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.)


(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Backscheider, Paula R. Daniel Defoe: His Life. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989. Scholarly and well-written, this biography is remarkably detailed in every aspect of Defoe’s life and career. This refreshing cache of information is a work of history with few forays into literary criticism.

Defoe, Daniel. A Journal of the Plague Year. Edited by Paula Backscheider. New York: W. W. Norton, 1992. This is the definitive modern edition of Defoe’s novel.

Flanders, W. Austin. “Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year and the Modern Urban Experience.” In Daniel Defoe: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Max Byrd. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1976. Investigates Defoe’s concern with the moral challenges that confront the urban dweller. Discusses Defoe’s imaginative exploration of those challenges.

Nicholson, Watson. The Historical Sources of Defoe’s “Journal of the Plague Year.” Boston: Stratford, 1919. Illustrated by extracts from the original documents in the Burney collection and the manuscript room in the British Museum. Of particular importance are the excerpts from the original sources, which are included. The comparisons of the novel with actual events and the careful examination of the errors found in Defoe’s work offer an opportunity to scrutinize aspects of the novel that are often ignored by literary critics.

Richetti, John J. Daniel Defoe. Boston: Twayne, 1987. An excellent introduction to Defoe’s life and works. Bibliography.

Zimmerman, Everett. Defoe and the Novel. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975. Chapter 5, “A Journal of the Plague Year: Fact and Fiction,” is a study of the evolution of Defoe’s style and in particular his reaction to the demands entailed in fictionalizing a recent historical event.