Hello everyone and a very happy New Year to you all!

It’s been quite a while since I last posted anything. This is partly due to being busy during the recent festive season and partly because the last novel I read was rather lengthy (weighing in at 742 pages). The tome in question was The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell.

The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell

First, for those who’ve not heard of this book before, I think it would be helpful to provide some background information. Here is an introduction taken from the Wikipedia entry:

The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists is a novel by Robert Tressell first published in 1914 after his death in 1911. An explicitly political work, it is widely regarded as a classic of working-class literature.

Robert Tressell was the nom-de-plume of Robert Noonan, a house painter … He chose the pen name Tressell in reference to the trestle table, an important part of his kit as a painter and decorator. Based on his own experiences of poverty, exploitation, and his terror that he and his daughter Kathleen — whom he was raising alone — would be consigned to the workhouse if he became ill, Noonan embarked on a detailed and scathing analysis of the relationship between working-class people and their employers. The “philanthropists” of the title are the workers who, in Noonan’s view, acquiesce in their own exploitation in the interests of their bosses.

It is indeed a rather overtly political novel. There are many extended passages where Tressell (as I shall continue to call him) lays out the many problems with the existing capitalist system, which, he asserts, leads to such inequality between the rich few and the poor masses. He also spares nothing in roundly condemning the ruling elite, who are shown to be ever selfish, greedy, unscrupulous and hypocritical.

If you are interested in reading a sample, there is a fairly representative three page passage available at the following link, where one of the central characters describes to his fellow workers “The great money trick”:

The Great Money Trick (excerpt hosted on Google docs, taken from Robert Tressel’s The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists).

So, what did I make of this novel?

Well, it is certainly thought-provoking. The desperate poverty and hardship of the lives of working class families at the turn of the twentieth century is very powerfully shown. What makes this all the more shocking is that in the novel this is shown to be a direct consequence of the greed, hypocrisy, and injustice of the rich elite. Reading this book definitely made me appreciate how fortunate I am to have been born much later in the 20th century (all the more so as my own father is a decorator).

On the down side, the novel is rather long and repetitive, especially as there is little in the way of plot, really. In a way it feels like the whole piece is one long chronicle of the sorry, dreary lives of a group of decorators. Furthermore, it did feel as though the text would have benefited from a good edit, as it is very repetitive in parts.

This is definitely a powerful tale and a book that I shall remember, so I am glad that I have read it – but I am also now looking forward to reading something a little more gripping next.

The other thing I must now do is to say a little about how I came to read this book.

One day back in the autumn I was at work and noticed that a colleague was sporting a small badge. I asked what it was, and was told that it was a his membership badge from “The Association of the Ragged Trousered“. My colleague then went on to explain that his duty as a member was to get hold of a copy of the book, then give it away to someone else to read. At this point, my colleague kindly offered to give me a copy of the book, which I was only too pleased to accept.

The following photograph shows the information that has been inserted into the inside cover of the book by The Association of the Ragged Trousered (click the image to view a full screen version):

The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell

Of course, in order to continue in the philanthropic spirit in which this book was given to me, I now need to pass on this book to someone who is interested in reading it.

If you would like a chance to receive this book, simply add a comment to this post by the end of Friday 16th January, and I will then randomly pick a winner and post the book to them (UK mainland addresses only).

So, if you have always meant to read this working class classic, but never quite got round to it, this could be your chance! Again, all you need to do is add a comment to this post for your chance to win.

Happy reading!