Chapter

[] Writing the “Great Plague”: Pepys and Defoe

Ernest B. Gilman

in Plague Writing in Early Modern England

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print June 2009 | ISBN: 9780226294094
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226294117 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226294117.003.0007
[] Writing the “Great Plague”: Pepys and Defoe

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This chapter seeks to read Pepys and Defoe on the plague as reflecting, each in his way, a transitional aspect of the event: an engagement with infectious disease that hovers between the providential and the quotidian. Pepys's diary accommodates the fire—and the plague—by collating their otherwise unaccountable horror with the ordinary events of a life that goes on, rather than by subsuming his individual experience to some great design. Closer to picaresque than to epic, the Diary offers a microhistory suited less to grand narrative than to local observation and chance encounters. Pepys tracks events at street level, notes the fluctuations in the death toll as published in the bills of mortality, and produces a record of the plague indexed to the daily activities of the writer. In this way, his diary entries for the plague year of 1665 are of a piece with the day-to-day accounts in Daniel Defoe's Journal of the Plague Year, written in 1722, although with crucial differences in social perspective as well as in the proximity of the two narratives to the event itself.

Keywords: Pepys; Defoe; Great Plague; plague writing; Diary; individual experience; infectious disease

Chapter.  12492 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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