Friday, June 8, 2018

Living Through The Horror

23 Ramadhan, 1439

I've never been a fan of Defoe's fiction. It's some years now since I put down Robinson Crusoe, and I've never felt in the slightest inclined to pick it up again. And I found Moll Flanders unreadable.

So I'm not too sure what made me pick up a copy of his A Journal of the Plague Year, though I suspect the striking title had something to do with it. Can't say I found it a great read, but it proved interesting in its way as an example of a kind of early journalism. You certainly feel like you're with the narrator in the plague-struck London of 1665, which is all the more remarkable for the fact that the account was actually written in 1722, more than sixty years later.

I suppose I was expecting a fairly grisly account of rotting corpses and the like, but Defoe goes easy on the horror, though horror there is necessarily. What he's very good at is giving a convincing sense of how ordinary people kept going through it all. There's a sort of admirable civic heroism involved as, for example, the bodies are somehow buried and the poor get fed. It struck me that these days a publisher would be much keener on the gruesomeness of it all than the unexpected wholesomeness that helped deal with the disaster. Perhaps if Defoe had really lived through it all, he'd have had a different kind of story to tell?

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