The History of Literature #232 – The Diary of Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) was a successful administrator and general man-about-town in Restoration London. As a devoted theatergoer, a capable bureaucrat, and a privileged witness of the King and his court, he saw firsthand many of the most important developments of the 1660s, including events like the Great Plague of London (1665) and the Great Fire of London (1666). And he was one of the world’s great diarists, carefully recording his daily life and general observations in a work he kept secret from all eyes but his own. For over a hundred years his name was little known, until the publication of the diary shocked a nineteenth-century audience. Here was a previous London brought to life – a city rich with intrigue and packed with sexual escapades and scandals – and here too was an unassuming narrator, whose descriptions of food and fashion and activity and his own marriage and many infidelities, proved a perfect guide to transport readers to another era. Pepys’s diary became a perfect bedside book, readable even today for its fascinating detail, wry good humor, joy and heartbreak, and insight into the human condition.

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