Samuel Pepys

Claire Tomalin, Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self

I bought this book because I was so enamoured of Tomalin’s more-recent biography of Charles Dickens – short review here.

I enjoyed this one almost as much, although inevitably, since Pepys lived longer ago than Dickens, more speculation is needed to fill the lacunae.  I find Tomalin’s style easy to read yet packed with information – more like an engaging novel than the large-tome biography that it is.  Drawing extensively on Pepys’ diary and other contemporary documents, she provides a fascinating insight into her subject’s life, his troubled marriage, serial philandering and his professional accomplishments, and also delivers an important snapshot of mid-17th-century London, especially during the tumultuous years of the plague and great fire.  I hadn’t realised that Pepys’ diary covers only about 10 years of his life, but Tomalin does an excellent job in seamlessly piecing together the remaining years.  The record of Pepys’ suffering from ‘the stone’ and the eye-watering account of his pre-anaesthetic, pre-sterilisation surgery to rectify it is especially memorable.