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Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting

by Penelope Mortimer
Persephone book no:

76 77 78

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A Well Full of Leaves
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ISBN 9781903155677

Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting, a 1958 novel by Penelope Mortimer, is about the expectations of women, about a house-bound mother reluctantly (desperately) at home all day, in contrast to her daughter who has escaped, to university and then, we can assume, to a job.

‘The book came out at a time,’ writes Valerie Grove (author of the recently published A Voyage Round John Mortimer) in the Preface, ‘when the impact of the new wave of feminism, which would change everything under the banner of women’s liberation, had not yet arrived’.

In Ruth Whiting’s commuter-belt village ‘the wives conform to a certain standard of dress, they run their houses along the same lines, bring their children up in the same way; all prefer coffee to tea, all drive cars, play bridge, own at least one valuable piece of jewellery and are moderately good-looking.’  Yet Ruth is on the verge of going mad. A ‘nervous breakdown’ would be a politer phrase, but really she is being driven mad by her life and her madness is exacerbated by everyone’s indifference to her plight.

Although Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting is at times excruciatingly funny in its caustic dissection of the people among whom the Whitings live, it is also a profound study of female isolation. As the critic Judy Cooke has pointed out, Penelope Mortimer’s novels were ‘intense, imaginative explorations of an inner world. It is an enclosed world, dominated by fear, in which physical experiences such as sterilisation and abortion isolate her characters from their fellow beings and are metaphors for a deeper spiritual isolation.’


'Saraband' 1956, designed by R McGowan for Edinburgh Weavers

Picture Caption

The Mortimer family at home in North London in the 1950s

Read What Readers Say

Amy Rosenthal, London NW3

I wanted to tell you that I finished ‘Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting’ this weekend on the train back from visiting friends in Brighton, and was reduced to such a sobbing mess that I had to wipe my nose on my scarf and all the people in the carriage were regarding me with deep concern. It is so beautifully written, alive and heartbreakingly sad.

Margaret Forster, Cumbria

How I loved ‘Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting’. It was surely Penelope Mortimer's best, better I think than ‘The Pumpkin Eater’. Keep wondering where I was in 1958 that I don't remember any impact of this brill novel. If I read it then I'm sure I wouldn’t have forgotten it, so conclude I can’t have. Anyway, I was gripped by it – terrific dialogue (why didn’t SHE write plays?) & then those one-page descriptions of a place – like Saturday morning in Ramsbridge – & the humour, so sarcastic & biting, & above all the panic seeping through all the time so that you're suffering with Ruth.

Categories: Family Woman and Home

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