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A Journal of the Plague Year

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Wikipedia article

'A Journal of the Plague Year' is a novel by Daniel Defoe, 1660-1731, first published in March 1722.

The novel is a fictionalised account of one man's experiences of the year 1665, in which the Great Plague struck the city of London. The book is told roughly chronologically, though without sections or chapter headings.

Although it purports to have been written only a few years after the event, it actually was written in the years just prior to the book's first publication in March 1722. Defoe was only five years old in 1665, and the book itself was published under the initials 'H. F.' The novel probably was based on the journals of Defoe's uncle, Henry Foe.

In the book, Defoe goes to great pains to achieve an effect of verisimilitude, identifying specific neighborhoods, streets, and even houses in which events took place. Additionally, it provides tables of casualty figures and discusses the credibility of various accounts and anecdotes received by the narrator.

The novel often is compared to the actual, contemporary accounts of the plague in the diary of Samuel Pepys. Defoe's account, although fictionalized, is far more systematic and detailed than Pepys's first-person account.

Moreover, it may be compared to the description of the plague in the Italian Manzoni's 'The Betrothed' (orig. Italian: 'I Promessi Sposi'). In spite of some analogies (for example, both novels were written many years after the end of the plague), the two writers used different techniques: Defoe wrote a work full of details, but he used a detached tone, while Manzoni was not only able to reconstruct the general atmosphere of the pestilence-stricken Milan, but he also analysed the individual responses to the plague with a poetic sensitivity of his own.

Is 'A Journal of the Plague Year' a novel?

Whether the 'Journal' can properly be regarded as a true novel has been disputed., p. 311. Unlike novels such as 'Robinson Crusoe' or 'Moll Flanders', the 'Journal of the Plague Year' was initially read as a work of non-fiction. By the 1780s the work's fictional status was well-known, but debate continued as to whether Defoe could truly be regarded as the work's author, rather than merely its editor. One modern literary critic has gone so far as to assert that 'the invented detail is... small and inessential', while Watson Nicholson writing in 1919 argued that the work can be regarded as 'authentic history'., pp. 152, 172 Other literary critics have argued that the work can indeed be regarded as a work of imaginative fiction, and thus can justifiably be described as a 'historical novel'. pp. 153

Adaptations in other media

In 1945 the syndicated radio program 'The Weird Circle' adapted the novel into a condensed 30-minute drama.

In later culture

* In Franois Truffaut's 1966 film 'Fahrenheit 451', a copy of 'A Journal of the Plague Year' can be seen during the book burning scene at Guy Montag's house.

* In the 'Daria' telemovie 'Is It Fall Yet?', Helen accidentally borrows 'A Journal of the Plague Year' from Daria when attempting to cover up her eavesdropping.

* The Oscar nominated short film 'Periwig Maker' is based on 'A Journal of the Plague Year'.


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