“The Pumpkin Eater” by Penelope Mortimer

“The Pumpkin Eater” by Penelope Mortimer (1962) – 222 pages


    “I liked her, because she was lonely and eccentric and kept making little rushes at life which were, as she swore she had always known, doomed to failure.”

 This is the description of Philpot, the live-in young woman who takes care of all Mrs. Armitage’s children   That is how Mrs. Armitage describes Philpot before Philpot goes to the movies with Mrs. Armitage and her husband, and her husband holds hands with the two of them, one on each side, in the movie theater.

 “The Pumpkin Eater” by Penelope Mortimer is perhaps the first modern novel about a woman’s life.  It is an on-the-scene sharp-edged account of the family battlefront, the war between man and woman.    It was written almost fifty years ago in 1962, a year before the Beatles hit it big in England and two years before they it big it the United States.  Some of the novel takes place in Mrs. Armitage’s psychiatrist’s office where she describes her life.  She has a lot of kids.  She is married to her third husband Jake.  Here is how Jake’s father described him to Mrs. Armitage before she marries him.

    “He’ll be a frightful husband. You’re bound to be ill, for instance. You won’t get the slightest sympathy from him, he hates illness. He’s got no money, and he’s bone-lazy. Also he drinks too much.”

 He also chases women.  Mrs. Armitage’s father also tells Jake about his daughter. 

    “I must say that for a young man with his life in front of him to saddle himself with a brood of children and a wife as feckless as this daughter of mine seems to me lunacy. . . . I think you’re a fool, but I’d like to help you make a go of it.”

 As you can tell by the previous samples, the dialogue and description in “The Pumpkin Eater” are unsparing, and that is one of the great pleasures of this novel.   Parts of this novel are brutally funny, and other parts will almost make you cry.  One could describe the writing as caustic, but Mrs. Armitage is just as relentless about herself as she is about everyone else.

 There was a movie made of “The Pumpkin Eater” in 1964 with Anne Bancroft, Peter Finch, and James Mason.  IMDB rates the movie quite highly (7.2), but unfortunately the movie has still not been released on DVD. 

 Being almost fifty years old, the novel’s view on some family issues was a bit hard for me to follow.  Mrs. Armitage has a lot of children.  Everyone blames her for having so many.  She has someone to do most of the caring for them.  She wants to have another child, because that might be the answer to her problems, even if everyone else including her husband will be mad at her for getting pregnant.  I expect that despite my own difficulties, most women will follow Mrs. Armitage’s outlook perfectly.

 Much of “The Pumpkin Eater” is dialogue, and dialogue this sharp, funny, and cruel is magnificent.     .

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by yoyoma on March 3, 2013 at 6:35 PM

    The DVD adaption of the book was released some time in 2010 actually…


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