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.

Charles Dickens: A Life

Claire Tomalin, Charles Dickens: A Life

Thanks to Geoffrey and Rachel Paul

There is a great deal of interest in Charles Dickens this year, the bicentenary of his birth.  Claire Tomalin’s biography is a remarkable contribution to this, combining academic rigour, engaging narrative and penetrating analysis.  It is extraordinary in its scope, leaving the reader with a holistic picture of the great, albeit flawed, author.  Tomalin manages to make a long, detailed work absorbing – it actually reads like a novel and certainly moves at a faster pace than an average Dickens.  I found her portrayal of Dickens’s memory and attention to detail especially interesting – she gives the impression that apart from his obvious literary capabilities, he often wrote about small but endearing quirks in people he had once come across.  A really memorable work, one I intend to reread.