HODGE, Horace Emerton
Medical practitioner, playwright, and actor.
Horace Emerton Hodge, better known as Merton Hodge, author of The Wind and the Rain, and the only New Zealand dramatist, with the possible exception of Miss Ngaio Marsh to achieve international stature as a playwright, was born at Taruheru, Poverty Bay, on 28 March 1903. He was the son of Alfred Hodge, a Cook County farmer, and, after completing his secondary education in Gisborne, he entered the Medical School at the Otago University, graduating M.B., Ch.B. in 1928. As an undergraduate he was passionately interested in the amateur stage and became an enthusiastic active member of the University Dramatic Society. He produced a variety of student sketches and eventually wrote a play for presentation by the Dramatic Society, which later in 1933, under the title of The Wind and the Rain, met with a resounding success in London. After several hospital appointments in New Zealand, Hodge went to Edinburgh University for postgraduate study, and it was at this time that he refashioned and expanded his student effort into the play that ran to 1,000 performances at the St. Martin's, Queen's, and Savoy Theatres in London, and was later produced in America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. One of his early problems had been the claims of the stage versus medicine. He completed his medical course, but the issue re-emerged in London when as a member of the staff of St. George's Hospital he was faced with the phenomenal success of The Wind and the Rain. He went to New York with his play, but when war broke out in 1939 he returned to London and joined the staff of the Camberwell Hospital for Nervous Diseases. Hodge by this time had done a good deal of acting on stage and screen, and now he went on tour with E.N.S.A. (the British services entertainment unit), playing in his own play. He also contributed dramatic criticism to several London publications. He resumed the practice of medicine in 1948, and in 1952 returned to New Zealand and set up practice in Dunedin. His death by drowning occurred in Dunedin on 9 October 1958. He was a victim of his own success.
Hodge as a dramatist was very much a product of his generation. Many of his images, and particularly his comparisons in simile and metaphor, sprang from his native background, but others derived with equal spontaneity from the world in which he moved during his post-graduate period. This combination, and the fact that he appears to have written with deliberate restraint to match the simplicity of his theme, formed the basis of the peculiar quality London audiences and critics found in The Wind and the Rain. Unhappily he never quite achieved the same deft touch of the realist-cum-anti-romantic in his subsequent work. His genius, if such it was, came in and went out with his first success. Grief Goes Over, in which Dame Sybil Thorndike appeared in the London West End, was a graceful play, soundly constructed and in some respects in strong contrast to the light touch of The Wind and the Rain, but it enjoyed only a moderate success. Orchard Walls, The Island (written in collaboration with Godfrey Tearle), and a dramatic adaptation of Olive Schreiner's The Story of an African Farm followed, but they added little to the laurels he had already won. R.J.
- Otago Daily Times, 10 Oct 1958 (Obit).