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Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Selfby Claire Tomalin
2002 Whitbread Book of the Year
2002 Whitbread Biography Award
Synopses & Reviews
The seventeenth century saw a revolution in man’s thought, as Isaac Newton and others began the scientific study of the universe around them. At the same time a shrewd young civil servant in London began to observe, with something of the same dispassionate curiosity, the strange object around which, for him, the universe revolved–himself. For ten years, beginning in 1660, Samuel Pepys secretly kept one of the most remarkable records ever made of a human life.
With astounding candor and perceptiveness he described his ambitions and peculations, his professional successes and failures, his pettinesses and meannesses, his tenderness toward his wife and the irritations and jealousies she provoked, his extramarital longings and fumblings, his coolly critical attitude toward the king he served and his watchful adaptation to the corrupt and treacherous life of the court. Pepys’s diary is a magnificent creation.
But there is more to Samuel Pepys than his diary, as Claire Tomalin makes clear in this profoundly original biography. Buttressing it with less familiar sources and other contemporary material, she is able to illuminate his entire life–as a poor London tailor’s son, as a schoolboy rejoicing at the execution of Charles I, as an aspiring clerk with good connections who transforms himself into a royalist, escorting Charles II to England for the Restoration. Then there is the bureaucrat heroically working against the odds to create a modern navy, finding his way through the dangerous years of political and religious conflict (even, at one point, being charged with treason and jailed), peacefully retiring at last with his books and his music and his friends.
It is Claire Tomalin’s unique skill as a biographer to achieve extraordinary intimacy with her subject, and Pepys is no exception. To the endlessly fascinating question of his relations with women, for example, she brings the same insight and freshness of approach that distinguished such highly praised books as Jane Austen and The Invisible Woman. At the same time, the historical context is never less than brilliantly evoked. The result is exemplary, by far the most revealing–and readable–portrait of the greatest diarist in the English language, a man of unmatched interest and importance.
"A sparkling, wonderfully readable biography....Plenty of tidbits from [Pepys's] diaries make their way into this thorough, richly detailed portrait....A fine work of literary and cultural history." Kirkus Reviews
"Tomalin writes brilliant chapters on all aspects of Pepys's life....Tomalin clearly admires her subject, whose energy she constantly praises. For those who have already enjoyed the diary, Tomalin's learned and entertaining work admirably fills in the gaps." Publishers Weekly
"[Tomalin] expands upon the characters and events...that affected Pepys' life and livelihood...pungently as well as vibrantly..." Ray Olsen, Booklist
For a decade, beginning in 1660, an ambitious young London civil servant kept an astonishingly candid account of his life during one of the most defining periods in British history. In Samuel Pepys, Claire Tomalin offers us a fully realized and richly nuanced portrait of this man, whose inadvertent masterpiece would establish him as the greatest diarist in the English language.
Against the backdrop of plague, civil war, and regicide, with John Milton composing diplomatic correspondence for Oliver Cromwell, Christopher Wren drawing up plans to rebuild London, and Isaac Newton advancing the empirical study of the world around us, Tomalin weaves a breathtaking account of a figure who has passed on to us much of what we know about seventeenth-century London. We witness Pepyss early life and education, see him advising King Charles II before running to watch the great fire consume London, learn about the great events of the day as well as the most intimate personal details that Pepys encrypted in the Diary, follow him through his later years as a powerful naval administrator, and come to appreciate how Pepyss singular literary enterprise would in many ways prefigure our modern selves. With exquisite insight and compassion, Samuel Pepys captures the uniquely fascinating figure whose legacy lives on more than three hundred years after his death.
About the Author
Claire Tomalin is the author of six acclaimed biographies: The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft; Shelley and His World; Katherine Mansfield: A Secret Life; The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens; Mrs. Jordan?s Profession: The Actress and the Prince; and Jane Austen. She has been a literary editor and reviewer, and lives in London with her husband, the novelist and playwright Michael Frayn.
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