Sunday, January 29, 2012

Personalization of the sick city of London in Daniel Defoe’s words

Illustration of the city of London and the plague. From

I came across with this book, and though it does not have the psychological sense and spirituality of The Plague by Albert Camus, the story is interesting, considering it  has a remarkable fabric that gathers fact and imagination.
In the prologue, Maynadier says that the Journal is probably the writer’s own recollection. It seems to have been established that Daniel Defoe (1659-1731) was five or six years old during the Plague Year, instead of four as has been previously supposed, and therefore of an age to receive a pretty distinct impression of the gloom which overspread the city. During the next years of his childhood, he would naturally hear from the city people of his acquaintance many a tale of the pestilence, the most appalling experience they had known. The plague that stroke England in 1665, was the same disease that more than three hundred years before, drove Boccaccio’s gay Florentines to the villa where the stories of the Decameron were told. The spots on the skin were formerly common tokens of the disease. Another symptoms are fever, vomiting, the frightful aches and pains, the swellings or buboes in the neck, armpit, or groin. Rats are supposed to be carriers of the pestilence.
The text I reproduce below, is Defoe’s reflection of how he feels or understands the city. Here, we see the personalization he makes of it, London is a suffering haptic city, it  has a face, composed by all the faces of the citizens that express the anguish, that is also shown in the public buildings, in the closed houses. There is no way we can imagine the sick physical city separated from its inhabitants.

Mural at the Eyam Museum. From

A tear sheet from a newspaper. From
 “The face of London was now indeed strangely altered, I mean the whole mass of buildings, city, liberties, suburbs, Westminster, Southwark, and altogether; for as to the particular part called the city, or within the walls, that was not yet much infected. But in the whole the face of things, I say, was much altered; sorrow and sadness sat upon every face; and though some parts were not yet overwhelmed, yet all looked deeply concerned; and as we saw it apparently coming on, so every one looked on himself and his family as in the utmost danger. Were it possible to represent those times exactly to those that did not see them, and give the reader due ideas of the horror that everywhere presented itself, it must make just impressions upon their minds and fill them with surprise. 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; but the voice of mourning was truly heard in the streets.”
Daniel Defoe, Howard Maynadier. The works of Daniel Defoe. Volume 9. A Journal of the Plague Year. Written by a citizen who continued all the while in London.
Department of English, Harvard University. Thomas Y. Crowell and Co. Publishers. New York. Copyright 1904 by the University Press.
Read more about Los Angeles plague in 1924:


  1. Myriam, el horro de la peste es seguramente más terrible de lo que podemos imaginar. El sufrimiento de los pueblos y sus ciudades es un detalle que olvidamos muy frecuentemente. Las ciudades tienen una gran paciencia, algunas tienen suerte y logran sobrevivir; otras quedaron como ruinas y muchas solo en un perdido mapa.

    Abrazos metropolitanos.
    Sergio Astorga

  2. Sí Sergio, he leído a Camus y pensaba lo terrible de estar esperando que nos llegue el turno mientras se vive aislado en medio de la pestilencia, valga la redundancia. Un abrazo desinfectado, :)

  3. aislamiento y peste son sinónimos o redundantes, querida Myriam ? O querías decir otra cosa?

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