A Journal of the Plague Year

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A Journal of the Plague Year was written by Daniel Defoe and first published in March 1722. Daniel Defoe is best know for his book Robinson Crusoe, which is second only to The Bible in its number of translations. A Journal of a Plague Year is presented as an eye witness account of one man’s experience of 1665, the year in which the Great Plague or the bubonic plague struck the city of London.

The plague of 1665, was the worst outbreak of plague in England since the black death of 1348. The earliest cases of the disease occurred in the spring of 1665 in a parish outside the walls of London called St Giles-in-the-fields. The book gives statistics of the deaths from the plague over this year, which are really fascinating and frightening. The death rate rose over the summer months and peaked in September when 7 165 Londoners died in one week. The great plague killed an estimated 100 000 people during an 18-month period.

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I have always been fascinated by the black plague and found this account to be very interesting. It describes how the wealthier merchants, lawyers and doctors fled the city, leaving the poor behind with the plague carrying rats and the infected people. The Lord Mayor and city councilors remained in the city to try and enforce the King’s orders and try to prevent the spread of the disease. Watchman locked and guarded houses where infected people lived to try and contain the spread of the illness.

I was also most surprised to realise there were three different forms of plague. The bubonic plague was responsible for the swellings (buboes) in the lymph nodes found in the armpits, groin and neck. Sufferers of bubonic plague also experienced headaches, vomiting and fever. This was the most common form of the plague and sufferers had a 30% chance of dying within two weeks. This type of plague spread from a bite caused by a black rat flea that carried the Yersinia pestis bacteria.

The other two types of plague that I didn’t know about were pneumonic plague, which attacked the lungs and spread to other people through coughing and sneezing, and septicaemic plague, which occurred when the bacteria entered the blood. With these two types of plague, there was little hope of survival.

This book is not an easy read as it is written in the English of the day but it is a really worthwhile read if you are interested in history and the great plague of London.

I hope you enjoyed learning more about this book.




58 thoughts on “A Journal of the Plague Year

      1. Have you read La Peste by Albert Camus about the plague in 20th century French Algeria? It’s available as a penguin translation and is interesting for the psychological effect as well as the symptoms.

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  1. the rats were blamed for this & several other plagues. When they were simply like taxis.The fleas on the rats were transported by the rats to different locations.
    Most of the deaths were poor people & as usual the rich evaded deaths cold grip.

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  2. I am also fascinated by these types of books, which tell us about life in that era, and some of the devastating diseases that ravaged the people at the time – I’m sure it’s a tough read, but also important to understand our past as well…thanks for sharing!

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      1. Yes, Ms. Cheadle, I’ve heard and lived that phrase! Mr. Defoe has definitely been on my library shelf, and your post was ‘most’ interesting… My comment was ‘my way’ of saying: instead of plagues and death, I love your poetry far more! ♥

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  3. Great article Robbie, I am a big admirer of Defoe and obviously love history and you handled this brilliantly. I used to pass St Giles in the Fields every day on the way to work and as you know the church is mentioned in Thomas as well. so This was a great reminder of the history I used to pass every day.

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      1. Yes Robbie when I first moved to London.. followed by Moll Flanders I could never warm to Robinson Crusoe but there is a book on the real Robinson Crusoe I read at the same time and that was brilliant! Pxxx

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      2. I read Robinson Crusoe and then The Swiss Family Robinson. A very interesting comparative. I got Greg to do this too. A bit like comparing Lord of the Flies and The Coral Island. The historical element of Journal of the Plague Year makes it a fascinating read.

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  4. So devastating… Microscopic entities can wield such power. The entire human (all) species could be wiped out by a single germ or virus of unknown etiology. Better we learn from them than fear them ❤

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  5. Great review. I enjoy Daniel Defoe. My dad introduced me to his books via Robinson Crusoe which my dad read to my sister and I when we were little. I have read RC and The Plague Year, a couple of times since then, and understand the latter more with re-reading.

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    1. Thanks Kim, it is definitely a book that can be read and re-read. Each time you pick up more interesting bits of information. It is a bit controversial in that Defoe would have only been five years old in 1665 but he would have grown up knowing about the plague.

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  6. Robbie, this is a brilliant and skilful review of not only a difficult topic but also of a very old book. I’m hooked and fascinated by all your detail from the book and this makes it so accessible. I’m tempted to take a closer look. Also interesting to learn about Robinson Crusoe being second only to the bible for translations! Happy Weekend to you and your family, Robbie! 😀❤️

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    1. Nice to see you, Annika. I hope you had a lovely break. How amazing to write a book that has such a but impact on people. Journal of a Plague Year is fascinating if you like history. There is quite grim detail about plague victims.

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  7. I must check this. I am also fascinated by the Plague and have recently read several fictional books dealing with it. And Dafoe was a very interesting character and writer. Thanks for the recommendation, Robbie and happy weekend.

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  8. Riveting facts and review Robbie. I appreciate your sharing the essence of all those terrible plagues and their origins, but I know I wouldn’t read the book. Kudos to you for doing so. 🙂

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