Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year response paper

This is a paper that focuses on the Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year response paper. The paper also contains various questions to consider in the paper.

Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year response paper

Response notes for Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year
1.      Firstly, what evidence can you see in A Journal of the Plague Year that it was based upon an earlier piece of journalism/non-fictional writing?
2.      Secondly, what do you think of Defoe’s technique of including the municipal orders and bills to deal with the plague in the story?
3.      Thirdly, does the realistic statistical material he includes in the novel add or detract from the literary effect?
4.      Fourthly, prior to penning A Journal of the Plague Year, Defoe wrote a nonfictional tract called Due Preparations for the Plague that warned people to prepare for a coming epidemic. This book did not sell well, so Defoe decided to follow a fictional strategy and re-write it. Find Due Preparations for the Plague online, and read a sample of it. What do you see as the major differences in the two accounts?
5.      Additionally, what role do you believe Defoe’s imagination played in A Journal of the Plague Year versus his talents as a journalist and fact-gatherer? Does the fictionalized version have features that make it more compelling as literature than his journalistic writing?
6.      Defoe builds his story in A Journal of the Plague Year chronologically and around the main character, H. F., “wandering” the city and also getting a first-hand view of the plague? Why do you think Defoe chose to tell this story in a first person account? What advantages were there to doing this versus other choices he might have made?

Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year response paper

7.      There is little character development or extensive character interaction in the book. What do you think of this? Does this help or harm the narrative?
8.      What do you think of Defoe’s occasionally incorporating “conversations” and also direct dialogue or paraphrasing between characters into the story? What other literary forms could he have been drawing from?
9.      Also, what do you think of his techniques of incorporating “little stories” (the man at the burial pits, the tavern revelers, the woman with the vision) within his text and how might this have grown out of other writing devices of the time?

10.  What about the narrative has the features of a “journal”? What other forms of biographical and also autobiographical material was Defoe acquainted with that he might have drawn from for his story structure? Also, what other forms of writing from Defoe’s time (biblical texts, chronicles of mariners and travelers, prose essays, etc.) can you find that appear to be incorporated into the text?
11.   How effective do you believe Defoe’s descriptive writing is? Did the vividness of his descriptions of the plague impress you? How might Defoe’s experience in journalism have influenced this?
12.   What role do religion and also empirical thinking play in the book? Where does Defoe seem to stand when he discusses “science versus religion” or “science versus superstition” when H. F. comments about what he witnesses in the plague?

Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year response paper

13.  Defoe makes reference to the author of this account being buried by his sister? Since he was only a young child in the plague of 1665, some speculate this meant he had an uncle or a relative who kept a journal that was in Defoe’s possession. If that was the case, how might this have shaped his view of the role of fictional versus nonfictional story-telling?
14.  Some call Defoe not only one of the first modern newspaper editors, but also a figure who engaged in the kind of research that today we consider to be “investigative reporting.” Where might you see this in A Journal of the Plague Year?
15.  Defoe was a business person, a factory owner, and an investor in ships involved in foreign trade besides working as a journalist and editor of his own newspaper. How does his sensitivity to economic and business conditions shape his content?


16.  Defoe and also his contemporaries did know the nature of how the plague spread. How much do you see that influencing H. K.’s views? What do you think of Defoe’s ways of trying to use “empirical” reasoning to establish the “facts” of the plague and how close was he to being right?
17.  Do you think that A Journal of the Plague Year can be called a novel in the modern sense of the term? What makes it a novel? What about it would qualify as journalism in today’s sense of the term?
18.  Lastly, what do you see in the book that reminds you of our experience today with the Corona virus? Additionally, name some similarities about the plague that we would call today quarantines, social distancing, restrictions on global travel, the banning of crowds, the impact on the economy, the role of media and communication, viewpoints about human nature, the place of medical care. Also, how were things the same or different between the early 1700s and our day?

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