A Journal of the Plague Year

Class Distinctions in A Journal of the Plague Year

Class Distinctions in A Journal of the Plague Year

Defoe repeatedly returns to how different classes experienced the plague of 1660’s in his pseudo-journalistic account, A Journal of the Plague Year. Defoe contrasts the experience of the poor and the “middling class” with that of the wealthy. His account answers a number of important questions. Were rich people was more immune from the plague. Was one class more responsible for spreading it? How did different classes respond to the pestilence? Given Defoe’s politics and personal circumstances (he was rumored to have died while hiding from creditors), his focus on class is hardly surprising. His unsparing journalist’s pen skewers both rich and poor alike and reveals much about class distinctions in the 17th century England.

Defoe contrasts how different classes are involved in the spread of disease. He begins by noting that “the plague was chiefly among the poor”. (68) Much of the spread of disease resulted from activities of the poor because they were “the most venturous and fearless of it, and went about their employment with a sort of brutal courage”. (68) In “going about their employment”, the poor provided the few services that were available because merchandising, building...

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