Customer comments on this Youngstown Ohio Book
Journalism not fiction
This edition restores Defoe's original punctuation, with capitals for nouns and colons for stops, so that the writing has recovered the vitality, weight and flexibility that Defoe intended when he wrote it.
To enjoy this book you need to read it as creative journalism rather than fiction otherwise it will seem dull, and Daniel Defoe is never dull. It can't satisfy as fiction because it isn't fiction. It doesn't have any of the benefits of fiction such as plot, author's whimsy, or character development. The Journal is based on the eyewitness experience of his uncle Henry Foe, which has been expanded by Defoe's own journalistic research after the event. He has simply taken the eyewitness experience of his uncle and created a masterpiece out of it for posterity.
This technique began with his first book, The Storm, except that in that book the eyewitness accounts - no doubt spruced up by himself - and his own work were separated. In the Journal of the Plague Year these are blended together so that his book has the vividness of the eyewitness view of the events as well as the talent and research that history would wish of an account of these events.
By misclassifying the book as fiction (and by modernizing the punctuation) we have been degrading the book's value to history and to readers.
I wish the print was bigger and blacker and this applies to the Modern Library edition too, as does the above review.
"Bring out your dead!"
"A Journal of the Plague Year" is my favourite Daniel Defoe novel, and this is as much for the novel's content as it is for its craft. The plague or the 'distemper' as it's often termed in the book raged through London in the year 1665. Defoe was somewhere between 4-5 years at the time, so while it's doubtful that he remembered much from that horrible period, "A Journal of the Plague Year" is narrated as an eyewitness account. The book was first published anonymously in 1722, and thus began the myth that Defoe's realistic masterpiece was indeed 'true.' Doubtless Defoe gathered eyewitness accounts and incorporated these into his text, but the marvel comes at the writer's skill in doing so. Defoe employs a number of techniques to create eyewitness-authenticity, and he carries this off so well, this book is a study in craftsmanship.
Now, to the content: The story begins in 1664 and is narrated by a middle-class bachelor. There are ominous rumours of the Plague returning to Europe. These rumours, which begin as distant rumblings, pick up in intensity, and by the end of 1664, the occasional death is reported in London. A macabre scorekeeping begins to take place as the deaths increase. Again the reported numbers of deaths are fraught with rumours, and this is due, in part, to "knavery and collusion." Many of the deaths are blamed on spotted fever, but the sense of impending doom grows as the narrative enters 1665, and the temperatures increase--it seems--to keep pace with the escalating numbers of the dead.
Our intrepid narrator refuses to leave London, and he records in great detail the temperament of the times. While the wealthy flee, the poor find solace in faith healers, fortune tellers, and soothsayers. But nothing helps. The Plague decimates the population while the narrator recounts instances of individual heroism and moments of great evil. He describes the mass graves--known as "pits" that became the burial grounds for stacks of bodies. He describes the system of locking up families in an attempt to establish quarantine, and the watchmen, the nurses, and the rogues who took advantage to loot and pillage. According to one critic, Defoe was the master of the art "of forging a story and imposing it on the world for truth." Reading "A Journal of the Plague Year" does indeed transmit the sensation of eyewitness immediacy, and for anyone interested in the period, Defoe, or the craft Defoe uses should read the book--displacedhuman
A credible account of a time of horror
The Great Plague took place when Defoe was five years old. Therefore his account written many years afterwards is as much fiction as eye-witness reporting. Yet his first- person narrator collects statistics and provides a credible account of the horrifying effect of the plague upon the citizens of London.
He relates the effects of the 'Plague' on various parts of the population and traces its develoment in time. One can sense in it how much Camus in writing his great work , " The Plague" is indebted to this work.
In the concluding days as the Plague wanes Defoe reflects upon the citizens of the city and their new reality.
This is the concluding section of the work, and gives an excellent feel of Defoe's language and narrative stance.
"It was now, as I said before, the people had cast off all apprehensions, and that too fast; indeed we were no more afraid now to pass by a man with a white cap upon his head, or with a doth wrapt round his neck, or with his leg limping, occasioned by the sores in his groin, all which were frightful to the last degree, but the week before. But now the street was full of them, and these poor recovering creatures, give them their due, appeared very sensible of their unexpected deliverance; and I should wrong them very much if I should not acknowledge that I believe many of them were really thankful. But I must own that, for the generality of the people, it might too justly be said of them as was said of the children of Israel after their being delivered from the host of Pharaoh, when they passed the Red Sea, and looked back and saw the Egyptians overwhelmed in the water: viz., that they sang His praise, but they soon forgot His works.
I can go no farther here. I should be counted censorious, and perhaps unjust, if I should enter into the unpleasing work of reflecting, whatever cause there was for it, upon the unthankfulness and return of all manner of wickedness among us, which I was so much an eye-witness of myself. I shall conclude the account of this calamitous year therefore with a coarse but sincere stanza of my own, which I placed at the end of my ordinary memorandums the same year they were written:-
A dreadful plague in London was
In the year sixty-five,
Which swept an hundred thousand souls
Away; yet I alive!"