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The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by…
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The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

by Robert Tressell

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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“The theories that drunkenness, laziness or inefficiency are the causes of poverty are so many devices invented and fostered by those who are selfishly interested in maintaining the present states of affairs, for the purpose of preventing us from discovering the real causes of our present condition.

Published just over 100 years ago this novel is still a powerful and unfortunately relevant read. Drawn heavily from the author's own experiences the novel centres around a fictional group of 'working' men and their families, fighting for survival against poverty and starvation, and is sometimes referred to as the "painters' bible".

The men work for a painter and decorating firm as short term 'temporary hands'. The nature of their employment makes them and their families vulnerable to exploitation by their employers which this latter group take full advantage of. The men lead harsh lives at the whim of their bosses, with little reward for their labours, and harsh penalties for the slightest of transgressions. The author shows a great attention to detail as he uncovers the daily routine of these men's lives, their happiness, and their misery. The importance and drudgery of this work cannot be understated. These men work out of necessity rather than desire, taking very little pride in their results.

That all said and done this novel is not all gloom and down, there are some light hearted moments and there is some elements of genuine selflessness. You can imagine that the author had great fun thinking up the names of some of it's characters and in particular the company names....'Pushem and Sloggem', 'Bluffem and Doemdown', 'Dodger and Scampit',' Snatchum and Graball', 'Smeeriton and Leavit', 'Makehaste and Sloggitt' with the employers names including 'Rushton, 'Grinder', 'Starvem' and 'Sweatem' to name but a few. Equally the local newspapers are called the 'Daily Obscurer', the 'Chloroform' and the 'Daily Ananais' whilst the local MP is 'Graball D'Encloseland'.

In many respects this is not an easy read. Not because it is dull political treatise, although is plainly evident that the author was a ardent advocate of Socialism, but rather because this is a chillingly human story based on fact, one that reveals the greed and vice at the heart of a capitalist system. A system that advocates the needs of the few over the many and one which inflicts abuse and misery onto its fellow 'brothers' and 'sisters' with its failure to fairly distribute the necessities of human life. No sector of society avoids censorship. Capitalism and its advocates along with the hypocrisy within the Church are rightly slated but so too are the working class men themselves. Despite the misery of their lives they would rather perpetrate the present system's continued existence rather than thinking about changing it, attacking and criticising anyone who suggests that there could be another way. They believe that because they are poor, they and their children shouldn't enjoy the same opportunities as the rich.

Perhaps what really makes this book so uncomfortable to read is that even today, 100+ years after its publication, there are still elements of this era in working class people's lives. The workhouses may have gone but short-term and zero hours contracts still leave workers' and their families lives in a precarious, unstable situation. The relevance of this work, and it's ability to speak to us in the 21st century is a sad indictment of our own time. A must read for anyone with a social conscience. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Nov 26, 2018 |
As ever on reading this book (8th or 9th time) I'm torn between admiring it as a important piece of left-wing writing and the often reactionary views of Tressell himself - after all he "employed" a black manservant (ie slave) called Sixpence, of whom he was said to be "very fond". In 1897, Tresell led a successful protest against the employment of black skilled labour.
I suppose all our idols have feet of clay! ( )
  Dithreabhach | May 8, 2018 |
This book is a bitterly savage satire on the social, economic and religious conditions in England during the early years of the twentieth century. In some ways this reminded me of Dos Passos's trilogy [U.S.A.]. Both books make it crystal clear why socialism, Bolshevism/communism, trade unions and anarchy were popular ideas in the years immediately preceding & following the Russian Revolution. However, Dos Passos's books were ultimately more optimistic than this one; despite the terrible conditions of American laborers, there was the feeling that Wobblies and/or the union organizers would eventually make life better. Tressell holds out no such hope - instead, he shows that the most downtrodden citizens are some of the strongest opponents to change.

I did find the names Tressell gave to the employers amusing: Mr. Oyley Sweater (as in one who sweats the work out of his employees); Mr. Grinder; Mrs Starvem; the painting firm of Dauber and Botchit; Snatchum the undertaker; and on the town council Dr. Weakling as the only one interested in helping others! Not to mention the workers' manager Hunter, variously called Nimrod or Misery.

While I believe that conditions for blue collar workers in the United States & England have improved, I found this idea that the workers firmly held to conditions that were ultimately responsible for their misery depressing because it seems so similar to the way lower economic classes in the U.S. responded to Donald Trump.

I also listened to the LibriVox recording; Tadhg's narration was wonderful -- this free public domain audiobook was of better quality than some commercial audiobooks! ( )
1 vote leslie.98 | Jan 2, 2018 |
Too long and political. Otherwise an interesting look at the lives of the working poor. ( )
  tgamble54 | Aug 22, 2017 |
I have twice tried to read this book. Once when I was in my late teens and another in my 50s. Both times I have been unable to finish it. The plot is dreary and repetitive. Its analysis is simplistic and bitter. I think it is really only popular because we want it to be. It was written by a working class man who had first-hand experience of the class war and an insight into how they were and what they suffered at the turn of the century. He in turn makesx us suffer pages and pages of boredom. ( )
  mumoftheanimals | Sep 22, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (12 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Tressell, Robertprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Breedon, NeilCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Day, GaryIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Miles, PeterEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Miles, PeterIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sillitoe, AlanIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Book description
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists tells the story of a group of working men who are joined one day by Owen, a journeyman-prophet with a vision of a just society. Owen's spirited attacks on the greed and dishonesty of the capitalist system rouse his fellow men from their political quietism. A masterpiece of wit and political passion and one of the most authentic novels of English working class life ever written.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0586090363, Paperback)

Originally published in 1914, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is a timeless story of Socialism, political awakenings and class struggle, told with a volatile mix of heartfelt rage and sly humour. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists tells the story of a group of working men who are joined one day by Owen, a journeyman-prophet with a vision of a just society. Owen's spirited attacks on the greed and dishonesty of the capitalist system rouse his fellow men from their political quietism. It is both a masterpiece of wit and political passion and one of the most authentic novels of English working class life ever written. This enduring favourite is now reinvigorated by a smart new jacket and exclusive extra material as part of Perennial's Modern Classics line of reissues. Now its timeless message of justice, equality and reason will be introduced to a whole new generation of discerning readers.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:20 -0400)

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This novel tells the story of a group of working men who are joined one day by Owen, a journeyman-prophet with a vision of a just society. Owen's spirited attacks on the greed and dishonesty of the capitalist system rouse his fellow men from their political quietism.… (more)

» see all 6 descriptions

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