In 1722 Daniel Defoe, the author of “Robinson Crusoe,” wrote “A Journal of the Plague Year.” This was a semi-fictional account of the Great Plague, an outbreak of the bubonic plague that struck London from 1665 to 1666. In 18 months, the plague killed about 100,000 people, almost a quarter of the population of London. Though Defoe was only five at the time, this event was close enough for many to remember it, allowing Defoe to base his account on the memories of those who survived, including his uncle, Henry Foe (H.F. became the fictional voice.). Defoe wrote about specific neighborhoods, streets and even houses where events took place. Fiction or not, Defoe’s “Journal of the Plague Year” did such a good job describing the horrors of an epidemic that even historians quoted from it:
“From the first week in June the infection spread in a dreadful manner, and the bills [mortality records] rose high. All that could conceal their distemper did it, to prevent their neighbors shunning them, and also to prevent authority shutting up their houses. In June the richest sort thronged out of town. In Whitechapel nothing was to be seen but wagons and carts, with goods, women, children, etc., besides innumerable numbers of men on horseback a terrible and melancholy thing to see.”
Like Defoe three centuries ago, coronavirus has inspired many writers like me: women and men of all ages, races, classes and genders, who are now jotting down their own personal experiences with the pandemic. Perhaps, half a century from now, future Defoes will take our reminiscences and use them to compile their own “Journal of the Plague Year.” Defoe’s bubonic plague killed 100,000 people. COVID-19 already killed over 190,000 people in this country and almost 880,000 people worldwide. King Charles II, his Court and Parliament all left town for the duration, at a time when people expected less from their governments than we do today. But not even the Stuart court was able to reach the levels of incompetence and mismanagement achieved by Trump and his Administration; or by Red State governors like Ron Desantis.
Like Defoe’s fictional narrator, H.F., I live the pandemic one day at a time and, like H.F., I am grateful that my loved ones and I have survived this plague (so far). I keep trying to do my part to stop the spread of COVID-19, while at the same time doing my bit to eradicate the other horror of our age, Donald Trump. But life must still be enjoyed, even in a plague year. Soon Ron and I will head off for our first vacation of 2020, one that you might read about after we return. This, my friends, is a lesson that we should learn from this pandemic. We must do our best to proceed with our lives, while at the same time managing to conform to this New Normal. May better days return.