|That weird mask was because the nose was |
stuffed with strong-smelling spices to ward off
the disease and the stench of dead bodies.
With a classic like A Journal of the Plague Year, the temptation to read the foreword (by J.H. Plumb, Cambride) and even to go to the internet was strong. I wanted to find out the history behind the narrative as it is just so fascinating and crazy what happened. However, spoilers were just not a concern for me in this case. Well when I did finish it and read the Foreword, I was totally blown away to find out there was a HUGE spoiler (explained at the end of the post) and one that would have completely changed my perception of this work had I known ahead of time. It was a great pleasure to be surprised in this way and this experiences reinforces my dedication to my rule.
|Victims would run through the streets, naked and crazed|
with pain and the madness of the disease.
Structurally, the book is lacking. There isn't really an order and it goes all over the place in time and subject. Defoe often gets started on something and then says that he'll say more about that later. This happens a few too many times so that the reader loses track. And dude, chapters! The whole thing is one long flow and it makes it hard to put it down and pick it up again. (Oh yeah, right, they hadn't been invented yet.) The writing style is rich and arch, made me laugh out loud at times
However, in general, prudent, cautious people did enter into some measures for airing and sweetening their houses, and burned perfumes, incense, benjamin, rozin, and sulphur in their rooms close shut up, and then let the air carry it all out with a blast of gunpowder; others caused large fires to be made all day and all night for several days and nights; by the same token that two or three were pleased to set their houses on fire, and so effectually sweetened them by burning them down to the ground...Dry British humour in its earliest days.
A really enjoyable read that gave me a strong interest in the Black Death, which led to lots of fascinating internet reading.
ADDENDUM: new (and avid) reader and commenter Kelly Robinson (check out her great blog Book Dirt) reminded me in her comment below about how Apocalyptic this novel is. It reminded me strongly of the British authors from the 60s and 70s and especially John Christopher's Death of Grass. A big part of the book is about the exodus out of London, with the issues of the advantage of wealth and class and having to decide when (or whether) to leave. He also recounts a tale of a small group of workers who banded together to travel in the country and how they were refused to enter by certain towns. I wonder if this is something that is part of British culture that has been passed down with the various disasters that have befallen London in history.
Daniel Defoe was 5 years old when this London plague happened! He wrote the book as a work of fiction based on several non-fictional tracts and his own childhood memories and tales. The entire time I was reading it, I thought it was his own recollection. Looks like he was a darned good writer!