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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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.
“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.)
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