Covid-19: Comparative Literature

Resource Bank


Camus, Albert, La Peste: récit. Paris: Editions Belin, 2012
(originally published in 1947).
English edition:  The Plague (Penguin Modern Classics), Introduction by Tony Judt, translated by Robin Buss. London: Penguin, 2002.
Set in the 1940s, thousands of rats overrun the Algerian French town of Oran, bringing the plague with them. La Peste  recounts the fight against the contagion, and the resultant lockdown.

Defoe, Daniel, A Journal of the Plague Year.  Introduction by Anthony Burgess, edited by Christopher Bristow. London: Penguin, 2003
(also available on Project Gutenberg)
An account created by Daniel Defoe, possibly reconstructed from the journals of his uncle Henry Foe, on one man’s experiences of the Great Plague of London in 1665.

Thomas Mann, Der Tod in Venedig. Frankfurt: Fischer: Ungekürzte Ausg edition, 1995
English edition: Death in Venice and Other Stories, translated by David Luke. New York: Bantam Books, 1988.
A famous author, Gustav von Aschenbach, visits Venice during an epidemic of cholera, to which he himself finally succumbs, and develops a “passion as confusion and degradation” for a beautiful adolescent boy.

Saramago, José, Cegueira. Lisbon: Editorial Caminho, 1995.
English edition: Blindness, New York: Random House (Vintage Classics), 2013.
A mass epidemic of blindness strikes an unamed city, sparing only one protagonist, a doctor’s wife. Conditions  break down beyond repair, and the city is engulfed with violence and disease.


Atwood, Margaret, Oryx and Crake. London: Virago, 2013.
An account of a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by bioengineering projects, and a global pandemic which has ensued from a wonder drug created by a pharmaceutical compound.

Atwood, Margaret, The Year of the Flood. London: Virago, 2013.
In the pre-apocalyptic world of Oryx and Crake, the novel recounts the beliefs of a millenarian religious sect called God’s Gardeners who, in a sense, predict the wipe-out of the human species through a viral pandemic.

Atwood, Margaret, MaddAddam. London: Virago, 2014.
The concluding novel is Atwood’s dystopian trilogy, recounting the circumstances in which some survivors of the biological apocalypse attempt to rebuild human communities.


Trevor Maynard (ed.) Poems From The Lockdown
Willowdown Books: April 2020. An anthology of 146 poems by 115 poets, submitted through the website The Poetic Bond.


Christiansen, Allen Conrad, Nineteenth-Century Narratives of Contagion: ‘Our Feverish Contact. London: Taylor & Francis, 2005.

Cojocaru, Daniel, Violence and Dystopia: Mimesis and Sacrifice in Contemporary Western Dystopian Narratives. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015.

Gilman Ernest,  Plague Writing in Early Modern England. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.

Grigsby, Bryon Lee, Pestilence in Medieval and Early Modern Literature. London: Taylor & Francis, 2003.

Mitchell, Peta, Contagious Metaphor. London: Bloomsbury, 2014.

Nünning, Ansgar and Kai Marcel Sicks, Turning Points: Concepts and Narratives of Change in Literature and Other Media. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2012.

Outka, Elizabeth, Viral Modernism: The Influenza Pandemic and Interwar Literature. New York: Columbia University Press, 2019.

Thomas Rütten, Martina King, and Moritz Baßler, Contagionism and Contagious Diseases: Medicine and Literature 1880 – 1933.  Berlin: De Gruyter, 2013

Stearns, Justin K., Infectious ideas: Contagion in Premodern Islamic and Christian Thought in the Western Mediterranean.  Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011.

Totaro, Rebecca and Ernest B. Gilman, Representing the Plague in Early Modern England. London: Taylor & Francis, 2010.

Žižek, Slavoj. PANDEMIC! COVID-19 Shakes the World. OR Books, 2020.


Belling, Catherine, “Overwhelming the medium: fiction and the trauma of pandemic influenza in 1918”. Literature and Medicine, Vol. 28 (1), 2009: 55 – 81.

Judd, Catherine Nealy, “Western plague literature, the Irish Famine and Anthony Trollope’s Castle Richmond“.  Irish Studies Review, Vol. 25 (3), 2017, 215 – 240.

Kilgore, Christopher D. “Bad networks: from virus to cancer in post-cyberpunk narrative”. Journal of Modern Literature, Vol. 40 (2): 165 (19).

Morgan, Thomas E. “Plague or Poetry? Thucydides on the Epidemic at Athens”. Transactions of the American Philological Association, Vol. 124, 1994: 197 – 209.

Nashef, Hania A. M., “Specters of Doom: Saramago’s Dystopias in Blindness and the Cave”. Orbis Litterarium, Vol. 17 (3), 2015: 206 – 233.

Orwin, Clifford, “Stasis and Plague: Thucydides on the Dissolution of Society”. The Journal of Politics, Vol. 50 (4), 1988: 831 – 847.

Stanley, Sandra Kumamoto, The Excremental Gaze: Saramago’s Blindness and the Disintegration of the Panoptic Vision”. Critique, Vol. 45 (3), 2004: 293 – 308.


Donner, Mathieu. “Contagion and the Subject in Contemporary American Speculative Fiction”. The University of Nottingham, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2017.

Jacobson, Carolyn, “Contagious transmissions and charged atmospheres: Disease theories and narrative in early Victorian novels”. University of Pennsylvania, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2008.

McLaughlin, Don Love, “Infectious Affect: The Phobic Imagination in American Literature”. University of Pennsylvania, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2017.

Smith, Katherine, “Conceptions of Disease Contagion in Ancient Literature”. Masters Thesis, Queen’s University, Ontario, Canada, 2013.


Arshi Adib-Moghaddan, “Bani Adam: the 13th century Persian poem that shows why humanity needs a global response to the coronavirus“. The Conversation, March 27, 2020.
A reading of the poem Bani Adam (Human Kind) by the Persian-Muslim polymath Sa’adi concerning the common existence and destiny of humanity.

Cambridge Reflections: COVID-19.
A series of blog posts by Cambridge authors in response to the present crisis and beyond. Featuring posts: “Reading Ovid in a Time of Social Isolation”, “Mary Shelley’s The Last Man and COVID-19 and other pieces relating to W.H. Auden and The Age of Anxiety, The Iliad and Sophocles’ Oedipus the King.

Campbell, Sophie, “London’s Last Lockdown“, LGT, April 28, 2020. An account of the still existing historical signs of the plague in St Olave’s Church and other landmarks in London’s Square Mile, and one of its most noted parishioners, Samuel Pepys.

Cormer, Brendan, “Pandemic Objects: Home-Made Signs“. V&A Blog, Victoria and Albert Museum, 4 May 2020

Virginia Heffernan, “The Literature of Plagues Gives Us Words to Live By“. An account of relevant literary works such as Boccacio’s Decameron, Procopius of Caesaria, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

Matar, Hisham, “Hisham Matar on how the Black Death changed art forever“. The Guardian, 6 June, 2020.
An account by the author Hisham Matar on how the Black Death of 1348 transformed Renaissance art.

Tom McTague, “COVID-19 Lessons for World Leaders From Medieval Literature“, The Atlantic, March 24, 2020.
Analogies and comparisons from the society depicted in the Anglo-Saxon elegy Beowulf.

Orhan Pamuk, “What the Great Pandemic Novels Teach Us“.  New York Times, April 23, 2020.
The 2006 Nobel prizewinner gives an overview of the representations of plague in the literature of the 17th and 18th century, comparing the attitudes of the day to the reactions to the coronavirus pandemic.

Parks, Tim. “Milan in a time of coronavirus: a dispatch from Northern Italy“.
A reflection relating to the numerous epidemics that occurred in Florence that occurred in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and Milan in the plague of 1630, relating this to the response of Renaissance authors such as Boccacio and Alessandro Manzoni. Times Literary Literary Supplement, March 20 2020.

Pen America, Literature in the Time of Coronavirus: A Reading List.
Works both historical, such as The Plague by Albert Camus, and contemporary novels published in the last decade, by Anne Boyer, Ling ma and Eula Bliss, among others, treating illness and mortality. 

“Quarantine Reads”, The New York Review of Books.
In this contemporary series, writers reflect on the books and authors helping them to make sense of the present age.

Arundhati Roy, “The Pandemic is a Portal”, Financial Times, April 3 2020.
Arundhati Roy writes on the helplessness of the world before the COVID-19 virus, and the present situation in India.

Saunders, George, “A Letter To My Students As We Face the Pandemic“, The New Yorker, April 3 2020.
With reference to the poem “Requiem” by the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova.

John Self, “Why people are turning to pandemic fiction to help process the Covid-19 crisis”. Penguin Books, April 1 2020.
Relating the present epidemic to canonical novels about plague and disease by Albert Camus, Daniel Defoe, Mary Shelley and José Saramago.

Olga Tokarczuk, “A New World Through My Window“. The New Yorker, April 8, 2020.
The 2018 Nobel Prizewinner reflects on the world she observes through her window in lockdown.

Alissa Wilkinson, “Read these twelve moving essays about life during coronavirus”. Vox, April 5, 2020.
Twelve intellectuals, including Ali Bhutto, Kristian Vistrup Madsen, Leslie Jamieson and Arundhati Roy offer multiple perspectives on the present and future in a changed world.

Winkler, Elizabeth, “Through the Smudged Pane: Pandemic Consciousness in Mrs Dalloway”. Times Literary Supplement, May 29 2020.
The characterisation of Clarissa Dalloway in the light of the Spanish Flu pandemic.

Xu Zhangrun, “Viral Alarm: When Fury Overcomes Fear”. China File, February 10, 2020.
An essay by the university professor, intellectual and dissident Xu Zhangrun concerning the COVID epidemic in the context of China’s society and present governance, with reference to Western literature and Chinese philosophy.


Khatib, Joumana, Concepción de León, Tammy Tarmng and Alexandra Alter, “Your Quarantine Reader“, New York Times, March 13 2020.
A list, with descriptions, of mostly contemporary novels related to pandemic, contagion and quarantine.


15 Poems For Surviving the Coronavirus
Poems to read in lockdown by Robert Hass, Frank O’Hara and Mary Oliver, among others on relevant aspects of the human experience.

WRITE where we are NOW
An initiative led by Carol Ann Duffy and the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University: poets from around the world have been invited to compose poems, presented on the site in date order, concerning the coronavirus pandemic or about the personal situation they encounter themselves in.


StoryCenter, Stories from the Global Covid-19 Pandemic
The founding Center for Digital Storytelling – that is, recorded and multimedia narratives – hosts and curates stories recounting experiences during the lockdown. Webinars and training are offered, together with a  facility to submit writing and recordings.

Escape Goat
A “collective serial novel” composed by 46 writers, 46 visual artists, with 46 translators: one chapter a day, is published online at 3.00 pm, the whole intended to comprise “what will become a great document of these times of social isolation”. The project is based on the original in Portuguese, “Bode Inspiratório” and is overseen by the author and journalist Ana Margarida de Carvalho.

Quarantine Book Club
Based in New York, this online book club holds weekly meetings and workshops via Zoom with a wide range of specialists and authors on social, political and literary aspects of the present situation.



Webinar organised by ICLA committee members Divya Dwivedi and Shaj Mohan for UNESCO, scheduled for June 29, June 30 and July 30 entitled “Is It Possible to Talk of Evil in the Time of the Pandemic?” Download the call, theme and participants: UNESCO Webinar: Evil in Time of Pandemic


Oxford at Home: Shakespeare and the Plague.

An account of the truth behind the common idea that Shakespeare might have composed King Lear when in lockdown during the plague. Hosted by Professor Rana Mitter and guest Professor Emma Smith of the University of Oxford, and author of This Is Shakespeare.

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