There’s no need to go through an exhaustive summary of the novel—besides, you might want to read it yourself—but before the Darkness arrives, some years pass; the relationships grow ever more complicated (we see in those relationships the pale ghosts of Mary’s own problems—and losses); there is war; death. And then some dark news arrives. Let’s let Mary tell it;
We, in our cloudy isle, were far removed from danger, and the only circumstance that brought these disasters all home to us, was the daily arrival of vessels.
And those vessels brought news—a plague.
The narrator says: Can it be true each asked the other with wonder and dismay, that whole countries are laid waste, whole nations annihilated, by these disorders in nature?
And then Lionel becomes the storyteller—writing what he calls his journal of death. London struggles to carry on—even the theaters remain open.
The months pass; the crisis deepens; the deaths accelerate at alarming rates; lawlessness becomes an increasing problem. Hopeful Lionel sees a glimmer of light: We were all equal now. But the England he knew is gone.
In the fall of 2096 survivors gather in London and decide to emigrate. And so their wanderings commence. And then there are only fifty remaining. The number dwindles to four. And then Lionel in Italy. Alone. He considers suicide. He decides to write instead and takes a year composing the book that we are reading. As far as he knows, he is … the last man. He resolves to take to sea in a small boat.
Mary, by the way, does not imagine much of a technological future. There is travel by balloon. Steamships are common. But her interests did not really include technology; her focus was on people, on fear, on loss, on hope and then hopelessness. And knowing what we know about her own fears and losses creates more slices of the scalpel across our hearts.