A Voyage Round My Father Critical Context - Essay

John Mortimer

Critical Context

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

A Voyage Round My Father is only one of John Mortimer’s works with significant autobiographical elements, though they are most prominent and least fictionalized in it. For example, members of the legal profession are present in the plays The Dock Brief (pr. 1957 as a radio play and televised; staged 1958), Two Stars for Comfort (pr., pb. 1962), and The Judge (pr., pb. 1967); the radio and television play Edwin (pr. 1982 and 1984, respectively); the novel Like Men Betrayed (1953); and the Rumpole of the Bailey stories and television dramatizations (1975-1987). Writers are prominent in Paradise Postponed (the 1985 novel and 1986 television series), the novel Charade (1947), and the play Collaborators, whose main character is a barrister who also writes radio plays and film scripts.

In all of his plays and novels, even the early one-act stage pieces that are little more than whimsies, Mortimer deftly manages situations and presents characters who are believable even when they are largely stereotypes. Further, in almost all of his work he reflects a Dickensian humanism, the sense that one should feel sorry for the less fortunate. In contrast with his father, the son in A Voyage Round My Father sometimes reveals himself as a sensitive man with a social conscience. There is an unheroic quality about the son, which is a common characteristic of Mortimer’s protagonists. The father exemplifies traits that he shares with others in Mortimer’s works: He is a lonely man who cannot communicate with others but who retains enough of his illusions to survive and even to prevail.

Mortimer’s social conscience and his interest in the problem of communication between people link him to other English playwrights who emerged in the 1950’s. Whereas most of his contemporaries’ works deals with the working class, however, Mortimer’s plays focus upon the English middle class in decline. In addition, unlike such fellow dramatists as Harold Pinter and N. F. Simpson, Mortimer is a traditionalist in terms of form. His plays do not break new ground but are close to Chekhovian and pre-1950 English stage practice. Thus, among his stage works, the introspective memory play A Voyage Round My Father stands apart from the rest; it is his major achievement in the theater.