Plague has always been with us throughout history and in literature. The first book of western literature, Homer’s Iliad, starts with the story of a plague that strikes the Greek army at Troy. At the dawn of modernity, the characters of Boccaccio’s Decameron try escape a plague in a rural estate and kill the time by telling stories. In Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, death stalks blackly on the streets of London. These are probably among the most illuminating and terrifying pieces of plague literature. Camus’s The Plague gives the topic a more modern tone on human destiny and condition. Thousands of years after Homer, plague is still with us now. Its comparative modern rarity only makes its mortality data all the more striking. H1N1, Ebola, SARS are all recent examples, and now there is a new one on the list--- the Novel Coronavirus pneumonia (COVID-19) that started in December 2019 in Wuhan, China, which quickly became a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).
In her famous book Illness as Metaphor, Susan Sontag points out how ‘feelings about evil are projected onto a disease. And the disease (so enriched by meanings) is projected onto the world” (58). This remark implies a complex relationship between the subject and the plagued world, whose nature has become even more constructed and imagined paradoxically in time of a real outbreak of plague nowadays when people heavily depend on social media to know what is going on in the world around them in a confined or even lockdown situation, a context when humanity is being tested not so much by the virus but by other humans. Existing scholarship, such as Jennifer Cooke’s edited collection Legacies of Plague in Literature, Theory and Film, often focuses on the metaphorical and cultural connotations of “plague”, but plague in the literal sense, either in fiction or in reality, is never really away from us. It imposes a site full of tension, ethical responsibility and decision, paranoid, community belonging/disintegration to people in the infected area without preparation. It is social as well as individual. Though these keywords have been discussed in their own right individually by literary critics, they have never been so intensely intertwined together elsewhere as in the (fictional) event of a plague. Texts on plague and their contexts are open to many critical and interpretative possibilities.