First Reading

David Quidnunc  •  Link

A book worth raving over:

Even if you don't want to know Pepys's future (with plot spoilers), buy this book! You can't get a better description of Pepys' life before the diary starts, for one thing.

Claire Tomalin's book is extremely detailed, extremely well written and simply has more and better material on Pepys than I've seen anywhere else. (I haven't seen Bryant's biography from the early 20th century, or the Latham & Matthews companion volume to their unabridged edition.)

If reading this site makes anyone curious for more information on Pepys, Tomalin is the best source. Stephen Cootes came out with a biography in 2000, and it's just left in the dust by Tomalin -- who did more research, thought about the subject more and brings up more material.

The book is also well-written: It really gives you a feeling of being in Pepys's world. (Have I convinced you to go to the "Further Reading" page on this site and click through to Amazon.com?)

I don't know if there's another place to find a detailed account of what Pepys's bladder operation would have been like (it's not grotesque -- it's dramatic and fascinating). She even tells us that the stone, which was described as the size of a tennis ball by John Evelyn, was not the size of our tennis balls, which are a bit bigger than the ones back then.

She has a description of what Hinchingbrooke, Huntington and Brampton are like today (still much the same as in Pepys's day, she says), and she gives great "snapshot" biographical portraits of various characters (I've been quoting and referring to them a lot in my annotations). Tomalin probably has the most well-rounded descriptions to be found anywhere of the women in Pepys's life.

The book is obviously put together with loving care by the publisher (they must've known this was Whitbread bait when they published it). If you go back to the footnotes, for instance (and even that section has some fascinating comments in it), you find that at the top of each footnotes page are references to the pages where the notes appear (for instance, "Notes to pages 79-86" appears at the top of one footnotes page.) This makes it extremely easy to find the footnote you're looking for.

Things I don't like about the book (and I've only read the first several chapters and then bounced around the rest via the index, reading bits here and there), and these are minute flaws:

--The map of London isn't detailed enough to satisfy a reader of the diary (although it's probably good enough for a reader of the book).

--After reading her on the politics of pre-Restoration Britain, I'm still hazy on the subject (of course, it's not a history).

--She doesn't translate French phrases (does everybody in the U.K. know French?)

--There's no family tree for Pepys's mother's family. Even if it were an extremely short family tree, I'd have appreciated one. Of course, the two-page Pepys family tree (including Montagu's family) is a goldmine of information in itself.

--I get the impression she discounts the political maneuvering involved in Downing's relations with Pepys. There are certain patterns of behavior among politicians that are pretty constant from that day to this, and I don't think Tomalin has a firm enough grasp of that. But even here, I have to say she has a pretty good grasp.

--There are numerous illustrations, and they're good, but the pictures in Stephen Cootes' "Samuel Pepys: A Life" are even better (so if you're in a library, open that book up).

qB  •  Link

I have just posted a question on the Guardian Newspaper's online booktalk website for Claire Tomalin (http://booktalk.guardian.co.uk/) and was astonished (and a bit dismayed) to discover that in the nine days the site has been up only 10 people have asked questions. Some of them more inane than my own.

So if the spirit moves you - get over there! You won't be trampled in the rush.

Roger Miller  •  Link

There's a review by Claire Tomalin in today's Guardian of 'Transformations of Love: The Friendship of John Evelyn and Margaret Godolphin' by Frances Harris.

"Claire Tomalin is moved by Frances Harris's account of an enduring emotional attachment between John Evelyn and a maid of honour at Charles II's court.."

See: http://books.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,12084,…

Bernard Meares  •  Link

Does everyone in England speak French, you ask. No, but everyone in England should speak at least one foreign language, if only to avoid the shame currently brought down on us for not doing so.
Pepys did, Charles II did, even Misses Pepys probably did.

dirk  •  Link

Advantages of speaking a second language: you can talk to your wife...

Catherine [of Braganza - Charles' queen]was not fluent with the English language and therefore always conversed with her husband in Spanish.

Bradford  •  Link

Tomalin's biography is currently the focus of the September Reading Group" on the New York Times Book Review" site:


[Free registration to the NYT is required.]

From the offerings on display, it seems safe to wager that nothing here will surprise the longtime Diary site reader. But it seemed worth calling attention to, esp. inasmuch as I remember the NYTBR editor's review of the biography, wherein he claimed that nowadays Pepys was little-read and little-known. Sauve qui peut.

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