Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Unequaled Self

Unequaled SelfOne of my first posts on this blog directed your attention to an online version of The Diary of Samuel Pepys. Pepys (1633-1703) rose from humble beginnings to become a high ranking English civil servant, Member of Parliament, and confidant of Kings during perhaps the most turbulent time in modern British history. His fame, however, lies in his private diary (1660-1669), at the time unique, and remarkable to this day for its eyewitness accounts and personal candor.

Pepys was seldom heroic; much of what he tells us about himself and the London of his day is unpleasant. He and London are frequently all too human. Only recently have versions of his coded diary appeared uncensored. Yet he transcends his time and place with a zest for living and honesty (at least in private) that is admirable and all too rare. Claire Tomalin, the noted English biographer, won the Whitbread Book Award in 2002 for her Samuel Pepys - The Unequaled Self, which I have just finished. It was wonderfully written, adding context and detail to my daily doses of Sam and making him part of my extended family.

While it helps to have an interest in English history during Sam's time - I am well underway writing a history of my own - Tomalin's book and the online diary are worthy for their window into the larger human condition - how far we have come, and haven't. As a bonus, the daily contemporary annotations on the website are frequently as interesting and amusing as Pepys. I recommend both highly.

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