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Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self Paperback – 3 Jul 2003
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The Pepys we know lived for only nine years and five months. Tomalin gives us the rest of the man, and also a startling new way to read him. Thomas Mallon, "The New Yorker " Tomalin not only brings him back to vibrant life, but makes a powerful case that he s more central, more relevant than we ever imagined . . . She has restored to us the whole Pepys. Charles McGrath, "New York Times Book Review," front cover Brilliantly believable . . . It takes an exceptional biographer to go so confidently beyond the apparent totality of daily experience presented in Pepys s "Diary ." . . Claire Tomalin s life [of Pepys] is a magnificent triumph. Her research has been not just scrupulously thorough but dazzlingly imaginative. Philip Hensher, "Atlantic Monthly " Tomalin s writing is as supple and lively as Pepys s own, and by fleshing out the backdrop to his "Diary "writings, she has created the perfect bookend to his own rollicking self-portrait . . . The best work on Pepys since Robert Louis Stevenson s classic essay, published in 1881. Michiko Kakutani, "New York Times " Our greatest diarist, analyzed by one of our greatest biographers. Tomalin s flawless research and trademark empathy with her subjects should make this portrait of one of the most fascinating characters of 17th-century England the best biography of the autumn. Caroline Gascoigne, "Sunday Times" (U.K.) Immaculately well done. She writes with such beautiful clarity, always empathetic . . . There is about this biography a wisdom, an unforced feeling that the biographer has a sense of the way life is . . . Like all great biographies, "Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self "has a hint of the love letter about it. And it is a love that becomes contagious. Craig Brown, "The Mail on Sunday "(U.K.)"
About the Author
Claire Tomalin has worked in publishing and journalism all her life, becoming literary editor first of the New Statesman and then of the Sunday Times. She is the author of six highly acclaimed biographies and has won the Whitbread First Book Prize, the Hawthornden Prize, the NCR Book Award and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Biography. Claire Tomalin lives in Camden Town, London with her husband Michael Frayn.
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What Tomalin does here is portray a kind of greatness in Sam Pepys which is both literary and profoundly human. His political loyalties swung alarmingly, not because his survival depended on it, but because his work as a supremely efficient naval administrator demanded it. Pepys the republican gloried in the beheading of Charles I, yet clung loyally to a much-loathed monarch, James II, a quarter of a century later. He lived through some of the most violent and turbulent times in England's history, a tailor's son, a Seething Lane Londoner, a naval administrator who hardly ever went to sea, and a husband to Elizabeth. That relationship is at the heart of Tomalin's fascination with this quixotic, moody genius, and much of it makes for compelling reading. Despite the very useful cast of characters at the start, family narratives with labyrinthine genealogical connections will weigh down your patience somewhat in trying to unravel who's who in this 17th century soap opera, but stick at it! The way farce merges into tragedy and back again with all the kowtowing to kings and kickbacks from merchants reveals the man as it reveals the era. As the biographer says, 'a man of this world Pepys had always been, and remained; righteous indignation buoyed him up, and he was not going to turn his face to the wall.' That just about says it all, but Tomalin makes sure we also learn important things about history, psychology, science, music, because these were the glittering facets of the mind of the man called Samuel Pepys. Where is the like today?
However, I've felt the need to gather some background information about Samuel Pepys' life and times, and I've found Ms Tomalin's biography to be an excellent starting point. Of course it doesn't cover the period in full historical detail - that would take a very much longer volume - but what it does do is put put Pepys firmly into his time, while also going into detail about his domestic and professional affairs - all of which go to make the Diary such a compelling read.
The other thing it does is cover Pepys' life beyond the scope of the Diary. His upbringing, and his turbulent career after he set down his pen finish the picture of an life that was both extraordinary - for he was very successful professionally - and full of everyday life, acutely observed. And lastly, it brings out Pepys' great self-awareness and his expression of it in the Diary, which was something genuinely new at the time. Samuel didn't just observe other people with acuity, he watched himself as well.
Pepys was a successful navy administrator. contributing greatly to the growth of what was to become The Royal Navy. As was usual in his time he became rich through the dealings and the presents that he obtained by virtue of his post. In modern terms, he was hopelessly corrupt. He would have been of interest to 'Operation Yewtree' as he sought sexual favours from his young maids and wives of men looking for employment. All of this he detailed in his diaries, which he kept from 1660 to 1669.
The diaries cover the great plague of London and the great fire of London, of which Pepys provides vivid eye-witness evidence.
Claire Tomalin conveys the literary skill that Pepys had in conveying the events that he saw and participated in and she also provides useful background information on the people with whom Pepys was dealing. And she takes the life beyond the diaries (Pepys reluctantly gave up keeping the diary in May, 1669 as he feared he was going blind. In fact, modern prescription glasses would have corrected his sight quite easily, it is thought). Pepys career was finally brought to an end due to his allegiance to the catholic James II, but by then he was sufficiently rich to be able to live in comfort anyway. A fascinating life, which gives insight into the civil service of the seventeenth century well portrayed by Ms Tomalin.
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