In the movie Oliver! (1968), during a heated confrontation between Mr Brownlow and Mr Bumble, over the origins of Oliver, a point is made by Mr Brownlow:

Mr. Brownlow: In the eyes of the law, you are the more guilty of the two, for the law supposes that your wife acts under your direction.

Mr. Bumble: If that's what the law supposes, sir, then the law is an ass! If that be the eyes of the law, sir, then the law is a bachelor!

Before this statement is made, they are arguing over the fact that Mr Bumble was not told by Mrs Bumble that Oliver's mother was a young girl who is identified by the picture in the locket.

I would like to know why does Mr Bumble call the law a bachelor? Did this word have some different meaning in the time setting? If I look up the definition of the word on Google, I find no other indication of it being used in a derogatory way or meaning something other than intended.

Does anyone have a clear definition of this, or know what was the point trying to be made mean?

  • 3
    Note that this quote is drawn from the original Dickens novel, so the fact that the meaning is a bit obscure & archaic is perhaps to be expected. Apr 25, 2017 at 14:23
  • 2
    No wife acts under the direction of her husband – and all married men know this from their experience, but perhaps a bachelor wouldn't.
    – Pranab
    Apr 25, 2017 at 14:35
  • 2
    From the novel: "'If the law supposes that,' said Mr. Bumble, squeezing his hat emphatically in both hands, 'the law is a ass—a idiot. If that's the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is, that his eye may be opened by experience—by experience.'" The last part clarifies it.
    – user207421
    Apr 25, 2017 at 23:12
  • @EJP fantastic find. that clears it up some more thanks Apr 26, 2017 at 6:14

1 Answer 1


A bachelor is an unmarried man.

Let's bear in mind that this is based on a Victorian concept of marriage & the part each spouse would be expected to play in that marriage in those times.

Bumble's point was that no married man would have made that law.

The law assumes that a wife must act solely under her husband's direction & never independently.
Bumble is quite certain that is not the case - in his own experience, or that of any married man.

  • 3
    Is this really even a Victorian concept? I'll bet many modern bachelors have wondered why their married friends can't "control" their wives. Maybe less so since women's liberation, but it was probably true through most of the 20th century.
    – Barmar
    Apr 25, 2017 at 16:12
  • 1
    I really was just avoiding all the potential politics of any statement regarding the theory vs practice. I'm sure there are still some men who think they're in charge, & a whole lot more who don't.
    – Tetsujin
    Apr 25, 2017 at 17:34
  • 1
    "I am the boss of my house, and I have my wife's permission to say so!"
    – zzzzBov
    Apr 25, 2017 at 20:25
  • 1
    Marital coercion as a defence was only abolished in the UK in 2014 - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marital_coercion
    – Tom77
    Apr 25, 2017 at 21:15
  • 3
    Mr. Brownlow has anthropomorphized the law by saying that it "supposes". Bumble is intentionally taking this even farther by pretending that the law is a person, and clearly one inexperienced in the realities of marriage. Apr 25, 2017 at 23:38

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .