Plague Lit

Have only gotten through the introduction to this one, big daddy of ’em all.  Am now on the cusp of chapter One (“I – Man The Hunter”).

Disease and parasitism play a pervasive role in all of life.  A successful search for food on the part of one organism becomes for its host a nasty infection or disease.  All animals depend on other living things for food, and human beings are no exception.  Problems of finding food and the changing ways human communities have done so are familiar enough in economic histories.  The problems of avoiding becoming food for some other organism are less familiar, largely because from very early times human beings ceased to have much to fear from large-bodied animal predators like lions or wolves.  Nevertheless, one can properly think of most human lives as caught in a precarious equilibrium between the microparasitism of disease organisms and the macroparasitism of large-bodied predators, chief among which have been other human beings.
Humans, virusing on each other!
Later, when food production became a way of life for some human communities, a modulated macroparasitism became possible.  A conquerer could seize food from those who produced it, and by consuming it himself become a parasite of a new sort on those who did the work… Early civilizations, in fact, were built upon the possibility of taking only a part of the harvest from subjected communities, leaving enough behind to allow the plundered community to survive indefinitely, year after year.
I might treat this book more like as a longterm project.

Defoe! Now he’s fun at least.

In 1685 he joined the rebel army of the Duke of Monmouth, the illegitimate son of Charles II… the revolt failed, but Defoe managed to escape unscathed and unidentified – riding to greet the new King William III and Queen Mary II in 1688, becoming a sort of informal adviser to them.  Then things get rocky.

Switching sides!  How did he pull that off?  That’s from the intro by Cynthia Wall.  I usually don’t read the introductions until after diving in, often never, but this is a good one.  Defoe, a wine merchant, pampleteer, always in debt, Robison Crusoe, Moll Flanders.  He died “of a lethargy” (what a way to go!  although I’m told it probably meant “stroke”) while hiding from people he owed huge amounts of money to.

Defoe was already a prolific and well-known author by the time he wrote A Journal of the Plague Year.  At the age of sixty-two he had had careers as a merchant, a spy, a political journalist, a religious and social satirist, a poet, a travel writer, an economist, an author of conduct books, and a novelist.

Journal of the Plague Year (the year was 1665, the book was written in 1720) is a kind of narrative non-fiction (half fiction?  that’s the whole joke with Defoe) narrated (sometimes?) by H. F., who’s probably based on Defoe’s uncle.
This is like a collection of horror stories, a little hard to read, but spicy.

I have heard also of some, who on the Death of their Relations, have grown stupid with the insupportable Sorrow, and of one in particular; who was so absolutely overcome with the Pressure upon his Spirirts, that by Degrees, his Head sunk into his Body, so between his Shoulders, that the Crown of his Head was very little seen above the Bones of his Shoulders; and by Degrees, loseing both Voice and Sense, his Face looking forward, lay against his Collar-Bone; and cou’d not be kept up any otherwise, unless held up by the Hands of other People; and the poor Man never came to himself again, but languished near a Year in that Condition and Died

Anthony Burgess in his 1966 introduction, included in this edition:

This is what it reads like and is meant to read like – a rapid, colloquial, sometimes clumsy setting-down of reminiscences of a great historical event… in reality it is a rather cunning work of art, a confidence trick of the imagination.

OK here we go!  The summer of 1348, ten young people flee Florence, go to the countryside, and tell one hundred stories, some of them funny, some of them sexy.

Trying to learn storytelling a few years ago, I dove into this one, but now I couldn’t find my copy.  This book is impressive for the sheer number of storytelling twists and plots:

but this go, can’t say I found it all that compelling.

Not to put it down, this is obviously an incredible achievement.

At the end Boccaccio has an epilogue that’s like a pre-attack on any possible criticisms.  Maybe more books should have that.

My favorite story remains the tenth story of the third day, about a virgin who is taught by a monk how to put the Devil back in Hell.

Don’t have a copy of this one in my house.  It sounds good!

Joseph Grand: Joseph Grand is a fifty-year-old clerk for the city government. He is tall and thin. Poorly paid, he lives an austere life, but he is capable of deep affection. In his spare time, Grand polishes up his Latin, and he is also writing a book, but he is such a perfectionist that he continually rewrites the first sentence and can get no further.

Hope to get to it eventually, but right now looking for something more amusing.

When I remember this era, will surely associate the early period more with Tiger King on Netflix.



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