I encountered this following sentence while reading the second chapter of H. G. Wells' novel Kipps.

He was an irascible, energetic little man, with hairy hands, for the most part under his coat tails, a long, shiny, bald head, a pointed, aquiline nose a little askew, and a neatly trimmed beard. He walked lightly and with a confident jerk, and he was given to humming. He had added to exceptional business "push," bankruptcy under the old dispensation, and judicious matrimony.

I'm not so clear what this sentence means. What exactly does "the old dispensation" refer to, and what role does the notion of "judicious matrimony" play in the context of this sentence? I'm not a native speaker of English so it's possible I'm not understanding some subtle language play, or perhaps some allusion to certain social context is lost on me. Could anyone help?


1 Answer 1


You should parse this as bankruptcy under the old dispensation and judicious matrimony were added to business "push".

Judicious matrimony probably means he married somebody with lots of money — i.e., somebody he chose "judiciously" (even though by the dictionary definition, choosing her "judiciously" doesn't mean that he chose her because of her money; there's some irony here),

Bankruptcy under the old dispensation probably means that there had been a recent change in bankruptcy laws to make things harder for people going bankrupt, and the older rules applied to his bankruptcy.

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    I suspect it will be something to do with the preferential Payment in Bankruptcy Acts of 1888 and 1897, which, if I read right, first created then modified the benefit of 'Floating Charges', which meant that there was a period in which a well advised proprietor of a failing business could ensure that they had prority over other creditors for payment from assets. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Floating_charge#Criticisms
    – Spagirl
    Sep 26, 2019 at 13:32
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    Re 'Judiciously', judicious can mean (per OED) 'sensible in practical matters; capable in adapting means to ends; careful, prudent.', whilst prudent means 'acting with or showing forethought; having or exercising sound judgement in practical or financial affairs'. So there is nothing particularly ironic there, more a case of it being slightly oblique.
    – Spagirl
    Sep 27, 2019 at 9:28
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    Thank you both! What y'all said made it a lot easier for me to digest. @Spagirl Sep 28, 2019 at 12:07

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