Portraits of Pepys

Jenkins meets Widermerpool at Lady Molly’s. Widermerpool is looking wan but revives when he starts to talk about an invitation to visit Dogdene. “The reflection seemed to give him strength. I thought of Pepys and the ‘great black maid’; and immediately Widmerpool’s resemblance to the existing portraits of the diarist became apparent. He had the same put-upon, bad-tempered expression. Only a full-bottomed wig was required to complete the picture.” [ALM 194/195]

Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) was an administrator of the Royal Navy and a member of Parliament during the reigns of Charles II and James II.  He is famous for the diary that he wrote from 1660 to 1669, first published in 1825, in which he gives a vivid account not only of his personal affairs but of the whole of London during the Restoration.  Powell was fascinated by this period of English history and wrote a book on John Aubrey, who like Pepys, is a major source on the intellectual and social history of the period. Aubrey and Pepys were well acquainted; both belonged to the Rota club, a London debating society.

This passage toward the end of ALM refers back to Powell’s pastiche of a Pepys’ diary entry early in ALM (see Constable, Pepys, and Veronese at Dogdene). Pepys wears a long (‘full-bottomed’) wig to match the seventeenth century fashion for men to keep their hair long. Wigs became popular in England when Charles II returned to the throne in 1660, bring the fashion from France, where he had been in exile. Pepys wrote in his diary:

“3rd September 1665: Up, and put on my coloured silk suit, very fine, and my new periwig, bought a good while since, but darst not wear it because the plague was in Westminster when I bought it. And it is a wonder what will be the fashion after the plague is done as to periwigs, for nobody will dare to buy any haire for fear of the infection? That it had been cut off the heads of people dead of the plague.”

Portrait of Samuel Pepys Engraved by T. Bragg for the 1825 edition of Pepys Diary original portrait by Geoffrey Kneller

Portrait of Samuel Pepys
Engraved by T. Bragg for the 1825 edition of Pepys Diary
original portrait by Geoffrey Kneller

 

Kenneth Widmerpool lunching at his Club Mark Boxer cover illustration for At Lady Molly's  Flamingo edition, 1984

Kenneth Widmerpool lunching at his Club
Mark Boxer
cover illustration for At Lady Molly’s
Flamingo edition, 1984

 

Pepys is dour enough in his portrait, but our vision of Widermerpool is also informed by this caricature drawn by Mark Boxer, which appears on the cover of the Flamingo edition (1984) of ALM.

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