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Telling Figures and Telling Feelings: The Geography of Emotions in the London of Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year and Due Preparations for the Plague (1722)

Emmanuelle Peraldo
p. 167-183


Dans A Journal of the Plague Year et son hypotexte docu-romanesque Due Preparations for the Plague, Defoe utilise l’immense corpus statistique de son temps pour traduire de façon visuelle l’impact émotionnel et psychologique de l’expérience de la peste. La psychogéographie et la géocritique permettent de montrer qu’il crée une carte mentale du Londres de 1665 par le biais des statistiques disponibles dans les tables de mortalité et autres documents officiels. Faits, chiffres et documents subliment l’effet émotionnel et psychologique. Cet article se propose d’analyser ces deux textes comme de nouveaux territoires d’expression et d’analyse des émotions pour montrer comment les émotions peuvent être analysées par le biais des politiques et des organisations spatiales.

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  • 1  They will henceforth be referred to as JPY and DPP.

1In his two historical texts on the plague that hit London in 1665 and Marseilles in 1720, A Journal of the Plague Year and Due Preparations for the Plague,1 what is most important to remember about the Pestilence according to Defoe is the human affect and suffering in this “tragedy of the poor” (Bell v) and not only the many historical and geographical data, statistics and documents pervading the texts. In The Cure of the Passions and the Origins of the English Novel, Geoffrey Sill remarked upon the highly emotional print that had been neglected by critics in some of Defoe’s texts. He argues that the ideas developed by authors like Defoe, Fielding, Richardson and Fanny Burney owed a lot to the medical theory of the passions in their understanding of human action and emotion:

  • 2  “[H]is need for self-examination of one’s own passions may not make Defoe a psychological novelist (...)

[Defoe’s books have] come to be read as novels, but [...] were written to be read as natural histories of the passions – case studies of the perturbation of human nature by desires of various sorts, including youthful lusts for selfhood, irrational curiosities about death in the midst of a plague, and ambitions for a place in society to which one has no legitimate claim. (Sill 10)2

  • 3  Debord is at the origin of the Situationist movement and the dérive is “a mode of experimental beh (...)

2The displacement or the seclusion of the population of London during the plague of 1665 emphasizes the link between emotions and space, between the city and the individual, between the harsh reality of the plague and its impact on the people of London. Manuel Schonhorn wrote in an article on the geography of A Journal of the Plague Year that in his reconstitution of the London space of 1665 and of its past, Defoe expresses the sufferings and emotions of the London population in a considerate way: “Always thoughtful, decently emotional, Defoe, with his temperate and judicious reconstruction of the past, forces the present-day reader to consider those elements of the Journal which account for its endurance” (Schonhorn 398). The Journal and Due Preparations, replete with figures, with Bills of Mortality, and with lists of the parishes hit by the Pestilence, map the topography of the epidemic, but have other effects on the reader as well. This paper wishes to argue that the purport of the Quarantine policy, the Bills of Mortality and the accurate geographical references are an alternative way of telling the horror of the plague when words are not sufficient to represent the unimaginable and the ineffable. They are part of Defoe’s social geography of the plague (in his analysis of the spatial, social and economic patterns of the plague), but more crucially, they are part of Defoe’s geography of emotions in his way of connecting outer and inner space and of analysing the impact on people’s feelings and emotions of the spatial policies implemented in a period of crisis. Defoe’s Journal and its documentary counterpart both use the enormity of contemporary statistics to enforce the sense of the emotional and psychological impact of the trauma of the plague. There appear to be three different ways of reading space and geography in Defoe’s texts. Although the approach seems classical (geography as data), the milieu is material as well, hence the perspective of geography as social determinism; but the reading which seems to impose itself is the postmodern conception of geography seen through points of view and emotions. The “geocritical” and “psychogeographical” reading of Defoe’s texts in this paper will make it possible to consider them as a brand new territory for emotions and to see how emotions can be analysed by paying attention to geographical space and spatial organisations and policies. Guy Debord defines psychogeography as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, whether consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals” (8).3 Its chief characteristics are “urban wandering, the imaginative reworking of the city, the otherworldly sense of spirit of place, the unexpected insights and juxtapositions created by aimless drifting, the new ways of experiencing familiar surroundings” (Coverley 31).

  • 4  “It is the role of geocriticism to invest (partially) and to structure (a little) the crossroads b (...)

3Geocriticism as an interdisciplinary method of literary analysis consists in using geographical space as a tool. “Il appartient à la géocritique d’investir (en partie) et de structurer (un peu) le carrefour entre les différents arts convoquant la réalité matérielle et les coordonnées spatio-temporelles afin d’en tirer une représentation esthétique,” Bertrand Westphal writes (197).4 Geocriticism is based on three theoretical premises: the connection between time and space, transgression, and reference. Along with an analysis of the three different geographical approaches mentioned above, this paper will analyse the point at which psychology and geography collide in DPP and JPY. There Defoe provides, Coverley writes, “the prototype psychogeographical report” by creating a mental map of the London of 1665 with “the bare statistical facts, the precise topographical details and the peculiar local testimonies that were to become the hallmarks of psychogeographical investigation” (15).

Mapping the epidemic: geography as nomenclature

  • 5  Paul Vidal de la Blache is the prime French example.

4The accuracy of the figures that constitute the Bills of Mortality is very helpful for the historian and the social geographer to examine the epidemiological history and evolution of the Plague in London in 1665. “Mapping the topography of the epidemic in 1665 was a central technique for illuminating the epidemiological dimensions of the disease and its dialectic with the material and social environment of Restoration London,” Justin Champion notes (10). To the historian, the Bills of Mortality are treasure-troves to describe the progress of the disease and to “explore where and when people died” (Champion 33). This is what Jean-François Staszak (5) terms the classical approach to geography, studying space through figures and numerous data. It developed between the seventeenth and the nineteenth century and consisted in making lists and categories of rivers, cities, roads, etc., without necessarily considering the possible links between them.5 Defoe uses Bills of Mortality in his texts on the Plague as he claims he is writing an accurate form of history, but this contention is not true. He inserts five Bills in DPP and nearly four times as many in JPY. Most of the weeks studied are the same, the most deadly weeks of the plague from July to October 1665. DPP and JPY deal with the same historical event and were published within five weeks of each other. The Bills were first introduced in the early sixteenth century in order to warn the population about plague epidemics and they listed the weekly number of deaths and their causes in the London parishes. Everybody was allowed to see them. Using toponyms (names of London parishes), dates (weeks) and figures (number of victims), the Bills permitted to study the relationship between the “spatial patterns of mortality and the victims’ social and economic background” (Champion 10) in a very classical way. But there are discrepancies in the figures. The most important variation is the overall number of deaths from the plague for the year 1665 in London. JPY records that “the whole number which was brought in to die of the plague was but 68590” (115). The total number recorded in DPP for the year 1665 is 68596: “there died of the plague in London, and the villages about it, that is to say, within the lines of communication, 68596 in that year, and no more” (46.) The difference is not huge (only 6 deaths), but since it is the general figure for the whole plague year mentioned in the title of the Journal, this difference cannot be meaningless. Another example of manipulation of the sources relates to the following week, from the 19th of September to the 26th. Here is the table as shown in the Journal:

From the 19th of September to the 26th

St Giles, Cripplegate 277
St Giles-in-the-Fields 119

Clarkenwell 76
St Sepulchers 193
St Leonard, Shoreditch 146
Stepney parish 16
Aldgate 496
Whitechappel 346
In the ninety-seven parishes within the wall 1268
In the eight parishes on Southwark side 390
Total 4 927
(JPY 200, my emphasis)

5Defoe returns to this September week four times in JPY as if to “anatomise” it (115, 132, 191, 216). However the figures mentioned in DPP for the same period are different from those in JPY:

St. Saviour’s, Southwark 341
St. Olave, Southwark 324
St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields was but 171
St Giles-in-the-Fields 107
St Giles, Cripplegate 225
DPP 26, my emphasis)

6The first difference is that only the parishes of St Giles-in-the-Fields and St Giles, Cripplegate appear in both tables. The other parishes mentioned are different. Defoe might have used different sources or he might have changed the parishes studied on purpose. Now when one compares the figures for St Giles-in-the-Fields and St Giles, Cripplegate, one can notice that the order in which the parishes are studied is inverted and that the figures are different: 107 and 225 in DPP, 119 and 277 in JPY respectively. However slight the discrepancies may appear, they cannot be ignored in view of the fact that both texts were published simultaneously. It is odd for Defoe to have inserted Bills of Mortality in his narratives if he was not interested in the figures they contained. The figures may have slipped his attention, or it may alternatively mean that he considered the classical approach of the Plague by figures and statistics was not sufficient to explain such an event. The chronology of the event and the numbers of casualties are not his priority in his narrative. His purpose when using statistics and figures was not simply, it appears, to be true to facts, or even to feign verisimilitude, although the use of Bills of Mortality does achieve an effect of verisimilitude. This connection between the material infrastructure of urban life and the development of the disease enables Defoe to establish a social geography of the great plague and to underline the causal relationship between poverty and disease.

The social geography of emotions: approaching geography through the milieu

  • 6  Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. The outbreak of SARS in Hong Kong in 2003 nearly became a pande (...)
  • 7  “Defoe’s volume can be read as a quiet tribute to England’s capital city, a low-keyed record of th (...)

7The Bills of Mortality draw attention to the fact that the London poor were the real victims of the plague by listing the parishes where casualties were the highest, and this corresponds to the other modern approach to geography: the approach through the milieu. The plague developed so quickly in some areas because poorer people lived in overcrowded houses, facilitating the propagation of the epidemic. As Michel Lussault points out the social milieu is crucial in the explanation of an epidemic like SARS.6 Lussault’s analysis of how the epidemic process structures space and is structured by the social use of space in the case of SARS can be transferred to the reading of the plague and how it reflected the social occupation of the London space. The Bills describe how the city is divided into zones corresponding to the emotional responses they evoke. It was the poor and the lower part of the middle orders that suffered most from the plague: “By the early seventeenth century plague was concentrated in clearly distinguishable areas of each town, in the fringe parishes which were chiefly, though not wholly, inhabited by the labouring poor,” Paul Slack writes (143), noting that “most obvious from the London Bills was the concentration of plague in suburban parishes and hence among the poor” (239). So Due Preparations and the Journal tell “a tale of two Londons” (Moote 15), the London of the rich and the London of the poor. H.F. is sympathetic towards the poor in the Journal, and Defoe refers to “the poor’s plague”: “The Journal is a novel with a collective hero – the London poor – and though it ends with the triumphant voice of the saddler proclaiming his survival, it is the survival of London that matters” (Novak 243).7 Moreover, the errors in the figures may underline the general sense of disorder and confusion of that period, because of the Plague, and / or because of the wider context in which that event occurred. Indeed, since one of the main points of this paper has to do with the sensibility of the narrator in reflecting a sense of pity for those suffering through the plague year, it might be interesting to consider the impulse behind such feelings, as Pat Rogers suggests. The period (1720-1722) was one of psychological disruption because of the South Sea Bubble – a concept used in 1771 for the first time in the original edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (Vol. 3, 632) to make sense of the confused events of 1720 (Hoppit 163). In 1711, Robert Harley created the South Sea Company in order to pay the debt accumulated during the War of Spanish Succession (which ended in 1713). It was granted a monopoly on trade with Spain’s South American colonies. It is claimed that this project was not Harley’s, but really Defoe’s, as the latter secretly worked for Harley. Speculation in the company’s stock led to a great economic bubble in 1720, which ruined many people, but while some pitied the victims, others felt scorn or outrage, as they associated the bubble to the consequence of the pursuit of lucre and luxury. Defoe wrote extensively on the topic before – he mentions it in his letters to Harley (1711), in his articles in The Review (1711), in his pamphlet An Essay on the South-Sea Trade (1712) – but also after the disaster, in his fictional narrative A New Voyage Round the World (1724). The political dimension of Defoe’s writings and the impact of the scandal of the South Sea Bubble are likely to have determined his choice of topics and the way he developed them. I wish to argue that the plague and the disorder and chaos it generated in London may be the allegory of other problems of that time, such as the South Sea Bubble which engendered economic chaos, frenzied irrationality, ruin and despair among the population. Hoppit sees the South Sea Bubble as symptomatic of wider problems:

The South Sea Bubble could be viewed as a symptom of other problems, where luxury had infected society and atheism was rampant. One sign of that was the alarming rise of highway robberies about London and of Masquerades and a debauched stage within. It is worth recalling that in March 1721, there was a Privy Council Proclamation against the so-called Hell Fire Clubs, that in April a bill against blasphemy was introduced into the Lords, though it was not enacted, and that at much the same time a campaign was under way by justices in Westminster to suppress gaming houses. Thus it might appear providential that the plague broke out in Southern France in the autumn of 1720, prompting quarantine measures to keep it and God’s wrath at bay. There were, therefore, a range of issues of concern to the socially and religiously nervous in 1720 and 1721, and the Bubble needs to be put in that wider moral-reform context. (Hoppit, 163)

8Another consequence of the collapse of the South Sea Scheme is that it created doubts and suspicions against bankers and the banking system. It was a crisis of credit both in the financial meaning of the word but also in its link to trust and confidence. The general atmosphere in London in 1720 is one of distrust and fear, which can explain why the two brothers in DPP constantly question the figures given by the authorities in the Bills of Mortality.

9Feelings of fear are often expressed in Defoe’s commentaries on the Bills: “7496, a frightful Number indeed, and which was still dreadfully increasing” (DPP 188). “Frightful” and “Dreadfully” are used about figures, but they actually refer to the feelings aroused in people by these statistics and their evolution. At the end of DPP, Defoe describes the reaction of a man reading the Bills of Mortality and one realizes how much figures are a source of terror: “when he read the Bills of Mortality his Flesh would tremble, and he would fall into such Agonies as can hardly be described. And thus stood the Difference between the Prepared and the Unprepared” (205). The lists of deaths and their causes have the same effect as the Pestilence on his body, which shows the symptoms of the Plague (“tremble” and “agonies”) as if the Bills had such an impact on people’s emotions that they became ill just by reading them. Sometimes the Bills can arouse hopes when the figures go down: “However, the next Week there seemed to be some Hopes again; the Bills were low, the Number of the Dead in all was but 388, there was none of the Plague, and but four of the Spotted-Fever” (JPP 26). The didacticism of Due Preparations is replaced by vivid images in the Journal and emotions, sufferings and feelings are omnipresent in the more personal “journal” which gives an important part to the individuals suffering not from the Plague but from the death of their relatives:

When the Buriers came up to him they soon found he was neither a Person infected and desperate, as I have observed above, or a Person distempered in Mind, but one oppressed with a dreadful Weight of Grief indeed, having his Wife and several of his Children all in the Cart that was just come in with him, and he followed in an Agony and Excess of Sorrow. He mourned heartily, as it was easy to see, but with a kind of masculine Grief that could not give itself vent by Tears. (JPY 80)

  • 8  Though “Grands récits” (high narratives) and “Petits récits” (low narratives) are borrowed from Ly (...)

10What really matters for Defoe is the human impact and suffering, and it is not so much the geography of the plague that he is writing, but the geography of the emotions of the London people. The focus on the individuals and their sufferings is characteristic of Defoe’s geography of the plague, but also of his writing of History, and in the history of emotions, Defoe would come first for the depiction of the emotion of History. Defoe is writing a history of the plague but it is the kind of history that tackles human feelings, reactions and emotions. It is very much history from the bottom up, not the History of kings, chiefs of the army or historic battles (“Grands récits”) but much rather the (hi)story of normal people, of London citizens (“Petits récits”).8 The sympathy that is present in the characters, in the narrator, but also in the city’s response (“London might well be said to be all in tears” [JPY 37]) shows that Defoe does not consider statistics or the social and spatial determinism as sufficient to narrate the plague: emotions are the way of telling space and the city only exists through the discourse of people, through the narration of their emotional response to the epidemics. This focus on point of view and emotion, as opposed to the objectivity and neutrality of lists, statistics and figures, leads us to the study of a third geographical attitude, the postmodern conception of geography that rejects previous forms of writing geography in an objective way, and puts a premium instead on the point of view, feelings and emotional responses of those who experienced events.

Spatial policies and their impact: approaching geography through emotions

11London is represented as a suffering being by those who live there: “Sorrow and sadness sat upon every face” (JPY 37), alliteration reinforcing sadness. The city is personified: “The face of London was now indeed strangely altered” and “London might well be said to be all in tears” (JPY 37). The city is an individual and vice versa. Through that personification of space and places, Defoe emphasizes the human aspects of the plague from a variety of standpoints, among which HF’s various narratives, the story of the three artisans in the Journal, and that of the girl and her two brothers in Due Preparations. HF, the narrator of JPY, is actually Defoe himself hiding behind the initials of his uncle Henry Foe, and the autobiographical dimension is echoed in the representation of the suffering of families in the text, and the emotions triggered by the separation or seclusion policies that will be studied later. Eye­witnesses are omnipresent in Defoe’s texts and their testimonies enable the reader to feel the sufferings of these people that were stuck in their homes because of the Quarantine policy, and the Bills of Mortality are alternative ways of telling the horror of the Plague. They are part of the vivid account of human suffering through statistics, and their accuracy does not seem to matter. Although the figures are one way of expressing that suffering, Defoe is more interested in their effect on the population than in the absolute accuracy of the statistics. Facts, figures and documents are used to superb emotional and psychological effect. Of course, the vocabulary of emotion and sensibility also pervades both texts, and the geocritical / psychogeographical reading of JPY and DPP in this paper must not give the reader the impression that textual criticism and narratology are not crucial to the analysis of emotions in Defoe’s texts on the plague. HF uses preterition extensively in order to highlight emotions (“I have not words to express the poor man’s thankfulness neither could he express it himself but by tears running down his face” [JPY 133]). Emphasis on the senses (dreadful sights, terrible noises) and alliterations, the motif of tears, together with striking images (“dismal stories of living infants being found sucking the breast of their mothers after they have been dead of the plague”, [JPY 134]) pervade the text. But I have chosen to focus on space and its relevance in the literary study of emotion, and this final section will articulate the theme of emotion with the spatial concept of motion (or non-motion), since, for the English lexicographers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries such as Thomas Blount, Edward Phillips, Elisha Coles or John Kersey,9 emotion was first of all a “transportation”, a “motion” which raises the question of the territory of emotions, of circulation and migration.

  • 10  HF is more ambivalent about the quarantine policy though, and he sometimes admits the bare fact th (...)

12The Quarantine policy is described by Champion as follows: “the movements of goods and people were restricted to prevent the spread of the disease, and those who had contracted the disease were either isolated in their own houses or carried off to public hospitals” (88). There was, in that policy, a cause and consequence effect of motion or seclusion imposed by the Quarantine policy, and it had an emotional impact on individuals, especially in the spatial and emotional separation of the sick from the healthy. Champion underlines the absurdity of the quarantine policy: “once plague was diagnosed then the parish constable was empowered to shut up the house and all its inhabitants (infected or not) for 28 days. ‘Lord have mercy upon us’ was chalked on the doorway, along with a red cross of identification” (88): this shows that space and disease are actually and geographically linked by those inscriptions.10 Spatial policies had a strong impact on the inter-relationships between members of a same family, as is emphasized by HF in JPY. After noticing that “this shutting up of houses was at first counted a very cruel and unchristian method” (67), he develops the idea with examples illustrating the link between confinement and despair: “I am speaking now of people made desperate by the apprehensions of their being shut up, and their breaking out by stratagem or force, either before or after they were shut up, whose misery was not lessened when they were out but sadly increased” (74). He reiterates this denunciation over and over again: “I come back to the case of families infected and shut up by the magistrates. The misery of these families is not to be expressed, as it was generally in such houses that we heard the most dismal shrieks and outcries of the poor people, terrified and even frighted to death by the sight of the condition of their dearest relations” (JPY 74). But these policies also have a strong impact on each individual: “we cannot doubt but the severity of those confinements made many people desperate” (JPY 73). In these examples confinement, seclusion, and the shutting-up of people are always associated to their emotional impact (despair, fear, misery) and its manifestation. Space can be understood by the effect it has on people and by their way of expressing their emotions. Walking freely about the city or using stratagems to leave confined spaces become acts of subversion. This aspect of psychogeography can be perceived in its characteristic political opposition to authority (with which Defoe’s spirit of Dissent perfectly tallies) and in the committed role of the walker who is to observe for himself and to notice the manipulations of the population by the authorities. HF associates the phrase “to shut up houses” with “to shut up compassion” (152), the use of the same verb for spatial and emotional concepts underlining the close relationship between space and emotion. The Plague is no longer at the core of the account, but what seems to be worse than the plague is the way the authorities dealt with it through their spatial policies: in “terrified and frighted to death”, the direct cause of death does not seem to be the plague so much as the emotional impact the Quarantine policy has on people, as evidenced by the episode where the mother gets distracted after discovering the tokens of the plague on her daughter’s body (75). Fear is so strong an emotion that it can be more destructive than the Pestilence itself, and fear was triggered off essentially by the restriction of space. As Simon Varey shows, “Crusoe’s control of space (as well as money and commodities) defines his fears, his aspirations and his final achievement, which is to maintain possession of the whole island” (149). The same phenomenon is observed in Captain Singleton where fear crops in once space is circumscribed very accurately, even geometrically with the metaphor of the delimitation of space through the figure of the triangle:

The Creek was our defence on the North, a little brook on the West, and in the South and East sides, we fortify’d with a bank, which entirely covered our huts; and being drawn oblique from the North West to the South east, made our city a triangle. (...) Behind the bank, or line, our huts stood, having three other huts behind them at a good distance. In one of these, which was a little one, and stood farther off, we put our gun-powder, and nothing else, for fear of danger. (Captain Singleton, 45, my emphasis)

13In this passage there is a gradation in the restriction of space, which becomes smaller and smaller and is more and more delimited, until it generates a feeling of fear (“fear of danger”). Excessive control on space and the loss of the individual’s control of it both unleash fears and anxieties. As Coverley writes about the Journal, “the city is momentarily made strange, defamiliarized, as its inhabitants are granted a vision of the city as it might be, as heaven or hell” (38). HF stands for the figure of the wanderer in the urban environment, the mental traveller who reworks with his imagination the layout of the city of London. He is, however, prevented from doing so by the Plague, which dislocates the space of the city (through the policies of seclusion or displacement that have been studied before), and makes familiar topography look strange and frightening. As Schonhorn points out, “Defoe, projecting himself imaginatively into the plague scene, had to do more than simply reconstruct the London of nearly sixty years before; he had to re-create a London consumed by the Great Fire of 1666 which had swept away much of the area affected by the Plague” (388). The psychogeographical dimension of Defoe’s texts on the Plague lies precisely in that re-imagination of the city, in that re-creation of spatial data through the imaginative power of the author.

14The motif of displacement is also used extensively in JPY and DPP, first in order to dramatize the progression of the epidemics (“it began now to come eastward towards the part where I lived” [JPY 35]) then to show how dangerous displacement is (“this necessity of going out of our houses to buy provisions was in a great measure the ruin of the whole city, for the people catched [sic] the distemper on these occasions” [JPY 95]), and most crucially to epitomize the separation of families: “as to those cries and shrieks which he heard, it was supposed they were the passionate cries of the family at the bitter parting.” (JPY 69). The forced displacement of part of the population is described by HF in violent terms and the dislocation is more than the dislocation of space. It is the dislocation of the body torn by pain and emotional sufferings and the dislocation of families: “it was rather hurtful, having forced those desperate people to wander abroad with the plague upon them, who would otherwise have died quietly in their beds” (JPY 89). Finally, the collapse of the South Sea Scheme which “led to widespread and deep economic dislocation”, and which “produced social mobility by enriching many and impoverishing more still” (Hoppit 145) is echoed in the forced displacement of the population and the familial and social dislocation that are generated by it in JPY and DPP. 


  • 11  “Chaque cartographie de l’espace géométrique – chaque acte de représenter par l’image – laisse une (...)

15As Karl Figlio noted, “each mapping of geometrical space – each act of representation by the image – leaves a void between what is present in the emotional space and what appears in the mapped space. The finite aspect of geometrical space cannot comprehend the infinite dimension of emotion” (Sibley 207).11 Defoe’s geography of the plague and of emotions illuminates the social dynamics of the epidemic of 1665 and the repressed emotions that can be read in texts saturated with figures. Geographical data and figures are there because nothing could exceed the horror of the plain facts epitomized by the Bills of Mortality. In a very postmodern way, by telling figures, Defoe tells feelings – or rather he shows the impossibility of telling such terrible feelings and emotions through the objectivity of nomenclature. By focusing on the geography of the plague, by using tables, lists of parishes and figures, he depicts in an apparently classical way a city and its agony; but by creating an intrinsic connectedness between the use and restriction of space and the effect it had on the people’s affects he really manages to define the city at the time of the epidemic in the same way as the room in Boris Vian’s L’Écume des jours shrinks as the main character’s days are numbered. The use of geography, geocriticism and psycho-geography emphasizes the link between urban environment, the epidemic and the London people in 1665, and the image of a solitary walker navigating in the city and recording his impressions of it dominates the psychogeographical tradition Defoe inaugurates. The city and the individual appear as interdependent. The city only exists through the discourse of the individual who suffered in it.

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Primary Sources

Defoe, Daniel. A Journal of the Plague Year. 1722. London: Harmondsworth, Penguin Classics, 1986.

Defoe, Daniel. Due Preparations for the Plague As Well for Soul as for Body. 1722. The Works of Daniel Defoe. Ed. G. H. Maynadier. vol. 15. Boston: David Nickerson, 1903.

Defoe, Daniel. The Life Adventures and Pyracies of Captain Singleton. 1720. ECCO. 2008. Gale Cengage. U de Paris 3. 2 May 2011 

Defoe, Daniel. An Essay on the South-Sea Trade, with an Enquiry into the Grounds and Reasons of the Present Dislike and Complaint Against the Settlement of a South-Sea Company. 1712. ECCO. 2008. Gale Cengage. U de Paris 3. 2 May 2011

Defoe, Daniel. A New Voyage Round the World. 1724. ECCO. 2008. Gale Cengage. U de Paris 3. 2 May 2011

Vian, Boris. L’Écume des jours. Paris: Christian Bourgeois, 1963.


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Coverley, Merlin. Psychogeography. Harpenden: Pocket Essentials, 2006.

Debord, Guy. “Introduction to a critique of urban geography.” Situationist International Anthology. Ed. Ken Knabb. 1981. Revised and expanded edition. Berkeley, CA: Bureau of Public Secrets, 2006. 8-12.

Hoppit, Julian. “The Myths of the South Sea Bubble.” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 12 (2002): 141-65.

Lussault, Michel. L’Homme spatial. La Construction sociale de l’espace humain. Paris: Seuil, 2007.

Markley, Robert. “ ‘So inexhaustible a Treasure of Gold’: Defoe, Capitalism and the Romance of the South Seas.” Eighteenth-Century Life 18.3 (1994): 148-67.

Moore, John Robert. “Defoe and the South Sea Company.” The Boston Public Library Quarterly 5.4 (1953): 175-88.

Moote, Lloyd A. and Dorothy C. The Great Plague; The Story of London’s Most Deadly Year. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 2004.

Novak, Maximillian E. “Defoe and the Disordered City.” PMLA (1977): 241-52.

Peraldo, Emmanuelle. Daniel Defoe et l’écriture de l’histoire. Paris: Champion, 2010.

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1  They will henceforth be referred to as JPY and DPP.

2  “[H]is need for self-examination of one’s own passions may not make Defoe a psychological novelist in the usual sense, but it does suggest a new balance between religious and humanist elements in Defoe’s fiction” (Sill 74).

3  Debord is at the origin of the Situationist movement and the dérive is “a mode of experimental behaviour linked to the conditions of urban society. […] Debord came to recognize the essentially personal nature of the relationship between the individual and the city, sensing that this subjective realm was always going to remain at odds with the objective mechanisms of the psychogeographical methodology that sought to expose it” (Coverley 93, 101). Debord’s Rapport sur la construction de situations et sur les conditions de l’organisation et de l’action de la tendance situationniste internationale inaugurated the Situationist movement in 1957.

4  “It is the role of geocriticism to invest (partially) and to structure (a little) the crossroads between the different arts using material reality and space and time markers so as to get an aesthetic representation of it” (my translation). Westphal adds : “La spécificité de la géocritique réside dans l’attention qu’elle prête au lieu” (198 : “The specificity of geocriticism lies in the attention it grants to the place”).

5  Paul Vidal de la Blache is the prime French example.

6  Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. The outbreak of SARS in Hong Kong in 2003 nearly became a pandemic.

7  “Defoe’s volume can be read as a quiet tribute to England’s capital city, a low-keyed record of the vitality of a great people under the most insufferable hardships they had known in modern times,” Schonhorn writes (398).

8  Though “Grands récits” (high narratives) and “Petits récits” (low narratives) are borrowed from Lyotard, I use them differently. “Grand récit” designates here the public, the facts that leave a print on the History of humanity, and “Petit récit” the individual.

9  Lexicon of Early Modern English <> (27 May 2012). For Randle Cotgrave in A Dictionary of the French and English Tongues (1611), Esmotion is “An emotion, commotion, sudden, or turbulent stirring; an agitation of the spirit, violent motion of the thoughts, vehement inclination of the mind”; for Thomas Blount in Glossographia or a Dictionary (1656), it is “a stirring or moving forth”; for Edward Philips in The New World of English Words (1658), it is “a moving out, a stirring up, also trouble of mind” as it is for Elisha Coles in The English Dictionary of 1676.

10  HF is more ambivalent about the quarantine policy though, and he sometimes admits the bare fact that it wasn’t necessarily “absurd” in principle.

11  “Chaque cartographie de l’espace géométrique – chaque acte de représenter par l’image – laisse une béance entre ce qui est présent dans l’espace émotionnel et ce qui apparaît dans l’espace cartographié. La finitude de l’espace géométrique ne peut comprendre l’infinitude de l’émotion.” 

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Emmanuelle Peraldo, « Telling Figures and Telling Feelings: The Geography of Emotions in the London of Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year and Due Preparations for the Plague (1722) », XVII-XVIII, 69 | 2012, 167-183.

Référence électronique

Emmanuelle Peraldo, « Telling Figures and Telling Feelings: The Geography of Emotions in the London of Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year and Due Preparations for the Plague (1722) », XVII-XVIII [En ligne], 69 | 2012, mis en ligne le 15 juillet 2016, consulté le 24 février 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/1718.617

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Emmanuelle Peraldo

Université de Saint-Étienne

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