Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Unlike Daniel Defoe’s other books and novels, A Journal of the Plague Year is rarely read as a whole, although a number of writers, such as Virginia Woolf, testify to its impact. It is more likely than Defoe’s novels, however, to be included in college anthologies of English literature, where its presence is justified as appropriate for reprinting in extracts by its episodic construction and by its historical significance. Both grounds indicate the nature and worth of the whole work. On every page, the book shows more clearly than Moll Flanders (1722), or any of the other episodic novels posing as true accounts, the intricate and slow development of the English novel. As the English novel developed, writers moved away from sermons, romances, and polemics and established a formal tradition that continued for some two centuries. Defoe’s reputation as the founder of the English novel rests as much on A Journal of the Plague Year as it does on Robinson Crusoe (1719) or Roxana (1724).
The first problem in the development of the novel was to establish a working relationship between fact and fiction. The traditional novel still uses realistic narration to assist readers in the willing suspension of disbelief. Defoe’s invention was to use statistics. Tabulated on the pages of A Journal of the Plague Year are the weekly death bills or returns from the ninety-seven parishes in the city of London and the...
(The entire section is 1354 words.)
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