cover image The Journal of Mrs. Pepys: Portrait of a Marriage

The Journal of Mrs. Pepys: Portrait of a Marriage

George, Sara George. Thomas Dunne Books, $21.95 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-312-20554-6

Historians have gleaned much of what they know about late 17th-century London from the detailed, copious and sexually explicit diaries of Samuel Pepys (1633-1703). What if Pepys's wife had also kept a diary? George (Acid Drop) combines an intimate knowledge of England's capital city (where she lives), serious historical delving and a way with character to create a meticulous first-person novel in the tradition of Robert Graves's Wife to Mr. Milton. Samuel Pepys, who enjoyed the patronage of the Earl of Sandwich, lived at the epicenter of activity in early Restoration London, and he rose through the ranks of the Navy Office to become a leading official. He was also an unfaithful, and sometimes impecunious, husband. Elizabeth grew up in a Dutch convent, married for love and died young. Like her husband, George's Elizabeth depicts the return of the English King Charles II to the throne, the plague of 1665 and the Great Fire that ravaged London in 1666. But George has set out to do justice to the vicissitudes of Elizabeth's private life as well to the great events of the era. The results are touching, but most readers likely will care less about Elizabeth's trials than about her crisp comments on the courtly culture of the time: ""Sam was furiously displeased with me for wearing white locks, wouldn't say anything, kept silent and then suddenly came out with it... only whores wore them."" The narrative incorporates archaisms without sacrificing fluidity as George succeeds in bringing modern readers into the mindset of an appealing, if ultimately saddening, 17th-century wife. (May)