Saturday, October 11, 2008

No More Pepys For Me

I've spent the last month reading the diary of Samuel Pepys, but as of today -- only one-third through the "Everyman" edition -- I'm calling it quits. No more Pepys for me!

Why?

I have an obsessive, completist nature; I can't stand reading only ONE book in a series, or owning only ONE album by a band. I need to indulge in media either wholly or not at all...if something is missing I feel like I'm losing the soul or sense of the thing.

It's very difficult to get a complete and unabridged set of Pepys' diaries...they tend to be sporadically released by small publishers, and even then you're not guaranteed a COMPLETE unabridgement. You see, Pepys wrote his diaries in a cryptic shorthand that has been translated variously by different people over the centuries...and, what's more, many of those translators wanted to protect the virgin minds of their Victorian-era readers.

I was aware that my "Everyman" edition was abridged, and I'd convinced myself that the editor had removed only the tedious Parliamentary details, but had retained all the stuff that would really communicate to me what Pepys' life and times were all about.

Sadly, after comparing it with the mostly-unabridged Pepys Blog (and the commentary which reveals the somehow-gleaned unexpurgated copy whenever necessary) I see that much of the human interest stuff HAS been removed, and anything racy was COMPLETELY edited out (in my edition, the footnotes keep saying things like "This passage is too vulgar for printing"). To hell with that! I want to know WHAT that drunken Lord was doing on the balcony, and I REALLY want to know what he was "washing" in his drink.

Now that I realize how little of the actual diary is contained in my two-volume edition I'm forced to put it aside. If I DO come across a complete version someday -- preferably one with useful footnotes -- I'll be happy to read it. But for now...no.

Regarding Pepys himself, I've tried to form an impression of the man, but it's difficult to do from this source material. I wonder how much the shorthand aspect ended up dictating his writing style. Also, while Pepys was very curious about all the events around him, he was somewhat lax about actually DESCRIBING them (at least in my edition). He says that events are "exceedingly exciting" or "most displeasing," and women are "the most beautiful" he has ever seen, but he never tells us WHY.

What's more there is no window into his own opinions, except for the most basic details. He will mention arguments he had with various people but he doesn't go into any of them in depth. You're left wondering who this staircase-building, monkey-beating, money-dispensing fellow REALLY WAS.

I liked the diaries and I was getting quite involved with the various intrigues -- the case brought against him in court, the King's philandering, his wife's dancing lessons -- but I never felt that I knew who Samuel Pepys WAS...and I can't bear wondering how much was cut from the text before I ever got to it.

6 comments:

jj said...

I have an obsessive, completist nature; I can't stand reading only ONE book in a series, or owning only ONE album by a band. I need to indulge in media either wholly or not at all...if something is missing I feel like I'm losing the soul or sense of the thing.

Lose the habit! That and being a perfectionist are unnecessary baggages that I fortunately never had. :)

Muffy St. Bernard said...

I suppose I COULD break the habit but it doesn't really do me much harm. The joy I lose from Pepys-like anxieties are more than matched by the joy of -- say -- reading all the Sherlock Holmes stories. :)

jj said...

joy of -- say -- reading all the Sherlock Holmes stories

The way I look at is: If it took a creative maverick a lifetime to write the stories then I might as well take a lifetime to savor them too. :)

Muffy St. Bernard said...

Not a bad outlook, JJ!

Personally, if I put a collection down and then come back to it much later, I often lose the thread of what I was reading and thinking previously.

Gary said...

Personally, if I put a collection down and then come back to it much later, I often lose the thread of what I was reading and thinking previously.

I used to think that way, too. However, life has taught me that intervening "exposures" (events, books, blogs, discussions, etc.) sometime result in a richer total experience - even if the train of thought, or thread, is lost.

An example was the drawing and quartering. You know that I had looked into it a few months ago, but never pursued it beyond the Wikipedia article. Dropped.

Lo and behold, your blog appears with Pepys's attendance at said event. Bam! My Wikipedia reading comes rushing back in all its gory glory!

It matters not a whit to me that it was a thread dropped and then resumed. Granted, I'm not reading linearly like you are. But I seem to enjoy the "random walk" and hooking things from one realm of knowledge to another. Like the alternate meaning of "slut" as a slattern, in the bygone days of Middle English.

That's just me. We'll not consider it a black mark on your record that your relationship with Pepys was but a dalliance.

And, yes, the Holmes canon seems to improve with each reading.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

I like the random walk as well, but I think my jumps are just shorter and less frequent. Like, I'll read three books in a row about one subject, and then jump to a different subject based on something interesting in the third book, etc.

And nothing makes me happier than the surprise of synchronicity! (Except halva...THAT makes me happier)