Penelope Mortimer

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Penelope Mortimer
Penelope mortimer.jpg
Born Penelope Ruth Fletcher
(1918-09-19)19 September 1918
Flintshire, Wales, U.K.
Died 19 October 1999(1999-10-19) (aged 81)
Kensington, England, U.K.
Occupation journalist
Spouse(s) Charles Dinmont (1937-1949, divorce)
John Mortimer (1949-1971, divorce)
Children Caroline Mortimer (with Dimont)
Jeremy Mortimer (with Mortimer)
Madelon Dimont Burk ()
Julia Mankowitz ()
Deborah Rogers ()
Sally Silverman ()

Penelope Ruth Mortimer (née Fletcher, 19 September 1918 – 19 October 1999) was a British journalist, biographer, and novelist. She wrote a semi-autobiographic novel in 1962 titled The Pumpkin Eater which was turned into a 1964 film. Anne Bancroft was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as 'Jo Armitage', a character based on herself.

Personal life[edit]

Mortimer was born Penelope Ruth Fletcher in Rhyl,[1] Flintshire (now Denbighshire, Wales, the younger daughter of Amy Caroline Fletcher & the Rev AFG Fletcher,[2] a Anglican clergyman, who had lost his faith and used the parish magazine to celebrate Soviet persecution of the Russian church.[3] He also abused her sexually.[3]

Mortimer later wrote of her father: "I think he was a clergyman for one reason only; there was nothing else!, as Nellie Fletcher's second son, he could possibly have been. As a small boy, bullied and teased by six sisters and four brothers, he sat under the nursery table chanting 'Mama, papa, all the children are disagreeable except me', to the tune of Gentle Jesus'."[2]

Her father frequently changed his parish and she attended numerous schools. Mortimer was educated across the country. Croydon High School; the New School, Streatham; Blencathra, Rhyl; Garden School, Lane End; St Elphin's School for Daughters of the Clergy; and the Central Educational Bureau for Women.[2] She left University College, London,[4] after only one year.[3]

She married Charles Dimont, a journalist, in 1937;[3] and they had two daughters,[3] including the actress Caroline Mortimer. She had two daughters through extra-marital relationships with Kenneth Harrison and Randall Swingler. She met barrister and writer John Mortimer while pregnant with the last child and married him in 1949, on the day her divorce from Dimont became absolute.[1] Together they had a daughter and a son Jeremy Mortimer. Their relationship, said to have been happy at first, soon grew stormy.[1] Others, however, say [Who?] it was difficult from the start.

In the 1950's and 60's the couple were frequently photographed at London high society events.[5] However behind this façade, Penelope had frequent bouts of depression. In 1962, the same year the The Pumpkin Eater was written, she agreed to an abortion and sterilisation, at John Mortimer's urging.[1] she is said to have been happy with the decision; however, during her convalescence, she discovered her husband's affair with Wendy Craig (by whom he had a son). They divorced in 1971.


Mortimer wrote over a dozen Novels during her career. Her works focus on the upper middle class life in British society.[5] She had one novel, Johanna, published under her name, Penelope Dimont; then, as Penelope Mortimer she wrote A Villa in Summer (1954; Michael Joseph). It received critical acclaim. More novels followed, including Daddy's Gone A-Hunting (1958; republished in 2008 by Persephone Books) and The Pumpkin Eater (1962), which dealt with a troubled marriage, was made into a successful film released in 1964 starring Anne Bancroft.

Mortimer was also a freelance journalist, whose work appeared regularly in The New Yorker. As an agony aunt for the Daily Mail, she wrote under the nom de plume Ann Temple. In the late 1960s, she replaced Penelope Gilliatt as film critic for The Observer.

Mortimer continued in journalism, mainly for The Sunday Times, and also wrote screenplays. Her biography of the Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother was commissioned by Macmillan; but, when completed, it was rejected, so Viking published it in 1986. Her former agent Giles Gordon, in his obituary of her in The Guardian, called it "the most astute biography of a royal since Lytton Strachey was at work. Penelope had approached her subject as somebody in the public eye, whose career might as well be recorded as if she were a normal human being."[4]

She wrote two volumes of autobiography, About Time: An Aspect of Autobiography, covering her life until 1939, appeared in 1979 and won the Whitbread Prize, and About Time Too: 1940–78 in 1993. A third volume, Closing Time, is unpublished.[4]

Later life[edit]

She died from cancer, aged 81, in Kensington,[6] London, England.



  • Johanna (1947) (as Penelope Dimont)
  • A Villa in Summer (1954)
  • The Bright Prison (1956)
  • Daddy's Gone A-Hunting (1958)
  • The Pumpkin Eater (1962)
  • My Friend Says It's Bulletproof (1968)
  • The Home (1971)
  • Long Distance (1974)
  • The Handyman (1983)

Short story collections[edit]

  • Saturday Lunch with the Brownings (1977)
  • Humphrey's Mother


  • About Time: An Aspect of Autobiography (1979)
  • About Time Too: 1940–78 (1993)


  • Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (1986), revised edition published in 1995, subtitled An Alternative Portrait Of Her Life And Times

Travel writing[edit]



External links[edit]