Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 753
Pepys’s capacity for infidelity is almost legendary. Shortly after he begins The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Pepys displays an ever-increasing need for his extramarital affairs. On May 20, 1660, when he is in the Netherlands to help escort Charles II back to England, Pepys takes a break from his labors and drinks too much. He then goes to sleep in his room, ‘‘where in another bed there was a pretty Dutch woman in bed alone, but though I had a month’smind I had not the boldness to go to her.’’
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Although Pepys can not bring himself to cheat on his wife on this first voyage away from home, he is not shy for long. On August 12, 1660, he drinks wine with Mrs. Lane, then ‘‘I [Pepys] was exceedingly free in dallying with her, and she not unfree to take it.’’ To add insult to injury, this first recorded transgression takes place on ‘‘Lord’s Day,’’ or the Sabbath. In the Protestant faith, Sundays were to be used for reflection, so Pepys was being unfaithful to his religion as well as his wife by partaking of such acts on the Sabbath.
However, even though Pepys’s exploits fill many pages of his memoirs, the affairs that had a more lasting effect on all of England were the scandals at the court of Charles II. The Palace of Whitehall, where the king and his court resided, gradually became known for the lascivious behavior that occurred there. These infidelities only added to the instability of the crown. Pepys hears that the Queen is upset that over the king’s ‘‘neglecting her, he having not supped once with her this quarter of a year, and almost every night with my Lady Castlemaine.’’ Just as Pepys’s infidelity threatens his marriage, the king’s infidelity threatens the whole of England. Since the king cannot provide stability in his own marriage, many of the citizens doubt he can achieve the stability that they desire in England.
Throughout the narrative Pepys demonstrates derogatory attitudes toward women that were common at the time. Although Pepys loves his wife, he does not permit her to talk back to him. On November 13, 1662, when she sends him a letter letting him know how unhappy she is, he is ‘‘in a quandary what to do, whether to read it or not, but I purpose not, but to burn it before her face, that I may put a stop to more of this nature.’’ Pepys’s view of a wife is the dutiful woman who takes care of the house and satisfies his needs. However, his wife, Elizabeth, does not live up to his exacting standards for either housekeeping or love, and so Pepys chooses to hire maids and have affairs.
In some cases, he accomplishes both goals, as with the maid, Deb Willet, the most tragic case in the narrative. As he does in other places throughout the work, Pepys recounts how he has asserted his influence and power to convince other girls to satisfy his needs. Willet is a young girl who tries to avoid her master’s amorous advances. However, she works for Pepys, so she eventually begins to give in to some intimate acts with Pepys to save her job. This goes on until October 25, 1668, when Elizabeth catches Pepys ‘‘embracing the girl.’’ It is the last straw for Elizabeth and she forces Pepys to throw the girl out. Pepys inquires after Willet a little while later, and finds that she is destitute, forced to live in ‘‘Whetstone’s Park, where I never was before.’’ The park is known for its prostitution and Pepys feels bad, writing that it ‘‘does trouble me mightily that the poor girle should be in a desperate condition forced to go thereabouts.’’
However, Pepys is not so worried about Willet’s potential future as a prostitute that he forgets his own lust for her. When he finds her he uses her again, then cautions her ‘‘to have a care of her honour’’ and to not let any other man touch her. Of course, in England at this time, the odds of the girl being able to take Pepys’s advice are slim. Her shame at getting kicked out of the Pepys household is hers alone and he will accept no blame. This mark on her record would follow her to any other job, and so one of the only avenues left to a single woman with no prospects for employment or marriage would be prostitution.