Penelope Mortimer Quotes
“I don't know who I am, I don't know what I'm like, how can I know what I want? I only know that whether I'm good or bad, whether I'm a bitch or not, whether I'm strong or weak or contemptible or a bloody martyr - I mean whether I'm fat or thin, tall or short, because I don't know - I want to be happy.”
“His cold, already ageless eyes held Ruth's for a moment. She recognized them as the eyes of a man who felt nothing. Posturing for other people, for the countless mirrors, he would assume attitudes of outrage, love, friendship, even physical need. He would probably go through his entire life imagining that he was real; but not one person would owe him gratitude, remember his comfort. At the moment, still so young, he didn't even know what he was meant to be feeling. The attitude was uncertain, but the intention was clear: I shall never do anything for anyone, because I don't believe anyone except myself exists. There was shaking it, no changing it. It was useless to try.”
“She got up from the armchair, into which she had plumped with horror, and started to bustle about the room. Jane often bustled about the room, suddenly remembering to stir her life, as though it were kept simmering on a low flame. When this was done, with nothing apparently achieved, she came back and sat by the fire, her arms clasped round her knees.”
“A woman may have a son of fifty, bald, paunchy, with a roll of fat at the back of his neck and hands that sweat like putty; or a daughter, old, the arthritic legs and dripping nose blurting out failure, a grey bag of wasted muscles and gangling bones. Bone of your bones; curious flesh of your flesh. Not a hair, not a fingernail, not a particle of skin is the same as it was at the moment of birth, but still the aging body that was once a child is part of you. You may not understand a word it says, may be baffled or gratified or hostile; the physical substance of the child is still, though changed beyond recognition, your own.”
“Angels sleeps in her cell, her room which should be gay with cushions or theatre programmes or comic pottery, but isn't. The distant clocks have been chiming and ringing all night to pass the time. She lies on her stomach, to hide or protect time, one arm hanging over the edge of the bed, her head wrenched sideways.
Everything about her now is unformed. Her intelligence has stopped working. She is herself and, as she flounders, flies, sinks from one dream to another, unrecognizable.
What does myself look like? I mean, who am I?
You are an examination result, dear. Perhaps, in time, a scholarship. Perhaps an Honors Degree. Try harder.
But myself - I mean myself?
Perhaps you could find yourself in the Guides, or in the New Testament somewhere. If not, we can provide various substitutes, such as Joan of Arc, Florence Nightingale, Nurse Cavell. It's really none of our business, but we do keep a few heroines handy, just in case.
But how shall I deal with myself? What shall I do with myself all my life?
You may look in the answer book. You must control yourself, discipline yourself, sacrifice yourself, respect yourself. If necessary you may defend yourself and able yourself, and to have confidence in yourself while effacing yourself is not entirely bad. You must never, however, love yourself or pity yourself, praise yourself or allow yourself to have either will or opinion. Never indulge yourself, never be conscious of yourself, never forget yourself and above all, never be centered in yourself. We hope this is understood?
But if there is no one else to love, pity or praise? If no one else is conscious of me, remembers me, if I am no one's centre?
That, dear, is what God is for. As Our Lord says, "Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings and not one of them is forgotten before God?" To forget yourself in one sense is desirable, whereas, as we have said, to forget yourself in another sense is not. Now if we rewrite those subjoined sentences, strengthening them by omission of caveats, trite quotations, indirect assertions and vulgarisms everything, we feel certain, will seem a great deal clearer; or, alternatively, more clear.
She twists her head, hitting the mattress with a vague, feeble gesture. "But I'll never get there," she says, stating a proved fact. "I'll never get there."
The clocks repeat themselves. She turns on her back and, still asleep, rubs her stomach with the unhappy, worried expression of a child who has eaten a sour apple.”
“The world might split open like a cracked apple, death be expected, prepared for. Moons might ride the sky and love, doomed, struggle to grow in impossible places. Baby would still lisp the cute remark, refuse spinach, need unobtainable gaiters. Listening, Ruth felt drawn into a cult, a society, in which adult people were no longer required to stand alone, but where supported by their children. How can we move, think, breathe, they groaned, when impeded by these living crutches? But without them, life would be too dangerous; an emptiness in which, the most fearful thing of all, there would be no time, no landmarks.”
“The first stage of the nightmare is losing the ability to believe in insignificance. Consciousness is sharpened to a point in which nothing is trivial but every moment, every detail, has the same unbearable quality of dread. In this condition of despair there are no crises. The merciful censor of memory has broken down and everything is recalled with equal horror, the broken nail becomes a jagged pointer to the senselessness of living, the most commonplace remark releases, without warning, the grief or terror of a lifetime. But still the days pile up, one on top of the other, in an orderly fashion; the weeks are marked by a red Sunday and the months have names. It is necessary to eat and sleep. It is necessary to prepare for the future, even if this is only done by drawing in breaths so that it may, in a moment, be exhaled and breathed again. The moral judgement delivered on this state of unhappiness is as severe as that pronounced on the lunatics of Bedlam. Lost, it says with smug disgust, all sense of proportion. Which is exactly true.”
“The long, painful, frustrating summer was over: the summer of wet socks, of plimsolls fossilised by salt and sand; the summer of Wellington boots and Monopoly, bicycles left out in the rain and the steady, pungent smell of bubble gum; the summer of inadequacy. It had begun with strawberries pried out like jewels from under the wet leaves and covering of straw; it had ended with bitter quarrels over who should shred the runner beans, hard and brown as old leather. And now it was over. The children, the summer, gone.”
- Date of birth: September 19, 1918
- Died: October 19, 1999
- Born: in Rhyl, The United Kingdom.
- Description: Early life
She was born in Rhyl, Flintshire, Wales, the younger child of an Anglican clergyman, who had lost his faith and used the parish magazine to celebrate the Soviet persecution of the Russian church. He also sexually abused her. Her father frequently changed his parish, so, consequently, she attended numerous schools. 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, and 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. Together they had a daughter and a son.
She had one novel, Johanna, published under her name, Penelope Dimont, then as Penelope Mortimer, she authored A Villa in Summer (1954; Michael Joseph). It received critical acclaim. More novels (see below) followed.
She 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.
Her marriage to John Mortimer was difficult. They both had frequent extramarital affairs. Penelope had six children by four different men. They divorced in 1971. Her relationships with men were the inspiration for the novels, Daddy's Gone A-Hunting (1958; republished in 2008 by Persephone Books) and The Pumpkin Eater (1962; reissued in 2011 by New York Review Books), which was adapted for the screen by Harold Pinter. It starred Peter Finch, James Mason and Anne Bancroft, who won an Oscar nomination for her role.
Mortimer continued in journalism, mainly for The Sunday Times, and also wrote screenplays. Her biography of the Queen Mother was commissioned by Macmillan, but when completed, it was rejected so instead Viking published it in 1986. Her former agent Giles Gordon in his Guardian obituary 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."
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.
She died from cancer, aged 81, in Kensington, 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
Saturday Lunch with the Brownings (1977)
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
With Love and Lizards (co-authored with John Mortimer, 1957)