Map of the Plague Year

The narrator’s description of the plague is interlaced with numerous detailed explanations and geographic anchor points, but to a non-Londonian audience these places sound very foreign (and probably even for Londonian audiences the archaic names are unfamiliar). Most confusing of all is the narrator’s discussion of the plague not having reached the City even though the people in the other End of Town were dying. For example; “It was observ’d indeed, that it did not come strait on towards us; for the City, that is to say within the Walls, was indifferent healthy still …” (Defoe, 16) and the narrator, living in Aldgate, is not yet fearful of the plague that is growing in St Giles. So is he implying that there is a City of London but there’s more city outside the City of London?

Apparently, yes.

The City of London and the city called London are two very separate places, and this video should help you understand.

The map at the beginning of the book essentially encloses the city of London, and Aldgate is at the eastern end of the City. Hence exists the narrator’s initial hopes that the plague may pass him, as St Giles, where the Plague first is reported, is far outside to the west of the City of London, situated at roughly the center of London. The various churches and parishes that slowly succumb to the plague shows a steady and sure march east, then north, then back down south into the City of London.

The map of the book and the map of London produced in the mid-late 1600s correspond quite nicely and shows a painstaking realism that the author put into his story.


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  1. “Realism” is a great concept for us to consider. We still haven’t resolved the question of whether we should be reading this as a novel — as fiction — or whether we should think of it as propaganda of some sort. Has anyone started to settle that question for yourself yet?

    • And the focus on mapping the disorder is a nice precursor to our coming encounter with c19 cholera in The Ghost Map.

    • Bryan, I’m a little puzzled by this question- is fiction and propaganda mutually exclusive?
      I can’t really stop thinking about the book as a reality-based fiction. But the more fictional and distorted it gets, doesn’t it get more suitable for propaganda then? Let’s say that Defoe might have been praisining the government measures and their effectiveness (as he slightly does when describing the unpopular, yet effective shut-up houses with watchmen). If it was written as a history book with facts and different perspectives and possible implications, it would be more difficult to make propaganda out of it. My whole point here is – isn’t propaganda based on fiction?

      Eddie, what I also find quite interesting is that I detached myself from thinking of the place as London, so somehow this element of realism almost does not affect me at all. I’ve never been there, it might as well be in Narnia – the place is realistically depicted, which helps me as a reader to imagine it, but I can’t connect it to the “real” London. Literary, the place is depicted well, but does it make the novel more truthful and historical? I would say not necessarily.

  2. Jana — I think you’re right abt fiction being suitable for propaganda. I think what I meant to delineate was fiction-as-entertainment, apart from a political motivation underlying propaganda. They aren’t mutually exclusive though, as you’re right to point out.

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