Daniel Defoe provides a contemporary reader with a vivid picture of the tense atmosphere of a disease-infested London. H.F.’s story is full of observations about human behavior that are universally applicable to anyone who finds themselves in an epidemic environment. H.F.’s journals, which include the discussion on the transmission of plague and its treatment, the human need for an explainable theory, as well the class consciousness, are all important in Defoe presenting this particular outbreak of plague as a complicated and multi-dimensional situation. As a result, modern readers are less likely to homogenize, simplify, or generalize the experience of plague victims. They will therefore be better able to appreciate the impact of disease. In examining A Journal of the Plague Year we must determine the extent to which plague is presented as a manifestation of divine will or a natural catastrophe. In 1665, the most common theory to explain the cause of the plague was God’s wrath. December 16th, 1720 was declared to be a Day of Repentance. The hope being that the human penitence could counter the effects of a plague. H.F. Defoe, the narrator of the book, is a good example of a religious person in this time. He always carries a Bible and will read random passages from it whenever he is in need of external support or guidance. H.F. decides to stay in London when the plague breaks out during 1665. Opening the Bible, he randomly opens Psalm 91. The passage gives him support to his decision. We should not misunderstand Defoe as a simple character that accepts plagues solely on the basis of religion. H.F. examines the many facets of the plague outbreak of 1665. H.F. for example states, “Nothing less than God’s immediate Finger or omnipotent Will could have caused it”2. It is common to attribute the plague to God’s anger. Londoners of this era believed “even the buboes” were caused by an angry god. H.F. in Defoe does not accept the explanation of an angry diety without questioning it. He accepts, for example, that plague could be explained from a scientific standpoint. It is possible to attribute plague to scientific natural causes. H.F. acknowledges that plague can have scientific causes, but he makes it clear that God is ultimately the source of these “natural” scientific causes. H.F.’s ambivalent viewpoints on God’s wrath as the authority for the Plague theory can be described best as “orthodox rationalism” H.F. is a credible plague narrator, even though he gives due credit to the prevailing wrath God Theory. The causes of the London plague outbreak must be investigated, but it is also important to look at the transmission methods. The miasmatic and contagion theories are the two main options for determining how plague spreads. Today, there is a consensus that plague spreads by fleas who are infected with rodents. However, these facts were not revealed until almost 100 years after London’s 1665 plague outbreak. According to the miasmatic viewpoint, plague is spread by air. The putrid air in a plagued area is said to carry the disease. Defoe, on the other hand, rejects miasmatic views in favor of a contagion view. Defoe demonstrates his pro-contagion viewpoints throughout H.F. He is adamant that the cause of the plague is the human being, not the environment. H.F.’s anger at the careless behavior of commoners in 1665, when many people did not pay attention to their company or who they were with, is understandable. H.F. explains his own opinion, which coincided with that of many physicians, that the Sick [breathed Death upon all who came in contact with them the Sick] infected only those people within their reach the Sick] wore the infection on their clothes, and even their hands would spread the disease to the things they touched if the person was warm or sweaty. H.F. certainly adheres to this theory. In order to understand H.F.’s story, it is important to know the two main theories of how plague spreads. His strong belief in contagion theory underlies his recommendations for treatment and prevention. H.F. believed that plague was spread by human to human contact and not the air. He also believed plague couldn’t be prevented. He presents contradictory views to the reader on two of the most popular methods for treating plague in those days, which included closing up houses and fleeing the city. In spite of his own resolve to stay in a city as he believes plague to be God-willed and unavoidable, he recommends a mass evacuation to avoid plague. H.F. states that “even though Providence appeared to have directed my Conduct in a different direction, it’s my opinion…that the most effective Physick for the Plague would be to flee from it.”7. He also believes that the plague can be transmitted from one person to another, but he still considers it futile to close down the houses in order to stop the plague spreading. He makes it clear in many places that the act of closing the doors is not effective and can be counterproductive. This is because the action cannot be enforced. For example, he writes: “I am now speaking of People, who are made desperate because they fear being shut up. And they break out either through Stratagem or Force. Either before or after their shut-up. Their misery is not lessened when they’re out but sadly exacerbated.”8. H.F., therefore, does not support the closing of houses to prevent plague. H.F., Defoe’s narrator conveys opposite but equally justified views regarding the transmission of plague and its prevention. H.F.’s contradictory character may be a reflection of his deliberative and pragmatic nature. He is unable to accept any concrete reasoning to better understand the incomprehensible plague. H.F.’s audience can see the hunger for understanding in the disease-ridden environment. H.F.’s story demonstrates the need to visualize the plague and its force in order to derive some kind of meaning. H.F. relates how a crowd was gathered in the street to watch what a woman said she saw, a white-clad Angel with a flaming blade in his Hand. She told the people that it appeared clear to her. She showed them how to move and form the Figure, she described each part in detail. The Sword is as clear as it can be. The Angel was seen by another. He saw his Face and said, What an amazing creature! One thing and another9. The reader can gain valuable insight by examining this important passage in H.F.’s narrative. H.F. demonstrates how people will take advantage of those in a vulnerable position during a plague. Natasha Rosow explains: Posters were plastered in fraudulent advertisements for “infallibles” preventatives pills, “never failure” preservatives or “the Royalantidote.” Even some doctors succumbed to greed and said: “I will give my advice free of charge, but not medicine. We can see how the general atmosphere of plague was one that was filled with fear and manipulation. In this way, plague’s inexplicable character creates an enigmatic air, which then incites a desire for meaning in those affected. This is evident in the crowd of people gathered outside, who are trying to decipher an incomprehensible image. In Defoe’s narrative of plague, class discrimination is a major issue. Although there was no consensus on the causes of and the spread of plague in the narrative, the general belief is that “overcrowded, filthy and smelling environments are more conducive to plague”11. It is true that the belief in a more frequent plague among the poorer classes did lead to further class divisions. H.F. spends a substantial part of his story sympathizing for the poorer class during the 1665 plague. Margaret Healy explains this in “Defoe’s Journal: The English Writing Tradition.” While H.F. chastises a “useless tongue” for its lack of foresight for the poor, for their excesses and for their bad habits, he admires them for their courage. H.F. for instance, tells the story of three men fleeing from plague to the countryside. H.F. compliments their ingenuity. He also praises their religious conviction. H.F. clearly feels sympathy and responsibility towards the poor, who are the most affected by plague. In this narrative, Defoe recommends a massive evacuation of London from the plague-stricken poor. This highly unpractical suggestion wasn’t followed through, but we can still sense his concern. He describes the bribery of watchmen as another way the poor were hurt. He says that as some people got out their homes by stratagem after the doors were closed, so did others get out by bribing watchmen… I confessed, at the same time, that I thought it the most innocent corruption, or bribery, a Man could commit, and therefore I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the poor men14. Healy says that Defoe holds that he believes “public charity was the only thing that could have saved and kept London’s order in 1665”. Defoe’s emphasis on the poor is a reflection of the fact that their salvation is inextricably linked to the salvation of the plague-infested London. Conclusion: The questions of providence, treatment, cause, a need for meaning, and class consciousness that come up when examining H.F.’s interpretations about plague are relevant beyond just the 1665 visitation to London. Daniel Defoe focuses on the moral implications of the economic tensions that existed between the aristocracy (the wealthy), the middle-class and the poor. H.F.’s observations and views of plague-infested London sheds light on modern epidemics like AIDS. Laurence Segel, a physician of the present day, asks, “Can we honestly say that we have never abandoned, ostracized or fled from those who are afflicted?”16. The Plague is an Albert Camus book that contains a statement which rings true. Endnotes 1 Daniel Defoe. Journal of the plague year. Edited and introduced by Louis Landa. Oxford University Press published a book in London during 1969. 2 Daniel Defoe. Journal of the plague year. Edited and introduced by Louis Landa. Oxford University Press published a book in London in 1969. The main point of the passage is that in order to be successful, it is important to have an understanding of the potential obstacles that may be encountered along the way and to be prepared to meet them. It is also important to identify and take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves. Preparing for the journey ahead requires dedication and hard work, but with focus and determination, success is achievable. 3 Margaret Healy. Literature and Medicine 22, No. 1 (Spring, 2003): 25-44. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Copyright. Page twenty-eight. 4 Daniel Defoe. Journal of the plague year. Edited and introduced by Louis Landa. Oxford University Press released the publication in London in 1969. Page xxiii (introduction). 5 Daniel Defoe. Journal of the plague year. Edited and introduced by Louis Landa. Oxford University Press published a book in London in 1969. Page xxiii (introduction). 6 Daniel Defoe. Journal of the plague year. Edited and introduced by Louis Landa. Oxford University Press, which is located in London, published the book in 1969. Page xxviii (introduction). 7 Daniel Defoe. Journal of the plague year. Edited and introduced by Louis Landa. Oxford University Press of London published the book in 1969. Page xviii (introduction). 8 Daniel Defoe. Journal of the plague year. Edited and introduced by Louis Landa. Oxford University Press first published this text in London in 1969. Page 55 reveals that… 9 Daniel Defoe. Journal of the plague year. Edited and introduced by Louis Landa. Oxford University Press published a book in London in 1969. The author goes on to discuss the importance of having a clear goal in mind. He emphasizes the need to set specific objectives and to have an action plan in order to make sure that these goals are met. He suggests that it is not enough to simply have a goal; it must be backed up with tangible action. He also suggests that it is important to review progress regularly and to adjust the plan accordingly. This will help ensure that the objectives are achieved in a timely manner. 10 Natasha Rosow. Studies in the Novel 30(2) Summer 1998. “Constructing authenticity.” Copyright 1998 University of Northern Texas. Page 2 included. 11 Margaret Healy. Literature and Medicine 22, No. 1 (Spring 2003), 25-44. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Copyright. Page 34 mentions that the discovery of a new species can be an exciting experience for a scientist. 12 Margaret Healy. Literature and Medicine 22, No. 1 (Spring 2003), 25-44. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Copyright. Page 37 showed. 13 Daniel Defoe. Journal of the plague year. Edited and introduced by Louis Landa. The original publication of Oxford University Press was in London in 1969. Page 58 states that… 14 Daniel Defoe. Journal of the plague year. Edited and introduced by Louis Landa. Oxford University Press located in London published a book in 1969. On page fifty-seven, it was mentioned that… 15 Daniel Defoe. Journal of the plague year. Edited and introduced by Louis Landa. Oxford University Press published a book in London in 1969. Page thirty-seven. Laurence Segel – physician and assistant Vice President Medical Research and Development, Toronto Financial Firm. Maclean Hunter Ltd. established their copyright in 1997.
On November 20th, 2003. Albert Camus was a French philosopher and Nobel Prize laureate. The epidemic. Trans. Stuart Gilbert wrote. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1948. Bibliography Camus, Albert. The affliction. Trans. Stuart Gilbert’s work asserts that… Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1948. Defoe, Daniel. Journal of the plague year. Edited and introduced by Louis Landa. Oxford University Press of London published the text in 1969. Healy, Margaret. Literature and Medicine 22, No. 1 (Spring (2003) 25-44. The Johns Hopkins University Press is the owner of all copyrights. Segel, Laurence — physician and assistant Vice President Medical Research and Development with a Toronto Financial Firm. Maclean Hunter Ltd. was the holder of the copyright in 1997.
On November 20th, 2003.