Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self

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9780140282344: Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self

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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Maritime History

Review:

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

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