Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Defoe's description of the plague is fantastic. I was highly engaged by the anecdotes and details, which painted a lucid image of the experience. A couple lines caught my attention:

First, I was surprised when the speaker says "so the appearance pass'd for real, as the Blazing star itself." The speaker had made his Christian bias very clear, so it was interesting that he would compare an apparition to the star of Bethlehem. It surprised me, but I haven't tried to make any conclusions from it. (24)

Second, I really enjoyed how Defoe phrases things. For example, when describing the various elixirs he says that people "prepar'd their bodies for the plague, instead of preserving them against it" (29). The alliteration and reversal stood out to me in this line as capturing Defoe's rather quick style. I also loved the conversation of the old woman, "You advise them gratis, to buy your Physick for their money" like any shop-keeper. This type of keen wit seems to characterize Defoe's writing.


  1. I was struck by these rhetorical U-turns that you point out, too. They have a way of doubling back on themselves, drawing attention to the perversion of their original clause. The way that Defoe structures these lines points to the irrationality of the actions he describes, perhaps highlighting again his position outside of the everyday machinations of the city in plague-mode, as we discussed in class. It seems to me, though, that there are points at which this quickness of style and blithe turn of phrase seems to be passing judgement, and others at which it seems almost forced, perhaps used as a mechanism to force the narrator to stay detached from his subject.

  2. Our class discussion about the narrator's perspective stuck in my mind. I had not originally noticed how H.F. sets himself above the common people in so many situations, which we attributed in part to his sense of divine appointment. In class we questioned his decision to stay in London, suggesting that it even points to the instability of the narrator. Defoe is certainly very away of the destabilization of authority, as we pointed out in the flawed mortality statistics and the flocking to shrinks and quacks. This interpretation certainly emphasizes the uncertainty and upheaval of the time period.

    Last week a friend of mine noticed I was reading A Journal of the Plague Year and told me a little about the powerful turn to religion following the plague. Faith was one of the only things that people were able to cling to during this period. Rather than undermining H.F. authority, I am curious how people would have interpreted his character in the time period. I am suspicious that his interpretation of divine intervention would not have been perceived as unusual or rhetorical.