Penelope Ruth Fletcher
19 September 1918 (
Flintshire, Wales, U.K.
October 19, 1999, Kensington, London, United Kingdom
The Pumpkin Eater, Bunny Lake Is Missing
John Mortimer (m. 1949–1971), Charles Dimont (m. 1937–1949)
Jeremy Mortimer, Sally Silverman
The pumpkin eater, Daddy's Gone A‑hunting, About time, Queen Mother, My Friend Says It's Bullet‑proof
John Mortimer, Merriam Modell, Jeremy Mortimer, Jack Clayton, Caroline Mortimer
Penelope Ruth Mortimer (née Fletcher, 19 September 1918 – 19 October 1999) was a Welsh-born English journalist, biographer, and novelist. She wrote a semi-autobiographic novel in 1962 entitled The Pumpkin Eater, which was turned into a 1964 film, for which Anne Bancroft was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as "Jo Armitage", a character based on Mortimer herself.
Mortimer was born Penelope Ruth Fletcher in Rhyl, Flintshire (now Denbighshire), Wales, the younger daughter of Amy Caroline Fletcher and the Rev A. F. G. Fletcher, an Anglican clergyman, who had lost his faith and used the parish magazine to celebrate Soviet persecution of the Russian church. He also abused her sexually.
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'."
Her father frequently changed his parish and she attended numerous schools. She was educated across the country, at 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. She left University College, London, after only one year.
She married Charles Dimont, a journalist, in 1937 and they had two daughters, including the actress Caroline Mortimer. She had two daughters through extra-marital relationships with Kenneth Harrison and Randall Swingler. She met the 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. Together they had a daughter and a son, Jeremy Mortimer. Their relationship, said to have been happy at first, soon grew stormy.
In the 1950s and 1960s the couple were frequently photographed at London high society events. However, behind this façade, Penelope had frequent bouts of depression. In 1962, the same year The Pumpkin Eater was written, she agreed to an abortion and sterilisation at John Mortimer's urging. She is said to have been happy with the decision, but 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, focusing on upper middle-class life in British society. She had one novel, Johanna, published under the name Penelope Dimont. Then as Penelope Mortimer she wrote A Villa in Summer (1954, Michael Joseph), which 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 and was made into a successful film released in 1964 starring Anne Bancroft.
Mortimer also worked freelance as a journalist, her work appearing regularly in The New Yorker. As an agony aunt for the Daily Mail, she wrote under the pseudonym 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 that it was eventually published by Viking 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."
Mortimer 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, remains unpublished.
Penelope Mortimer died from cancer in Kensington at the age of 81. London, England.