Sunday, January 18, 2009

rumpole, hilda and god


He believed in religion, except about God;
his Rumpole obeyed only Hilda.
Of cases that he never tried the most odd
is God’s death and the people who killed Her.

One senses for Rumpole the secret of life
was absorbing what Hilda had taught him––a
belief less in God than in words of one’s wife,
which I learned without help from John Mortimer.

Sir John Mortimer, creator of Horace Rumpole, died on January 16, 2009, I wrote a number of poems inspired by Rumpole, a character who outfoxed his opponents in the courtroom, but at home he was constantly browbeaten by his formidable wife, Hilda, better known as "She Who Must Be Obeyed." "Rumpole has customarily been described as a great comic creation," lawyer and critic Marcel Berlins wrote in London's Sunday Times. "He deserves to lose the limiting adjective, comic. He is simply one of the great fictional characters of modern English literature." Sir John Mortimer wrote to me twice to tell me how much how he enjoyed them. Tim Ruttten writes in the LA Times, January 19, 2009:

In the end, Mortimer was––like Rumpole––constant but unafraid of contradiction. He was a lifelong socialist who drank Champagne before breakfast, was "all for" homosexuality and disdained feminism. He defended free speech and loathed political correctness. He held conservative politicians in contempt but supported the monarchy and fox hunting. He was an atheist who supported the established church because he "approved everything about it, but God." In a celebrated public exchange, Basil Hume, the former Benedictine abbot who was then cardinal of Westminster, said to Mortimer that, if there were no God, "life would be absurd." "Well, exactly," Mortimer replied.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 1/17/09


  1. The very words of Rumpole 'She who must be obeyed' makes her a fluffy, lovable and entirely sexy wife, possibly in black lace and leather boots. In my opinion. But I've never been the respectable daughter of an esteemed judge. Now read the stories or better still watch Leo McKern as Rumpole on PBS and see what he really means!

  2. It means that a wife is more than a wife, she is an existential imperative whom you have no choice but to believe in, unlike the Deity, who provides you with the choice of disbelief.

  3. Wives are mainly the backbone to their husbands ...doeasn't matter if we are fluffy and wearing black leather or strong and wearing tweed we still have the same role to play with lo...

  4. As you say, Angel, wives are the backbones of their husbands (not mainly, I would say---they do have indpenedent roles to play, don't they?), but the value of their support correlates with the strength of their husbands' spine. Rumpole had lots of spine, so that Hilda acted as an able and amusing foil to him. Had he been spineless, her spine could not have supported him.