A Journal of the Plague Year Places Discussed

Daniel Defoe

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*London. Capital of England. In the voice of his thorough and even brilliantly factual narrator, who is a middle-class businessman and maker of saddles, Defoe educates the reader about numerous urban details governing the eighty to one hundred square miles of London at the time of the story. The population then was nearly 500,000 people, of whom about 20 percent died from the plague in 1665. Perhaps the most lurid detail, which lends itself nicely to statistics and charts in the text, is the weekly toll of deaths recorded as the Bills of Mortality by parish vestries in each of the approximately 130 Church of England parishes in greater London. The walled city, which constitutes what was left of the old London of the Middle Ages, has the most parishes in number, but the parishes outside the walls cover more territory and, by the time of the plague, are densely populated. Furthermore, the reader learns about county government in greater London, which included magistrates in Westminster at the West End of London and outside the walls as well as what are called the liberties, or districts, within a county such as Middlesex, which have their own independent magistrates. It is a vast honeycomb of jurisdictions, government officials, and record keeping. Overall the government is fairly effective in disposing of the dead and, especially, in boarding up buildings and in posting official watchmen or guards so that the sick may not spread disease....

(The entire section is 575 words.)