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A Journal of the Plague Year (English Library) [Paperback]

Daniel Defoe , Anthony Burgess
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)

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Book Description

24 Sep 1970 English Library
The shocking immediacy of Daniel Defoe's description of a plague-racked city makes it one of the most convincing accounts of the Great Plague of 1665 ever written.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; New impression edition (24 Sep 1970)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140430156
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140430158
  • Product Dimensions: 19.7 x 12.9 x 1.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,310,932 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Daniel Defoe was a Londoner, born in 1660 at St Giles, Cripplegate, and son of James Foe, a tallow-chandler. He changed his name to Defoe from c. 1695. He was educated for the Presbyterian Ministry at Morton's Academy for Dissenters at Newington Green, but in 1682 he abandoned this plan and became a hosiery merchant in Cornhill. After serving briefly as a soldier in the Duke of Monmouth's rebellion, he became well established as a merchant and travelled widely in England, as well as on the Continent.

Between 1697 and 1701 he served as a secret agent for William III in England and Scotland, and between 1703 and 1714 for Harley and other ministers. During the latter period he also, single-handed, produced the Review, a pro-government newspaper. A prolific and versatile writer he produced some 500 books on a wide variety of topics, including politics, geography, crime, religion, economics, marriage, psychology and superstition. He delighted in role-playing and disguise, a skill he used to great effect as a secret agent, and in his writing he often adopted a pseudonym or another personality for rhetorical impact.

His first extant political tract (against James II) was published in 1688, and in 1701 appeared his satirical poem The True-Born Englishman, which was a bestseller. Two years later he was arrested for The Shortest-Way with the Dissenters, an ironical satire on High Church extremism, committed to Newgate and pilloried. He turned to fiction relatively late in life and in 1719 published his great imaginative work, Robinson Crusoe. This was followed in 1722 by Moll Flanders and A Journal of the Plague Year, and in 1724 by his last novel, Roxana.

His other works include A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain, a guide-book in three volumes (1724-6; abridged Penguin edition, 1965), The Complete English Tradesman (1726), Augusta Triumphans, (1728), A Plan of the English Commerce (1728) and The Complete English Gentleman (not published until 1890). He died on 24 April 1731. Defoe had a great influence on the development of the English novel and many consider him to be the first true novelist.

Product Description


The London of an earlier period - 1665 - is brought vividly and pungently back to life. (Cannock and Rugeley Chronicle)

Gruesomely compulsive reading. (Colin Waters, Sunday Herald) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Louis Landa was Professor of English Emeritus at Princeton University. David Roberts is Professor of English at Birmingham City University. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
IT was about the beginning of September, 1664, that I, among the rest of my neighbours, heard in ordinary discourse that the plague was returned again in Holland; for it had been very violent there, and particularly at Amsterdam and Rotterdam, in the year 1663, whither, they say, it was brought, some said from Italy, others from the Levant, among some goods which were brought home by their Turkey fleet; others said it was brought from Candia; others from Cyprus. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
43 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars creative journalism 3 April 2006
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The Penguin edition restores Defoe's original punctuation, with a capital for nouns and colons for stops, so the writing has the vitality, weight and elasticity of Defoe's authentic style. I wish Penguin's print was more comfortable to read and blacker.

I first read this book in the early 1970s as a work of fiction because it has been classified as such since the 19th century, and I found the "plot" dull. When I read it again twenty years later I realized why - this book isn't fiction at all, it is a factual account of what happened in London in 1665, based on his uncle Henry Foe's eyewitness experience, which is blended with Defoe's journalistic research after the event. The result is a marvellous work of journalism that has the vividness of an eyewitness account, taking the reader right into the events, and the mastery of Defoe's talent and research of the whole subject. The eyewitness account is turned into a most vivid masterpiece.

If you try to read the Journal of the Plague Year as fiction it will seem dated because it can't satisfy as such. It doesn't have any of the effects that go with fiction such as plot, fantasy, author's whim, or character development. However it is beautifully constructed.

The Journal of the Plague Year is a great work of journalism and is (as far as I know) the most vivid account of any historic event in English. It is great to read and browse in as well.
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51 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An important book! 4 Mar 2005
This is a brilliant history book, written as fiction by Defoe, who was 5-years-old and stayed living in London throughout the Plague of 1665. He wrote this book some years later from his remembrances of things he saw and heard. Placing himself in the character of a young man, we read stories of great sorrow and great hope alike. Giving us a fascinating insight into the nature of varied human responses to tragedy and disaster. So we learn about people who put their own lives on the line going out to work sometimes in the houses of the already infected just to be able to feed and clothe their family, and then we learn about disturbing characters who used the opportunity for their own ill-gotten gains. It's disturbing to learn that young women were still attacked and raped in the streets of London, and houses were still robbed despite having the 'cross' sign of the Plague infection on their doors.
The book doesn't just centre on the streets of London but travels into the surrounding countryside, remember even places like Walthamstow were at the time considered to be outside London, and very much the countryside.
During it's worst months, thousands of people, both infected and not, were attempting an escape to what they thought was the safety of the country, only to be confronted with pitch-fork wielding locals at the village gates telling them to go away in no uncertain terms. But of course even these people succumbed in the end.
This is not a pleasant read, what with Plague pit descriptions, stories of babies suckling the breasts of their long-dead mothers, and in-depth descriptions of the symptoms.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Bring Out Your Dead!" 5 Oct 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Fiction it might be, though apparently based on the diaries of his uncle Henry Foe (the H.F. who purportedly authors the account) Daniel Defoes "Journal of the Plague Year" is a fascinating account of the Bubonic plague that struck London in the year 1665.

While essentially a work of fiction, the level of detail, the statistics, anecodotes and endless conjecturing give the work a strong semblance of veracity. The reader is compelled to read on through the terrifying details of a plague that in all probability took around 100,000 lives during the year that it raged. One of the interesting features of the book is the conflict between science and religion, is a continuous thread throughout. Defoes author H.F. writes in a profoundly religous tone, early on in the book a group of mocking aetheists who coarsely drink and curse their way through the plague are, each and everyone, struck down and deposited in the communal grave before two pages are out. At the same time there is a recognition of scientific attempts to understand and control the plague, the shutting up of houses is much discussed as well as the variety of "preventatives" that offer protection from infection. Much of the book is given over to a variety of speculations, and given the state of medical science at the time of writing a good many of the conjectures verge on the amusing. The author even tells of one theory, of small organisms in the blood, only to scoff at it while the modern reader may sense as good a description of bacteria as that age could furnish.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beyond Imagination 14 Dec 2007
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Imagine every other person in your social circle, family, friends, workplace and high street dropping dead. This was the reality of the Black Death, at least in the more crowded settlements. A tragedy beyond imagination that Defoe brings alive.

It's not the mortality that grips you, catastrophic as they were, but how people, even close relatives, shunned each other because of the near-certainty of contracting the disease and ending up dead themselves.

It's probably my duty to highlight, too, that the Black Death was almost certainly not bubonic plague as it doesn't fit the facts of how the disease spread, but hemorrhagic fever. One of the key pieces of evidence is the outbreak of plague in Iceland, which is known not to have harboured a rat population at that time.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Good value, for uni student so served purpose. Fast delivery, thank you.
Published 7 hours ago by Angela
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Published 1 day ago by Janet
4.0 out of 5 stars Not the easiest read, and quite a lot of ...
Not the easiest read, and quite a lot of fairly repetitive stats on mortality, but lots of contemporaneous interesting facts about the plague in London.
Published 13 days ago by Mrs. Mn Edwards
5.0 out of 5 stars Harrowing even now
A vivid account, written at the time of the event, by a master of the language. Provides insights and details that your schoolday history lessons couldn't, and makes you glad to be... Read more
Published 20 days ago by jeff
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Pepy's Diary without the sex and laughs.
Published 21 days ago by Duncan Gillies
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
The dark side of History
Published 2 months ago by DM SHERWOOD
2.0 out of 5 stars needed for degree
The actual book itself isn't something I liked at all, but the book arrived promptly.
Published 3 months ago by Kitty Lai
4.0 out of 5 stars DeFoe defies disease
An incredible account of a truly terrifying event in London's history. DeFoe's personal memoir is occasionally repetitive but always engaging. Read more
Published 3 months ago by George Kaplan
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Great for uni students studying history
Published 3 months ago by Charlotte
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Defoe is one of the great English writers, and this is possibly his best book..
Published 3 months ago by Mr. Stephen Vizinczey
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