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The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

3.95  ·  Rating Details ·  5,533 Ratings  ·  367 Reviews
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. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is both a masterpiece of wit and political p ...more
Paperback, 608 pages
Published 1993 by HarperCollins Publishers (first published April 23rd 1914)
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Linda This might help - all 1706 handwritten pages of the original novel and some further info. The book was published after Tressell's…moreThis might help - all 1706 handwritten pages of the original novel and some further info. The book was published after Tressell's death and the first publisher slashed 100,000 words as the original had never been edited and was a bit repetitive. There was an ever shorter version printed in 1918 to make it affordable for the workers it wanted to reach. Can't answer your exact question but hope this helps a bit.(less)

Community Reviews

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Megan Baxter
Jul 24, 2012 Megan Baxter rated it liked it
This book makes me feel like a bad leftie. I wanted to like it so much more than I did, and while parts of it are very powerful, the book is overlong, and treads the same ground so often that I had to force myself to finish it.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook
Not what I was expecting, no Hardy-style wife selling, or Dostoevsky-style pushing daughter into prostitution to earn some hard cash and less searing than Boys from the Blackstuff. Maybe it is too English and mild mannered, I mean there are only three deaths and only one couple forced into the workhouse - what kind of indictment of capitalism is this!

Perhaps that is the book's secret strength. It is not a picture of extreme hardship but it's working class characters are boxed in a trap from whic
Jerome Willner
Sep 18, 2011 Jerome Willner rated it it was amazing
If you've ever reflected on the woes of the world, this novel might offer some relief.

Relief that is, from any illusion that things will probably be ok; that we have learnt from mistakes of the past, and that we are at the dawn of some enlightened benevolent age.

Written and set in the Edwardian era of 1901 to 1910, Robert Tressell describes his work ...
"My main object was to write a readable story full of human interest and based on the happenings of everyday life, the subject of Socialism being
Jo Woolfardis
Read as part of The Infinite Variety Reading Challenge, based on the BBC's Big Read Poll of 2003.

Just wonderful. At times sickening, but also heartening and exactly what one needs in this era, for good and bad. Moreso brilliant for what it stands for rather than how it is written or the plot, but even so the plot is worthy in its own right. Full review to follow.

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May 05, 2013 Kc rated it it was amazing
Everyone should read this book. 100 years on we have a welfare state, the NHS and numerous rights at work. These are precious and well fought for but recent government is trying to undermine and backtrack on these achievements. Privatisation of parts of the NHS, selling off Royal Mail - a profitable state-owned public service, zero-hour contracts and demonisation in the press (run by those who have a massive stake in the system) of the poor, disabled, working poor and anyone else who is consider ...more
Jul 21, 2007 Marcus rated it really liked it
Shelves: literature
I read the complete, unedited text, after being given it as a rather thoughtful Christmas present. It is rightly heralded as a classic piece of working-class literature, as it takes you into the brutish yet everyday horrors endured by the British working-class, at a time when socialism was beginning to gain ground.

One of the most arresting aspects, is how little our lives have changed in the time since it was written (1914). Certainly there have been great strides forward in many aspects, but t
Apr 01, 2010 James rated it liked it
A passionately written socialist polemic describing the hardships Edwardian housepainters had to endure. There are no shades of grey in this novel, and the author believes that if you have a point to make, dont make it once when you can do it twenty times. Additionally the solution presented in the book with the benefit of being able to look back at the 20th century is naive to say the least. What however endures in this book beyond any doubt and provides it with a compelling voice even today is ...more
Steve Mitchell
Jul 25, 2011 Steve Mitchell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This novel is set at the start of the 20th century and the birth of Britain’s Labour party as they attempt to bring about a Socialist utopia for the working classes. Outlining the resistance to change by the Liberal and Tory governing classes as well as the very workers that would benefit the most from the changes highlights the idiocy of the day. The working classes did not seek to better their lot condemning their children to the same fate even when the Socialists demonstrate the folly of cont ...more
Jimmy Burns
Apr 13, 2012 Jimmy Burns rated it it was amazing
What a book. This is a novel exposing greed, corruption and the pusillanimous nature of the class system which is as relevant today as it was on the day it was published.

The story revolves around the plight of working men and how they are perceived by and treated as sub-human commodities by their bosses and the bosses underlings. Tressell (a nom-de-plume for Robert Noonan)was a journeyman painter and decorator and moved from his native Ireland to follow any work he could find. The novel is a dis
Apr 16, 2009 Rob rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This classic example of early socialist fiction, little read at the time of its publication nearly a hundred years ago, has found favour in recent times following the questioning of the capitalist system brought on by the credit crunch. Concentrating on working conditions in a painting and decorating outfit, the book celebrates the labour theory of value and condemns the exploiting class.

Whilst occasionally subsiding into a ranting, didactic style, Tressell writes with enough verve, humour and
Paul Howsley
Aug 30, 2015 Paul Howsley rated it really liked it
A must read for anybody interested in socialism or the life of the working class before its emergence. Told before the NHS and before welfare, reading it now is a reminder of what current governments are trying to take us back to. The book tries to expose greed and exploitative working conditions and it's quite disheartening to think that 100 years on the battle remains, quite possibly even more so.

The worst thing about this book is that it is still relevant.
Jan 26, 2013 T84 rated it it was amazing
I originally got this book from my local library and set about reading it daily on my commute to work. my commute used to be 40 minutes and the time flew by as I turned page after page of this book.

I have always been a bookworm and can say hand on heart that this is one of two books that I call the best books I have ever read. The other is To Kill a Mockingbird. I cannot explain to people why I love this book as much as I do, it is the only book that has ever made me laugh and cry.

Since I read
Rachel Hirstwood
For what could have easily turned out as a really long political tratise, this was a fabulous good read! I loved everything about it. The names of the characters (Tressell names all the baddies in the story with names that describe their character like Dickens, only actually funny), the dialect, the era, the details of the work the characters were doind. ALL of it was great. It's not often you get to the end of a 620 page novel and then go back to the beginning and read all the notes, the prefac ...more
Jackie Molloy
Sep 28, 2016 Jackie Molloy rated it really liked it
The tale is set in Mugborough, about 200 miles from London. It tells an everyday story of those who work in the building trade particularly painter and decorators. It was written in 1906 and details a year in the life of the works, their families, and the men/firms who employ them. There is a constant fear of unemployment which means that rents cannot be paid, food cannot be bought, debts mount, workers get ill, eventually die or become so destitute they get sent to the workhouse for their pains ...more
Apr 04, 2012 Patrick rated it it was amazing
This book, as well as being a socialist's bible, is a gripping commentary on the social conditions of the time...a detailed and scathing Marxist analysis of the relationship between the 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.
Clearly frustrated at the refusal of his contemporaries to recognise the inequalities and corruption of society, Tressell's cas
Sarah Honeysett
Mar 08, 2014 Sarah Honeysett rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
Socialist classic and allegedly the book that won the 1945 election for Labour, I had the good fortune to find a cheap copy in the small independent book shop near the University when I was a student in Sheffield. I would never have believed that thirty years later, and with the book itself now over 100 years old, we would be back in a world where workers in underpaid, irregular work can literally go hungry.

I still think there's no better explanation of the failings of capitalism than Owen's dem
Dec 07, 2015 Al rated it it was amazing
I read this on the recommendation of an ex brick layer, who said reading this book at a young age helped define his life.
What is really striking is how little so many things seem to have changed in the labour market.
Written with humour, compassion , and love.
Jul 05, 2014 Kim rated it it was ok
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 pen name of Irish writer Robert Croker, who later changed his name to Robert Noonan. It seems to me it would be easier to just keep your name then try to go through whatever it is to go through to change your name not only once but twice. The name Crocker was the na ...more
Nov 08, 2012 Will rated it liked it
This novel's focus is a single town and building company in turn-of-the century England, through which the author reveals the widespread exploitative conditions in the English building trades. The book makes a compelling case for working class organization and socialist movement as a response to exploitation, but is less successful as a novel.

Characters are too starkly black and white - from their names (Slyme, Didlum) to their all-good or all-bad natures, plot is neglected at the expense of rhe
Aug 15, 2013 John rated it liked it
A long book which I read on Kindle. It seemed at least 3 times its actual length and I felt to have been reading it forever. Whilst not entirely joyless, my reading "glass" felt to be dangerously empty much of the time.

This is to be expected perhaps: the lives of working class people at the beginning of the 20th century could be fairly grim. The tone of the novel is bleak, dark and hopeless, none of the joyous wit of Dickens. The variety of wit on offer here is the bitterest sarcasm which, after
Apr 29, 2012 Sean rated it it was amazing
Most critics seem to comment on the book being a Socialist rant. This is true but despite this the book holds much cultural truth and still holds up to this day with regards to its social commentary. Tressell conveys a message about human needs and requirements and uses Socialism as a tool to point out the flaws of the current system of living, and how we may emerge into a more balanced social order, for all peoples. Tressell's main observation is pointing out the ignorance amongst people unwill ...more
Christopher Jarvis
Jun 13, 2011 Christopher Jarvis rated it it was amazing
First published in 1914, Robert Tressell's novel 'The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists' has been hailed by many as the quintessential socialist novel. In many ways, it works as a form of fictional accompaniment to Orwell's 'The Road to Wigan Pier'. What Tressell achieved in this novel was one of the first 20th century fictional works that analysed the plight of the working class from the perspective of a person who was very much a part of that plight - Tressell himself.

When reading The Ragged Tr
John Read
Dec 29, 2016 John Read rated it really liked it
First of all -this book could easily be at least a third shorter than it is.
There are many pages of polemic that go on too long and are repeated over and over through the book.
Also, the author can't do children's 'voices.' Several times in the book he has children speaking like adult politicians.
But it is undeniably an important work that, sadly, is still relevant today.
It follows the appalling working lives of a group of decorators at the beginning of the 1900s.
The details of how they are worke
Margaret Virany
Apr 30, 2014 Margaret Virany rated it it was amazing
Robert Tressell began life in a privileged family. He had great talents as an author but failed to make money at it and ended up in dire poverty, buried unknown. His book takes us inside his personal life working as a laborer on house construction projects in England. Portraits of his co-workers and their families are heartrending. We learn the ins and outs of construction trades in meticulous detail. Socialist views are well presented as the workers argue vehemently. One writhes to read about t ...more
Just an incredible, incredible book. I started off reading it as a Conservative, and by the time I had finished I had decided I would probably join the union at work, and consider voting Labour at the next election! I hadn't heard of it before, but have since discovered how influential this book was at the time of publication, and it is very easy to see why. I was constantly reminded of two other books whilst reading this: The Grapes of Wrath, in which Steinbeck describes poverty and survival wi ...more
Jan 18, 2012 Sarah rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Having read various reviews and heard often about this book, I expected to like it much more than I did.

At the beginning I found the story and ideas interesting and started to identify with the main characters, but as you progress through the novel the same arguments are repeated over and over again, often using identical wording, making the whole book start to feel like a bit of a struggle. I still have about a quarter of the book to go, but already I am skimming sections (something I never usu
David Hambling
Apr 15, 2014 David Hambling rated it liked it

I really wanted to like this. It's a powerful, passionate polemic full of well-reasoned arguments and real-life examples... But it's like being bashed over the head with a Das Kapital towel for three hours. Yes, yes, we get the point Mr Tressle, you don't need to keep repeating yourself.

A fascinating insight into the preWW1 years and the terrible conditions that prevailed, with no safety net for the precariously-emplyed painters and decorators who are the main characters, all too aware that the
Apr 16, 2012 Owen rated it it was ok
This book is the left wing answer to Rand's Atlas shrugged.
I say this because there are no characters, only character types. People to fill in specific roles, the greedy scrooge character, the enlightened Marxist who has all the answers if only people would listen etc.
In addition, halfway through the book there's a section explaining the "money trick" which is just a blatant reading out of the political views of the author. It is dismissed as irrelevant how the capitalist acquired the capital,
Jul 29, 2011 Lucy rated it it was ok
This is not a well-written book. I have no quarrel with the theme, I don't mind the perhaps overlong sermons therein, but the author starts plot threads that drift away, repeats chunks, and the characterisation verges on caricature. Were all employers so dishonest, all councillors so corrupt, and all churchmen so hypocritical? Of course not, and the exaggeration detracts from the obviously heartfelt truth of the book. What a shame that at the time no good editor got hold of this and helped the a ...more
A truly affecting book, which pulls no punches in portraying a time where life was a daily struggle to survive, and the idea of social welfare was anathema to the masses.
The writing is blunt and direct, there's no looking for hidden meanings in here, and it's by no means perfect.
But it's powerful and effective in its depictions and descriptions.
Yes, it's repetitive at times, but clearly the message of fairness and equality needed to be hammered home again and again.
Highly recommended to appreci
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Robert Tressell (pen name used by Robert Noonan; April 17, 1870—February 3, 1911) was an Irish-British writer best known for his novel The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.

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“Poverty is not caused by men and women getting married; it's not caused by machinery; it's not caused by "over-production"; it's not caused by drink or laziness; and it's not caused by "over-population". It's caused by Private Monopoly. That is the present system. They have monopolized everything that it is possible to monopolize; they have got the whole earth, the minerals in the earth and the streams that water the earth. The only reason they have not monopolized the daylight and the air is that it is not possible to do it. If it were possible to construct huge gasometers and to draw together and compress within them the whole of the atmosphere, it would have been done long ago, and we should have been compelled to work for them in order to get money to buy air to breathe. And if that seemingly impossible thing were accomplished tomorrow, you would see thousands of people dying for want of air - or of the money to buy it - even as now thousands are dying for want of the other necessities of life. You would see people going about gasping for breath, and telling each other that the likes of them could not expect to have air to breathe unless the had the money to pay for it. Most of you here, for instance, would think and say so. Even as you think at present that it's right for so few people to own the Earth, the Minerals and the Water, which are all just as necessary as is the air. In exactly the same spirit as you now say: "It's Their Land," "It's Their Water," "It's Their Coal," "It's Their Iron," so you would say "It's Their Air," "These are their gasometers, and what right have the likes of us to expect them to allow us to breathe for nothing?" And even while he is doing this the air monopolist will be preaching sermons on the Brotherhood of Man; he will be dispensing advice on "Christian Duty" in the Sunday magazines; he will give utterance to numerous more or less moral maxims for the guidance of the young. And meantime, all around, people will be dying for want of some of the air that he will have bottled up in his gasometers. And when you are all dragging out a miserable existence, gasping for breath or dying for want of air, if one of your number suggests smashing a hole in the side of one of th gasometers, you will all fall upon him in the name of law and order, and after doing your best to tear him limb from limb, you'll drag him, covered with blood, in triumph to the nearest Police Station and deliver him up to "justice" in the hope of being given a few half-pounds of air for your trouble.” 49 likes
“The Golden Light that will be diffused throughout all the happy world from the rays of the risen sun of Socialism.” 4 likes
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