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The Journal of Mrs Pepys: Portrait of a Marriage    by Sara George order for
Journal of Mrs Pepys
by Sara George
Order:  USA  Can
St. Martin's, 2000 (1999)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* *   Reviewed by Sally Selvadurai

This book, like any journal, puts down on paper the (imagined in this case) thoughts and aspirations of the author. Elizabeth Pepys was the wife of renowned diarist Samuel Pepys; this book gives us a taste of what it might have been like to be married to a man such as him. Through the eyes of Elizabeth we are given a broad look at conditions in seventeenth century London; marriage often before the age of fifteen, the common occurrence of the death of infants before they were two years old, the problems encountered in staffing and maintaining a household of servants, and the differences in the living standards between the rich and noble, and the working classes.

Sara George has indeed researched the period well, drawing heavily on Samuel Pepys' own diary for details of their domestic situation. She portrays the gradual change in fortune (for the better) of the Pepys household. This includes the horrors of the great plague with several thousand deaths in London each week for months, leaving it a ghost town. There is also the dreadful great fire of London, which completely destroyed the inner city, burning so hot that molten lead ran in the streets. The debauchery and lasciviousness of the ruling royal family are also documented - their affairs were more commonly known and flaunted than they have been in recent years, but they still invoked tremendous gossip and speculation.

This was a book that took a while to read. While I enjoyed the historical detail and accuracy, I could never quite relate to Elizabeth as a person, at least until almost the end when we see more of her humanity. Her early jottings in the journal did not tug at the heartstrings as the content warranted. They seemed oddly third person for someone living the anguish of terrible tragedy, deceit and betrayal. That said, The Journal of Mrs Pepys was still a reasonable read - not a book that consumed all my attention, but one that could be picked up for a quick perusal of an entry or two, then put away for a while and resumed later.

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