Review 1321: Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self

Cover for Samuel PepysYears ago, I attempted to read Samuel Pepys’s diary, but I didn’t make much headway. However, I was reading it without any context. Now that I’ve read Claire Tomalin’s excellent biography of Pepys, I am interested in trying it again.

For one thing, I was not aware that Pepys worked his way up, by his great energy and organizational skills, from a poor beginning to an eminent position in the British admiralty. He was responsible for setting up many of the procedures used today. In the diary’s beginning, he is just a lowly clerk who seems to go out drinking a lot.

But Tomalin’s admiration is for Pepys’s unstinting truthfulness, even when it makes him look bad, as well as the literary and historical value of the diary. In short, he was a marvelous writer who documented significant events in a tumultuous period of British history.

Tomalin’s talent as a biographer is in giving her readers a true feeling for the personality of her subject. Pepys was a pleasure seeker, a womanizer, and not always an honest man, but he was curious, cultured, highly intelligent, dedicated, and faithful to his patrons. Although he had a poor opinion of both Charles II and James II, he served them faithfully, even when it was against his best interests. Pepys turns out to be a very interesting person.

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8 thoughts on “Review 1321: Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self

  1. Naomi February 28, 2019 / 3:09 pm

    I think Gretchen Rubin often quotes the diaries of Samuel Pepys, which is how I know of him at all. It’s pretty cool to have a such an old and (by the sounds of it) detailed diary still in print so many years later!

    • whatmeread February 28, 2019 / 3:58 pm

      I was an English major, so I heard about him a lot, but I think I will maybe put him on my next Classics Club list. That’ll be a challenge!

  2. Helen February 28, 2019 / 3:24 pm

    I read this a few years ago and enjoyed it, but still haven’t tried to read the actual diary. Pepys did seem like an interesting person.

    • whatmeread February 28, 2019 / 4:00 pm

      Yes, quite a few years ago, someone was posting a diary entry a day on the internet, and that’s when I tried to read it. I think it might be the kind of project that you didn’t want to read all in one swoop but that you read more of than one entry a day.

  3. Carmen February 28, 2019 / 6:05 pm

    I learned of Pepys through the PBS miniseries The Great Fire. It seemed he kept Charles II somewhat grounded by telling him the unvarnished truth.

    • whatmeread February 28, 2019 / 6:11 pm

      I’m not surprised. I’ll have to look for that series.

      • Carmen March 1, 2019 / 5:45 pm

        It’s a miniseries, just three or four 1-hr episodes. Some viewers slammed it, but I did like it as I didn’t know anything about the personalities of that period.

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