The Plague Bookclub

Our Plague Book Club recommends the following books for a Plague year:

The Alchemist (Ben Jonson) (1610)

The sickness hot, a master quit, for fear,

His house in town, and left one servant there.”

The Black Death (Philip Ziegler) (1969)

“All the citizens did little else except to carry dead bodies to be buried… At every church they dug deep pits down to the water-table; and thus those who were poor who died during the night were bundled up quickly and thrown into the pit. In the morning when a large number of bodies were found in the pit, they took some earth and shovelled it down on top of them; and later others were placed on top of them and then another layer of earth, just as one makes lasagne with layers of pasta and cheese.”

Bleak House (Charles Dickens) (1853)

“‘They dies everywheres,’ said the boy. ‘They dies in their lodgings – she knows where; I showed her – and they dies down in Tom-all-Alone’s in heaps. They dies more than they lives, according to what I see.'”

Chronicles (Froissart) (1377)

The object of this (flagellant) penance was to entreat God to put a stop to the mortality, for in that time of death (1349) there was an epidemic of plague. People died suddenly and at least a third of all the people in the world died then.”

Death in Venice (Thomas Mann) (1912)

“‘So there is no plague in Venice?’ Aschenbach asked the question between his teeth, very low. The man’s expressive face fell, he put on a look of comical innocence. ‘A plague? What sort of plague? Is the sirocco a plague? Or perhaps our police are a plague! You are making fun of us, signore!”

The Decameron (Giovanni Boccaccio) (c 1353)

“…the noble city of Florence…was visited by the deadly pestilence. Some say that it descended upon the human race through the influence of the heavenly bodies, others that it was a punishment signifying God’s righteous anger at our iniquitous way of life. But whatever its cause, it had originated some years earlier in the East, where it had claimed countless lives before it unhappily spread westward, growing in strength as it swept relentlessly on from one place to the next.”

Diaries (Samuel Pepys) (30 April, 1665)

Great fears of the sickness here in the City it being said that two or three houses are already shut up. God preserve us all!

The Great Hunger (Cecil Woodham-Smith) (1962)

New York and Boston, for instance, had the power to require masters of vessels to give a bond, a financial guarantee that no passenger would become a burden on the community…”

A Journal of the Plague Year (Daniel Defoe) (1722)

“The usual number of burials within the bills of mortality for a week was from about 240 or thereabouts to 300.”

Kristin Lavransdatter (Sigrid Undset) (1927)

She strove to show she knew them, and that she felt ’twas good they should be by her and wished her well. But to those who stood around it seemed as she were but fighting with her hands in the throes of death.”

Lourdes (Ruth Harris) (1999)

“…the cholera epidemic of the 1850s [led to pilgrimages to] a genuine scared presence in the Grotto.”

Love in the Time of Cholera (Gabriel García Márquez) (1985)

“…he had eyes only for the slightest hint that she might be a victim of the plague. She was more explicit: the young doctor she had heard so much about in connection with the cholera epidemic seemed a pedant incapable of loving anyone but himself.”

The Masque of the Red Death (Edgar Allan Poe) (1842)

The red death had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal — the madness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men. And the whole seizure, progress, and termination of the disease, were incidents of half an hour….And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. And the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.”

The Plague (Albert Camus) (1947)

Thus, in a middle course between these heights and depths, they drifted through life rather than lived, the prey of aimless days and sterile memories, like wandering shadows that could have acquired substance only by consenting to root themselves in the solid earth of their distress.”

A Revelation to John


Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, “Go, pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth.”

 The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly, festering sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped its image.

 The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead person, and every living thing in the sea died.

 The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. Then I heard the angel in charge of the waters say:

“You are just in these judgments, O Holy One,
    you who are and who were;
 for they have shed the blood of your holy people and your prophets,
    and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.”

 And I heard the altar respond:

“Yes, Lord God Almighty,
    true and just are your judgments.”

The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was allowed to scorch people with fire. They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him.

 The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in agony and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.

 The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East. Then I saw three impure spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet.  They are demonic spirits that perform signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty.

 “Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed.”

 Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.

 The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and out of the temple came a loud voice from the throne, saying, “It is done!”  Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since mankind has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake.  The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath.  Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found.  From the sky huge hailstones, each weighing about a hundred pounds,[a] fell on people. And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible.”

Those Terrible Middle Ages (Régine Pernoud) (1977)

“…the Bubonic plague, or the black death…touched no fewer than one man in three. Even so that estimate has turned out to be lower than the true number everywhere accurate figures have been possible to obtain.”

Timon of Athens (William Shakespeare) (1607-08)

“…go on, – here’s gold,- go on; Be as a planetary plague, when Jove Will o’er some high-viced city hang his poison In the sick air…”

[Main Image: The Pestilence by Hugh Henry Breckenridge, ca. 1918]


  1. Reply

    Smug of Glebe

    April 4, 2020

    How about ‘The Bethrothed’ by Manzoni?

  2. Reply

    ritchie ho

    April 4, 2020

    'Station Eleven'

  3. Reply

    Marty Rowntree

    April 4, 2020

    The best is The Stand, by Stephen King. He’s the master.

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