Horace Rumpole on bootstraps

Bootstrap stories are a particular irritation of mine, as they tend to reinforce individuals’ self-mythologing rather than practicing gratitude for all the help we have been given along the way. Yes, individual agency and choice matters, and you have undoubtedly worked very hard. But so do all the rest of us, and I, for one, think it’s a mistake to forget about parents, friends, teachers, and contexts that made success and achievement much easier, and a great deal more fun.

I have been revisiting the Rumpole novels of John Mortimer as a break from Aristotle, who is boring the pants off me right at the moment with all his prissy blather about prudence and incontinence and no doubt he’s right about all that, and living that way will keep you out of debt, thinner, and with far fewer hangovers, but it does make for a long, ungratifying read, like spending hours listening to some ruddy Puritan tell you how to live. Gone is the convivial banter of Socrates, replaced by a very long, very tiresome, sermon.

So it’s been with some relish that after I am done with my Aristotle for the day I get to go read about old Horace Rumpole, that Old Bailey hack, who had this to say about bootstraps:

Sir Michael Smedley was to many people the ideal businessman, who had been able to pull himself up by what are still in some relentlessly market-oriented circles, known as his bootstraps. This phrase ignores the fact that no one except mountaineers and footballers wears boots nowadays or has any idea where the straps are kept.)

Mortimer is a crafty writer and good prose stylist, and here he takes the bombast out of the bootstrap, noting the irony of the allusion to a outmoded article of clothing to refer to a contemporary phenomenon–the idea of self-made people.

I would note, however, that that California Highway Patrol still wear boots, and they (boots) are dead sexy. #justsaying. Though I suspect they don’t have straps.

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