In his plays Pinter often drew on personal experience or on the experiences of those close to him. Some of the events of The Homecoming are paralleled in events that took place in the life of a childhood friend, Morris Wernick.
In the mid-1950s Wernick, a Jewish East Ender, left his home and went to Canada, where he became a Professor of English at Montreal University. Shortly before leaving, he married, but kept the marriage secret. His wife was not Jewish, and he feared that his father would be unable to accept her as part of the family. Much later Wernick wrote to Michael Billington, the drama critic and biographer of Pinter:
I married in 1956 and left immediately to start life in Canada. I never told my father that I was married and for the next ten years continued to keep up this ‘pretence’ even on my infrequent visits to England. Harold [Pinter] thought this action on my part unwise [...] I came, in time, to join the ranks of those who felt that it was ridiculous and in 1964 I brought my whole family to England where my father met his daughter-in-law and grandchildren. I do not need to tell you that it was one of the memorable moments in my life. Why did I take what I now regard as a mistaken course? For the simple reason that I believed it would spare him being hurt. Forty years ago marrying ‘out’ was still not regarded lightly. My father was in no sense a bigot and I certainly did not live in fear of his displeasure. Harold would get a laugh out of this idea, as would anyone who knew him.Morris Wernick returned in 1964, the year before the play was completed. Pinter unquestionably based The Homecoming on the potentialities inherent in the Wernick ménage: he even sent Wernick a first draft of the play. The correspondences run even deeper. Pinter acknowledged that Max was drawn, in part, from Wernick’s father. Wernick also had two brothers — as in the play — as well as an uncle who was a cabbie. These are of course starting-points: there is no suggestion that Wernick’s brother was a pimp, or that the family all ended up giving Wernick’s wife ‘a walk round the park’. These were Pinter’s additions. But the homecoming of The Homecoming nevertheless drew heavily on real events.
Billington, Michael: The Life and Work of Harold Pinter (Faber, 1996)
Lahr, John, ed.: A Casebook on Harold Pinter’s ‘The Homecoming’ (Davis-Poynter, 1974)
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