Mortimer, Penelope (1918–1999)

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Mortimer, Penelope (1918–1999)

Welsh novelist . Name variations: Ann Temple; Penelope Dimont; Penelope Ruth Mortimer. Born on September 19, 1918, in Rhyl, North Wales; died in October 1999 at a hospice in London, England; daughter of Arthur F.G. Fletcher (a cleric) and Amy Caroline Fletcher; attended Central Educational Bureau for Women in London and University of London; married Charles Dimont, in 1937 (divorced 1949); married John Clifford Mortimer (a playwright and lawyer), in 1949 (divorced 1972); children: (first marriage) Madelon, Caroline, Julia, Deborah; (second marriage) Sally and Jeremy.

Published first novel, Johanna (under name Penelope Dimont), shortly before marriage to writer John Mortimer (1947); published popular novel, The Pumpkin Eater (1962); received Whitbread Award for nonfiction for About Time (1979); became well known for controversial biography of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the queen mother (1986).

Selected writings—novels:

Johanna (1947); A Villa in Summer (1954); The Bright Prison (1956); Daddy's Gone A-Hunting (1958); The Pumpkin Eater (1962); My Friend Says It's Bullet-Proof (1967); The Home (1971); Long Distance (1974); The Handyman (1983).

Nonfiction (with husband John Mortimer):

With Love and Lizards (1957); About Time: An Aspect of Autobiography (1979); Queen Elizabeth: A Life of the Queen Mother (1986); Queen Mother: An Alternative Portrait of Her Life and Times (1995).


Saturday Lunch with the Brownings (1960); (with John Mortimer) Bunny Lake Is Missing (screenplay, 1965); Summer Story (screenplay based on John Galsworthy's story The Apple Tree, 1988); Portrait of a Marriage (screenplay, 1990).

Penelope Mortimer was born on September 19, 1918, in North Wales, the daughter of Arthur F.G. Fletcher, a vicar who sometimes wavered in his faith, and Amy Caroline Fletcher . At age 16, Mortimer went to London and learned secretarial skills at the Central Educational Bureau for Women. She later attended the University of London, and in 1937 wed Charles Dimont, a correspondent for Reuters. They lived in Vienna. The couple divorced in 1949; that same year she married author John Mortimer. During the 1950s and 1960s, the couple often frequented the London social scene. Though seemingly in an ideal marriage, Mortimer reportedly suffered from bouts of depression, and the union ended in divorce in 1972.

Penelope's first novel, Johanna (1947), was published shortly before she married John. Her subsequent novels usually portrayed the institution of marriage in a semi-humorous way, and focused on the upper-middle class in Britain. The Pumpkin Eater (1962), dealing with a troubled marriage, offers a glimpse into Mortimer's own turbulent relationships with men. This story was filmed in 1964, starring James Mason and Anne Bancroft . Mortimer's Kafka-esque story, Long Distance (1974), enjoyed the distinction of being one of the very few novels to be published in its entirety in The New Yorker. She also received high praise for her two memoirs and several television screenplays. Her adaptation of Portrait of a Marriage, Nigel Nicholson's biography of his mother Vita Sackville-West and father Harold Nicolson, proved upsetting to some viewers when it was aired in 1992 on PBS's Masterpiece Theater because of its frank portrayal of same-sex liaisons. Not one to shy from controversy, Mortimer wrote a biography of Queen Elizabeth: A Life of the Queen Mother (1986) which garnered mixed reviews, with some critics bristling at the author's portrayal of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon 's romantic life before her marriage to future king George VI. Penelope Mortimer died in October 1999 at a London hospice, age 81.

Jo Anne Meginnes , freelance writer, Brookfield, Vermont

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Mortimer, Penelope (1918–1999)

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