Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self Paperback – 3 Jul 2003
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Claire Tomalin was born to write a biography of Samuel Pepys. Her previously acclaimed biographies of Jane Austen and Mary Wollstonecraft have defined her as a scrupulous biographer who establishes a unique empathy with her subjects. In Pepys Tomalin has found her perfect subject, a man who is "both the most ordinary and the most extraordinary writer you will ever meet".
Pepys wrote his diary throughout the 1660s, "a period as intellectually thrilling as it was dangerous and bloody", and Tomalin's book vividly brings to life the tumultuous world of 17-century London, where Pepys grew up. Pepys' life spanned the execution of one king and the restoration of another, and Tomalin elegantly recreates both Pepys' public and private lives. From his early days in London and then Cambridge, Tomalin pieces together the crucial years when "the private Samuel Pepys began to develop and yearn". She chronicles his rise through the bureaucracy of the restored king, Charles II, to his position as energetic reformer of the navy and successful husband to his vivacious, mercurial wife Elizabeth. But the book also deals with Pepy's personal tragedies, his struggle to secure patronage as a commoner, his frank and hilarious extra-marital exploits, and the cataclysmic Fire of London in 1666.
This is a fine biography of an extraordinary man who "found the energy and commitment to create a new literary form" while also coming across as a generous, likeable, flawed human being. Tomalin's admiration for her subject is infectious, and will ensure that her biography becomes the standard reference for anyone interested in both Pepys's life and his art.--Jerry Brotton
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.)"See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
The combined effect of Pepys' musings and (wheeler-)dealings, and Tomalin's seamless contextualisation, brings Pepys' life and times alive. I cringed with pain as his bladder stone was removed in a barbaric operation, I could almost feel his avarice as he began to rake in kickbacks from the naval contracts he was authorised to approve, and I'm sure anyone would understand his near-euphorical egotism as plague spared him while all around old friends dropped like flies.
Aside from the gripping story of his life, Tomalin also makes valid and interesting arguments to explain the extraordinary events of the period in which Pepys lived (specifically the decline of the Republic and the restoration of the monarchy), and describes how the uniqueness of the diary allows us to identify with Pepys in a way that we could never have identified with anyone before him; firstly because his writing style was revolutionary, giving us a window onto his life with detachment and honesty, and secondly because during the period in which he lived, changes came into being which sowed the seeds for modern Britain and modern society as a whole.
I thoroughly recommend the book, which would also make an excellent gift.
One doesn't need to have read the diaries to enjoy this biography, and indeed I would recommend reading this before tackling Pepys himself. A book that's both entertaining and educating. Worthy of the accolades and awards that it has attracted. Having read this, I'll be reading the diaries once again with much more knowledge and understanding.
Tomalin has managed to expand the Pepys we think we know - she makes the many facets of this complex man shine. Administrator, schemer, lover, hypochondriac, aesthete, musician, scholar, man-about-town. The often contradictory aspects of his character are brilliantly explained; the gap between the public face and private passions and beliefs.
This is essentially the story of one of the first "self made men" in the modern world - Pepys rises from relatively humble country stock to the fringes of power during and after the Restoration. Tomalin makes the political and historical background clear, explains Pepys' involvement with the key players and brings a lot of new light onto his brief imprisonment in the Tower and his return to public eminence. This is a readable, witty and compassionate biography of a complex and driven man - a wonderfully entertaining and insightful book.
Everyone who has ever enjoyed reading Pepys' diary should read this.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A wonderful biography of an amazing personality from an exceptional biographer.Published 29 days ago by Paranago
Beautifully written & deeply and satisfyingly researched. A must-read before embarking upon the diaries themselves.Published 5 months ago by MrGyges
The balance of knowledge, insight and good writing is just right. So much so that this grips like a novel and when he dies you feel the loss.Published 5 months ago by Amazon Customer
Brilliant book,gives you a clear ,vivid insight into his life and many others.Published 6 months ago by L. Trendall
This book is very well written and not too in depth to be boring. Claire Tomalin makes the whole story of Samuel Pepys's life very interesting.Published 6 months ago by A. E. Baker
I cant say that I like all Claire Tomalins work but this is absolutely excellent. Apart from her treatment of Pepys there are fascinating insights including the amazing... Read morePublished 7 months ago by Nutwood Bear
Enjoying reading Samuel Pepys books as I am learning so much from them.Published 7 months ago by Jane Fraser