daniel Defoe: 1660-1731
  • A Journal of the Plague Year was first published in England, 1722 and is a fictionalized account of the Great Plague of London, 1665-1666
  • The actual plague began around the time DeFoe was five years old and is not his first hand account, but a representation of what it was like to live during the plague.
  • To prepare for writing this novel, Defoe, who had worked as a journalist among other things, gathered notes from those who had experienced the plague first-hand, from medical and mortality records and he it is believed he may have obtained information from his Uncle's diary, who is also believed to be H.F., the narrator.
  • Defoe is one of the first authors to come from a common ancestry, being without a University and/or classic's background. He is believed -by many- to be the first English novelist. What ever the opinion, he significantly contributed to the development of the English novel.
Setting:  London, England 1664 -1666

Themes
  • suffering
  • authority - the ability to govern and maintain order during a plague, or any tragedy
  • experiences and emotions during a tragedy
  • compassion for the destitute or helpless
  • belief's as to how the plague started, how it spread, etc.
  • religion
Characters
  • H.F. -  the narrator, a bachelor and saddler, who is not identified until the last page of the novel when he closes his account of the Great Plague, yet uses his initials, only. Devoutly religious.
  • H.F's Brother - H.F. takes care of his brother's house. His brother fled from London, with his family, at the plagues outbreak. 
  • Dr. Heath - H.F.'s friend and physician who gives him medical guidance throughout the plague.
  • John Hayward - A neighbor of H.F.'s brother who escapes the plague with his wife, despite the fact he is a parish undersexton, a gravedigger, and he buries the sick dead. His wife is a nurse who works with the sick. They believe their use of garlic, vinegar and other natural remedies is the reason for their continued health.
  • Robert & Rachel: Husband and wife, they are forced to live apart so healthy Robert can support his plague afflicted wife and baby.  Robert lives on his boat. He leaves goods outside of, and far from, their house, then calls Rachel to announce his delivery and walks away so she can access all.
  • The Piper - A poor man who receives food and/or (mostly) alcohol for playing his pipe at bars during the plague. After passing out on the street, he is picked up for dead and wakes up in a mass burial pit (grave) among the actual dead.
  • Solomon Eagle - A Quaker who preaches God's final judgment up and down the streets of London, naked, with a pan of burning coal on top of his head.
  • John, Thomas & Richard - A trio of healthy men who, despite all odds, are able to escape London and the plague well after it is locked down and they are blocked from entering all surrounding towns.
  • Ford- Is the leader of a group of healthy people on the run from London and the plague. They meet and join John's trio, again, surviving on the outskirts of all towns despite the odds.
  • John Cock - When the plague first breaks out, John takes his household - a wife, five children, a maid and two apprentices - to live in the country. He learns that the plague is abating, but is far from over. Over zealous to be home in London, they all return. Within five days, all but the maid are dead from the plague. John and his family are symbols.  Defoe uses their story as a cautionary tale.
Vocabulary
deodand:  An animal or article that caused, or was related to, a persons death. By law, it must be forfeited to the crown to be used for charitable purposes. This law was abolished in England in 1846.

Quotes

 "...as they say in the case of a mad dog, who though the gentlest creature before of any of his kind, yet then will fly upon and bite any one that comes next him, and those as soon as any who had been most observed by him before."

"...the corruption of human nature, who cannot bare to see itself more miserable than others of its own species, and has a kind of involuntary wish that all men were as unhappy or in as bad a condition as itself."

"...tis evident that death will reconcile us all..."

"...many people had the plague in their very blood, and preying upon their spirits, and were in themselves but walking putrefied carcases whose breath was infectious and their sweat poison, and yet were as well to look on as other people, and even knew it not themselves; I say that it was really true in fact, but they know not how to propose a discovery."

"I  mean as such the begging, starving, laboring poor, and among them chiefly those who, in a case of siege, are called the useless mouths..."
"But nobody can account for the possession of fear when it take hold of the mind."


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