For the third installment of Books in Dark Times, inspired by our global moment, Elizabeth and John turned inward.
We started with a book that you might not think would be so comforting, Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year (1722) about the plague in London “during the last Great Visitation in 1665.”
Probably based on the journals of Defoe’s uncle Henry Foe, the Journal comforts Elizabeth in a few ways. First, by its similarities to our current situation, providing a sense of continuity to our forebears, even if it is through our epidemiological vulnerabilities and our incapacity for coordinated action.
Second, because some aspects of what happened in 1665 seem so familiar, from detailed discussions of the “weekly bills” of dead in each parish and how to interpret them, to arguments over social isolation, contact tracing, the ethics of leaving London for second homes in the country, and the devastating secondary effects of lost commercial activity:
“As navigation was at a stop, our ships neither coming in or going out as before, so the seamen were all out of employment…and with the seamen were all the several tradesmen and workmen belonging to and depending upon the building and fitting out of ships, such as ship-carpenters, caulkers, ropemakers, dry coopers, sailmakers, anchorsmiths, and other smiths; blockmakers, carvers, gunsmiths, ship-chandlers, ship-carvers, and the like. The masters of those perhaps might live upon their substance, but the traders were universally at a stop, and consequently all their workmen discharged.“
and so on.
Thirdly: seriously, at least it’s not the bubonic plague.
Elizabeth’s love for the 47 novels of Anthony Trollope (or 35 of them, anyways) kicks off a final foray into the deeply comforting books of our childhood–and a discussion of how fantasy nestles into the ordinary.
Mentioned in this episode:
Daniel Defoe, The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719)
E. M. Forester, The Machine Stops (1909)
Anthony Trollope, The Warden (1855)
Frank Capra, It Happened One Night (1934)
Richard Llewellyn, How Green Was My Valley (1939)
Louisa May Alcott, Little Women (1868)
Listen to the episode here
Read the transcript