Monthly Archives: June 2020

Pandemics, plagues, and literature

Detail from the cover of Camus, La Peste. Public Domain, Wikimedia

I’m sure there will be more, but I thought it timely to pull together in one place the various blogs and articles that have been drawing parallels between the coronovirus pandemic and the plagues of the eighteenth century (this is an admittedly very ‘long’ eighteenth century, but I rely on your mercy). Most of these drew my attention becuase they mention Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, published in 1722 and dealing with the Great Plague of 1664-65 (but implicitly addressing an outbreak in France in 1721).

First (I think) is Marina Hyde’s masterfully biting parallel between the politics and public reactions of Britain in March 2020 and Defoe’s depiction of the populace of 1664-65.

This can be expanded by reading Adam James Smith’s blog post (with Jo Waugh) on social distancing in the Journal.

Next up was Marcel Theroux’s fascinating round-up of plague literature, including Defoe’s Journal, Boccaccio’s The Decameron, Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, and ending with Camus’ 1947 novel, The Plague.

Finally – possibly a response to someone who pointed out that this didn’t incliude Mary Shelley’s underated The Last Man (1826) – Olivia Murphy’s blog post discusses the novel’s disturbing prophecy of global catastophe.