damned_colonial: Austen-esque young lady reading a book with ships in background, saying "I read history a little as a duty." (reading history)
[personal profile] damned_colonial posting in [community profile] readingthepast
It's July 1st. Let the "Plagues and Pandemics" discussion begin!

I'll be posting some questions/prompts for discussion over the next month, at least one a week and hopefully a bit more than that. If anyone else has points for discussion, please feel free to post with them. I am responsible for making sure *some* discussion posts happen, but I'm happy to share!

For now I'd like to open up with something very general:

What have you noticed are the main similarities and differences between the various plague stories you've read?

What impressions did you get regarding the author's historical research? How do you think the author's understanding of the period in question affected the way the story was told?

Date: 2009-08-01 04:37 am (UTC)
starlady: (compass)
From: [personal profile] starlady
I noticed the dilemma of the author's knowledge playing itself out, too--in some ways I actually thought Fever, 1793 solved the problem most elegantly, since Andersen has the Benjamin Rush vs. the French doctors (with Rush being basically a medieval quack, and the French being modern) debate play out within the book, and actually have readily observable consequences for the protagonist and her family. I live right near Philadelphia, actually, and it was something of a shock to see Rush taken down those pegs, since he's still something of a favorite local son.

In general, living near Philadelphia, I thought Andersen did a great job of capturing it as it was at the time--which isn't surprising, since she lives in the PA suburbs of Philly.

Date: 2009-09-05 08:41 am (UTC)
daegaer: (Default)
From: [personal profile] daegaer
While I haven't been able to keep up with anything this summer since getting sick, I remember how very moved I was by Doomsday Book generally. Was the mediaeval chronicler referred to the Irish monk John Clyn? His note about putting by writing materials so that anyone who survived could continue the account he could no longer write is very sad:

"So that notable deeds should not perish with time, and be lost from the memory of future generations, I, seeing these many ills, and that the whole world encompassed by evil, waiting among the dead for death to come, have committed to writing what I have truly heard and examined; and so that the writing does not perish with the writer, or the work fail with the workman, I leave parchment for continuing the work, in case anyone should still be alive in the future and any son of Adam can escape this pestilence and continue the work thus begun."

Date: 2009-07-02 07:52 am (UTC)
legionseagle: (Default)
From: [personal profile] legionseagle
Wrt to "survivors" thing I wonder whether my attitude to the expectation that the pov character will survive is coloured by the fact that the first book I read (that I can recall) in which plague was a theme was The Children of Green Knowe over the course of which the pov character gradually comes to realise that his invisible friends, the four children from the 17th century portrait over the mantelpiece, are children precisely because they died in the plague, and are therefore captured in time at that moment. The big reveal of Charlotte Sometimes is to similar effect. I wonder if there's a difference between children/YA treatment of plague as a theme, perhaps because plague means something different as a theme (which reminds me, I need to re-read Camus, because I've forgotten who dies there).

Date: 2009-07-02 06:27 pm (UTC)
al_zorra: (Default)
From: [personal profile] al_zorra
The element that first most stood out for me after having read several plague works is that the books, whether fiction or non-fiction, were almost all presented from an interior, isolated perspective, no matter how detailed the observation of the events and atmosphere external to the narrative voice.

This is an effect of a plague, historically, to divide people, to isolate them from one another, from fear of death and fear of violence and predation.

This is so for both Journal and for Fever Season, but in such very different ways, if only because one is fiction and the other is journalism on the spot.

Knowing New Orleans and its traditions very well, Hambley's Fever Season, which was her second Benjamin January-New Orleans work, her research is always declaring itself loudly. She hadn't lived with the place and the material long enough to have internalized the milieu, so it was flat reading. You saw her period map of the city open next to her keyboard.

However, in terms of Fever Season, that January could make an alliance with a white man in authority made some sense. However, in reality, it was the Americans in that era post the Louisiana Purchase, who instituted the strict and rigid and relentless separation of race, and the declaration that any one with 'one drop,' was a n*gger, no matter what. These matters were seen very differently by the Americans, who were protestants, than by the older, European tradition Catholic 'creole' population, whether white or colored, slave or free.

Love, C.

Date: 2009-07-02 07:10 pm (UTC)
al_zorra: (Default)
From: [personal profile] al_zorra
I knew that -- but even today we have many journalism works published post the time of occurance.

However, though Defoe didn't live in the period of the Great Plague, London experienced frequent epidemics of greater and lesser degree during his lifetime that carried off significant numbers of Londoners in a short period.

The highest total of deaths of an epidemic in London was in 1681, fatal smallpox. It returned with high fatalities in 1689 and 1691. Defor was 29 in 1689 and 30 in 1691. The Queen died in London of smallpox in 1694.

Here's a history of plagues and epidemics in London.

Love, C.

Date: 2009-07-04 04:16 pm (UTC)
epershand: An astrolabe. (Astrolabe)
From: [personal profile] epershand
I read Doomsday Book, A Journal of the Plague Year, and The Great Influenza (nonfiction about 1918 inflenza pandemic). So I hit two influenzas, two plagues, and no cholera, etc.

A couple of things I noticed across books:
- The idea of a pandemic as an almost supernatural occurance, striking where, when and whom it chooses and completely out of human control.
- Related, the battle of humans and technology against disease.
- All three books layed down moral judgements, JotPY and DB against those fleeing the plague who brought it with them, and GI againt the public health officials who lied about the extent of the pandemic to tone down the panic.

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