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Building Background

Fact and FictionReports reached London in 1722 of a plague outbreak in continental Europe. Many people still remembered with horror the Great Plague of 1664 and 1665 that killed 70,000 of London’s estimated population of 460,000. Aware of the public’s fear and fascination with the sickness, Defoe wrote A Journal of the Plague Year, which was presented as a firsthand account of the blight. He conducted careful research and interviews with older survivors and invented a fictional witness, the Londoner known only as “H. F.” In the account, Defoe relates in vivid detail the gradual spread of the disease, the terror it inspired, and the steps taken to end its dreadful toll.

The Black DeathThe plague epidemic first appeared in Europe in 1347, and by 1351 it had killed twenty-four million people—one-fourth of Europe’s population. It became known as the Black Death, because of the way victims appeared in the final stages of their illness. As the victims’ respiratory systems failed, their bodies turned dark purple and developed soft black swellings. Before the twentieth century, the causes of infectious diseases were unknown, encouraging supernatural explanations. The plague still exists, and small outbreaks have occurred as recently as 1994. Fortunately, scientists now know that the plague is caused by a type of bacteria spread by fleas on rats. Scientists have developed vaccines and antibiotics to combat any future outbreaks.

Literary analysis: verisimilitude

Unlike the diary of Samuel Pepys, Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year is a work of fiction. The novel portraysLondon during the summer of 1665, the darkest days of thecity’s bubonic plague epidemic. An innovative writer, Defoeincorporated details from mortality records, city maps, andother historical documents to help him achieve verisimilitude,or the appearance of reality. Presented as an eyewitnessaccount, the novel purposefully blurs the line between factand fiction. In this way, Defoe’s writing anticipates the realismand psychological depth of modern novels. As you read, noticehow the following conventions help make the selection seem-like an authentic report of the tragedy:

• a first-person narrator

• geographical names

• numbers and statistics

• precise details

• dates and references to time

Reading skill: draw conclusions

The realism of A Journal of the Plague Year established it as one of the most shocking literary works of its day. Written nearly 300 years ago, the novel still elicits mixed responses of horror and sympathy from its readers. As you read the selection, use your own reactions and text clues to help you make inferences,or logical guesses, about the effects of the plague on London society. For example, you can infer that the epidemic caused a collapse of social customs, such as public mourning, from the following lines:

London might well be said to be all in tears; the mourners did not go about the streets indeed, for nobody put on black or made a formal dress of mourning for their nearest friends. . . .



Record your inferences in an organizer like the one shown.

After reading the selection, you will use these notes to draw conclusions,or make general statements, about the tragedy.

Passages About London Society My Reactions My Inferences
“As near as I may judge, [the burial pit] was about forty feet in length, and about fifteen or sixteen feet broad, and . . . about nine feet deep. . . .” The burial pit was so large. What a terrible sight it must have been!   The plague caused Londoners to change their burial practices. Mass graves were created.  
     
     

Date: 2016-03-03; view: 822


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Domestic Affairs 1663 | A Journal of the Plague Year
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