Daniel Defoe and the Zombies

November 15, 2011

Though I’m one who probably ought to be ashamed to only know Daniel Defoe’s name for having once tried to read Robinson Crusoe, and, in truth, being completely ignorant until this very moment that he also penned Moll Flanders, I might suggest the minor buzz rippling across the internet at present suggesting he is also an integral figure in the history of zombie stories piques curiosities far broader and more respectable than mine.

At any rate, Andrew McConnell Stott explains:

Defoe-A Journal of the Plague YearDefoe’s novel, published in 1722, is a mutant factual-fiction that recounts the plague epidemic of 1665, which dispatched almost 100,000 Londoners. Purporting to be the “memorial” of a survivor known only as “H.F.”, it was based on genuine documentary sources, including the diary of Defoe’s uncle.

For something so grounded in fact, A Journal of the Plague Year conforms to the expectations of zombie narratives in almost every way. People look to the skies for the origin of the pestilence, as in George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead; its city of spacious abandonment and grassed-over streets anticipates the empty metropolis of Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later; and as the King takes flight and the law implodes, the living are faced with the decision to team-up or go it alone in the style of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, where zombie-battling is merely a skull-cleaving interlude between the real battles for resources.

What A Journal of the Plague Year doesn’t have is zombies—at least not explicitly. Still, the numberless, suppurating victims are apt to behave like the undead at every turn ….

No, really, I’ve got nothing on that. Although … there is an e-text of Dafoe’s story available from the University of Adelaide Library.



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