Defoe’s Plague Year

Heather Mallick in the Toronto Star (hat tip: Ron Good):

Defoe’s 1722 followup [to Robinson Crusoe] was A Journal of the Plague Year, an autofiction look-back to the plague that had struck England and elsewhere 50 years before. From our standpoint, it’s remarkable how Londoners in 1665 behaved very much as we are behaving now. It takes more than 355 years for people to change habits.

Reading A Journal this week, I was struck by the parallels between Defoe’s plague notes as he walked about the city and our own tales of the coronavirus lockdown.

Daniel Defoe adds up the daily numbers. “There died near 400 of the plague in the two parishes of St. Martin and St. Giles-in-the-Fields only, three died in the parish of Aldgate but four, in the parish of Whitechapel three.”

Defoe sees mad Twitter-like theories abound. “Some endeavours were used to suppress the printing of such books as terrified the people but the Government being unwilling to exasperate the people, who were, as I may say, all out of their wits already.”

Defoe frets over job losses, excoriates Big Landlord. “Maidservants especially, and menservants [asked] ‘Oh sir I for the Lord’s sake, what will become of me? Will my mistress keep me, or will she turn me off? Will she stay here, or will she go into the country … or leave me here to be starved and undone?’”

Defoe meets some bros. “There was a dreadful set of fellows that used their [tavern], and who, in the middle of all this horror, met there every night … so when the dead-cart came, they would make their impudent mocks and jeers at them, especially if they heard the poor people call upon God to have mercy upon them.”

Defoe encounters thoughtless Vancouver-type people. “They were not quite sick, had yet the distemper upon them, and who, by having an uninterrupted liberty to go about … gave the distemper to others, and spread the infection in a dreadful manner.”

More at the link

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