The narrator of the novel, H.F. is an unmarried saddler who lived in London during the plague. He vacillated between fleeing and staying, but eventually decided to remain in his home. He later repented of this decision. The novel is a collection of his writings and observations on the plague, from his relation of rumors and anecdotes to his copying the Orders issued by the city. He found it difficult to remain in his home and walked about the city during the months of plague, sometimes speaking with other Londoners about their experiences. A profoundly religious man, H.F. was given to introspection and oftentimes doubt and guilt.
Not given a specific name, H.F.'s brother encouraged H.F. to leave London and journey to the country with himself and his family in order to save his life. H.F.'s brother has a wife and two children and a large London home. His warehouses were home to many goods, including hats which, during the plague, were stolen by several women who claimed they had no owner.
A neighbor of H.F.'s brother whom H.F. met when he was visiting his brother's empty home. Hayward was the undersexton of the parish of St. Stephen Coleman-street as well as a gravedigger and a bearer of the dead. He and his wife, who was a nurse to the sick, had methods against infection that included keeping garlic in one's mouth and rinsing one's head in vinegar. Hayward relates the tale of the piper to H.F.
In a story related by John Hayward, the piper went about from door to dooe during the plague, playing his tunes and nearly starving but avoiding death. When asked how he fared, he would joke that the dead cart had not taken him yet. One day, after drinking more than usual, he fell fast asleep and was taken for dead; his body was placed in the dead cart and taken to the cemetery, where he was thrown into the pit. He woke up sputtering and crying out that he was not dead and was removed. His fate was unknown after that.
A famous "Enthusiast" whom H.F. observed in the streets during the plague. Eagle went about claiming the divine judgement of the city of London was at hand. He was often naked and had a pan of burning charcoal on his head.
A friend of H.F.'s and a physician by trade. H.F. visited him often during the plague, and in turn Dr. Heath came to H.F.'s house and provided him with medical advice and support. He encouraged H.F. to remain shut up in his home for the duration of the plague.
One of the three men in the story that H.F. relates, John was a soldier-turned-biscuit-maker. He was born to be a soldier but received a wound in his leg and had to cease his military duties. He encourages his brother Thomas to leave London and seek safety and health in the country. He became the leader of the three men and the group of travelers they join with, ingeniously finding a way for them to pass through inhospitable towns.
The brother of John and one of the three men in H.F.'s story, Thomas was a seaman but had been hurt in one leg and now worked as a sail maker in Wapping. He was the richest of the three men, being very good with money.
One of the three men in the tale related by H.F., Richard was a carpenter by trade. He carried his box of tools, which was all of his worldly wealth, with him wherever he went so he could be employed at any time.
The leader of the larger group of poor travelers from London escaping the plague in the story of the three men told by H.F. Ford and John parleyed together and decided to travel with each other.
H.F. meets Robert and learns the man is taking care of his wife and child, both afflicted with the plague. To stay healthy and provide for his family, Robert runs errands along the water and lives in his boat. H.F. is impressed with his sincere show of faith and gives the man four shillings.
H.F. relates the tale of John Cock, a barber with a large family, as a cautionary tale. At the outset of the plague, John, his wife, their five kids, a maid and his two apprentices left London. When the bills of mortality showed drastically lower numbers in November, John assumed the plague had abated and so he moved his entire household back to the city and resumed his trade. Within five days, however, all but the maid had died.
A Journal of the Plague Year Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for A Journal of the Plague Year is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.