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Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self (2002)

by Claire Tomalin

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,7323210,135 (4.13)71
Samuel Pepys achieved fame as a naval administrator, a friend and colleague of the powerful and learned, a figure of substance. But for nearly ten years he kept a private diary in which he recorded, with unparalleled openness and sensitivity to the turbulent world around him, exactly what it was like to be a young man in Restoration London. This diary lies at the heart of Claire Tomalin's biography. Yet the use she makes of it - and of other hitherto unexamined material - is startlingly fresh and original. Within and beyond the narrative of Pepys's extraordinary career, she explores his inner life - his relations with women, his fears and ambitions, his political shifts, his agonies and his delights.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 30 (next | show all)
His libido knew no bounds; he exhibited his ruttish behaviour with all classes of women, of all ages (near and after puberty), and in all sorts of places. His energy was prodigious for he was up at all hours, walked everywhere in London, rose at an early hour, and returned home late having worked at his office, attended meetings, dined with friends, visited the Royal Navy shipyards, attended the theatre, or had sex with one of several mistresses. Pepys wrote his diary for himself, for his own pleasure, a recollection aide for events or decisions made, and was so certain of its importance for later generations that he had it bound in several volumes, with very specific directions and sums allotted for its deposition at Magdalen College at Cambridge, when he died. He was the world’s premier diarist and happily enough, he lived at the center of epic historical events that he was able to write it all down in an engaging style. The only misfortune is the diary covers only 10 years from 1660 to 1669. ( )
  ShelleyAlberta | Aug 27, 2022 |
Tomalin makes an excellent case for Pepys as a literary genius, and for the diary's intrinsic worth as literature over and above its value as history. The subtitle "The Unequalled Self" is perfect; the book demonstrates how the diary really is a supremely high-fi transcription of person (complete with blind spots and self-deceptions) to page. The other great charm of this biography is its tenderness for Pepys the man, while not occulting his personal failings (many of which he owned). Although perhaps an affection for the man is a prerequisite to enjoying the diary? In any case, this is what I come to literature for — to feel how it is to be other — and Tomalin groks how Pepys provides this service par excellence to his posthumous readers.

Inevitably the best part of this book is the diary years, when Pepys' energetic prose is on tap to supplement Tomalin's narrative. They're also Pepys' salad days, and his vigour is amazing to behold as he tears around London dispatching business and oysters in equal measure. His early life and his long (but not uneventful) post-diary existence seem kinda flat in comparison. But Tomalin is great at contextualising the people, places and events wihch Pepys describes, at setting the stage for the drama of his life. It's an essential companion to the diary and also, with its felicitous use of quotation, a great stand-alone read. ( )
  yarb | Sep 17, 2021 |
So interesting to move from fiction circa Henry VIII (Wolf Hall) to this. I very much enjoyed it and clearly the author had a wonderful time putting his life and writing and perspective in a larger frame. She covers the history he lived through as well as the unique role his Diary plays as part of historical writing and History with a big H. ( )
  Je9 | Aug 10, 2021 |
I've read enough fiction and nonfiction about Restoration England to know who Samuel Pepys was, but this biography provided a fuller account of his life and his famous diary than the glimpses I'd had previously. Analysis and overviews of the diary Pepys kept from 1660 to 1669 account for nearly a third of this book, dividing his life into periods before, during, and after he kept the diary so well known today. I found the later period of Pepys' life fascinating, as I hadn't known he was a loyal Jacobite and largely sacrificed his career due to his personal loyalty to James II, and, of course, the story of how the famous diary came to be discovered, transcribed, and published is a tale all its own. This is an excellent read for those interested in the Restoration period and is a highly valuable biography for fleshing out the entirety of Samuel Pepys' life. ( )
  wagner.sarah35 | Oct 17, 2020 |
Samuel Pepys is one of history’s most colourful characters, so I expected this biography to reflect that, but I only enjoyed the book in parts. I admit to skipping over certain dry or off-topic subjects that didn’t hold my attention.

By “off-topic”, I mean when the author includes too much detail about someone or some event related to Pepys, but not directly involving him. If this sort of thing had been cut, the bio would’ve been a much more entertaining read.

The political side of things didn’t interest me, except for Pepys’s direct interaction with Charles II and James II. Pepys’s personal life appealed to me most. His relationship with his wife and his adulterous affairs made for the most engaging reading. ( )
  PhilSyphe | Jun 26, 2020 |
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» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Claire Tomalinprimary authorall editionscalculated
Thouvenot, FrançoisTraducteursecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
The whole book, if you will but look at it in that way, is seen to be a work of art to Pepys's own address. Here, then, we have the key to that remarkable attitude preserved by him throughout his diary, to that unflinching - I had almost said that unintelligent - sincerity which makes it a miracle among human books...Whether he did ill or well, he was still his own unequalled self; still that entrancing ego of whom alone he cared to write. - Robert Louis Stevenson, 'Samuel Pepys'.
Un livre est le produit d'un autre moi que celui que nous manifestons dans nos habitudes, dans la société, dans nos vices. - Marcel Proust, Contre Sainte-Beuve.
[There is] in every one, two men, the wise and the foolish, and... each of them must be allowed his turn. If you would have the wise, the grave, the serious, always to rule and have sway, the fool would grow so peevish and troublesome, that he would put the wise man out of order, and make him fit for nothing: he must have his times of being let loose to follow his fancies, and play his gambols, if you would have your business go on smoothly. - Anthony Ashley Cooper, Lord Shaftesbury, to John Locke.
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At seven o'clock on a January morning, as the sky over London was growing light, a row broke out in a bedroom between a husband and wife.
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Samuel Pepys achieved fame as a naval administrator, a friend and colleague of the powerful and learned, a figure of substance. But for nearly ten years he kept a private diary in which he recorded, with unparalleled openness and sensitivity to the turbulent world around him, exactly what it was like to be a young man in Restoration London. This diary lies at the heart of Claire Tomalin's biography. Yet the use she makes of it - and of other hitherto unexamined material - is startlingly fresh and original. Within and beyond the narrative of Pepys's extraordinary career, she explores his inner life - his relations with women, his fears and ambitions, his political shifts, his agonies and his delights.

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