Plague literature

Never once did I think I would read plague literature under the foolish assumption that such things do not occur in the modern world, which Albert Camus satirizes in his novel The Plague. Here is the exchange between two doctors who are confronting a new and deadly form of bacillus in the port town of Oran, Algeria:

‘Yes, Castel,’ he replied. ‘It’s hardly credible. But everything points to its being plague.’

Castel got up and began walking toward the door.

‘You know,’ the old doctor said, ‘what they’re going to tell us? That it vanished from temperate countries long ago.’

‘”Vanished”? What does that word really mean?’ Rieux shrugged his shoulders.

‘Yes. And don’t forget. Just under twenty years ago, in Paris too. . . .’

‘Right. Let’s hope it won’t prove any worse this time than it did then. But really it’s . . . incredible.’

These medical professionals know better than laypersons that plagues do not vanish, which makes the disbelief in plagues “incredible,” attributable only to the wizardry of modern science and technology.

As we brave the new coronavirus, my instinct is to go behind the headlines and read literature for its sensory vividness, psychological acuity, and philosophical depth — all to bear up under our plague.


    • Holy Scripture: Exodus (chapters 1-18, 32), Psalm 91
    • Sophocles, Oedipus Rex (429 BC)
    • Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron (1313-75)
    • Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year (1722)
    • Mary Shelley, The Last Man (1826)
    • Edgar Allen Poe, A Masque of the Red Death (1842)
    • Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment (1866)
    • Jack London, The Scarlet Plague (1912)
    • Thomas Mann, Death in Venice (1912)
    • Katherine Anne Porter, Pale Horse, Pale Rider (1939)
    • Albert Camus, The Plague (1947)



Book of Exodus

    • Adam Kirsch, “A Passover Unlike Any Other” (The Wall Street Journal). Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the Jewish holiday that begins next week will be celebrated in new ways — and gain new meanings.

Sophocles, Oedipus Rex 

Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron 

Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year

Mary Shelley, The Last Man 

Edgar Allen Poe, A Masque of the Red Death

Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment 

Jack London, The Scarlet Plague

Thomas Mann, Death in Venice

Katherine Anne Porter, Pale Horse, Pale Rider

Albert Camus, The Plague

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