The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists
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The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  3,135 ratings  ·  220 reviews
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 sp...more
Paperback, 591 pages
Published February 7th 2005 by Harper Perennial (first published 1914)
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Pygmalion7
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...more
Jan-Maat
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 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's not a picture of extreme hardship but it's working class characters are boxed in a trap from which there wil...more
Marcus
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...more
Steve Mitchell
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
James
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
Rob
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...more
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
Megan Baxter
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
Sarah Honeysett
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...more
Christopher Jarvis
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...more
Patrick
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...more
T84
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...more
Sean
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
Jimmy Burns
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...more
Sarah
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...more
Ian
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
Lucy
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
Godzilla
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...more
Lee Mcivor
The details of this story are outdated now, but the broader concepts and perspective have never been more accurate. We still live in a time where even the poorest in society can be relied upon to defend the status quo in terms of our economic and political system as if it were immutable, no matter how much it hurts them.

Full of great moments and remarkably pointed observation, such as the "money trick", and the decorator so unhappy with how he's treated that he'd rather damage his leftover mater...more
Margaret Virany
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
Will
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...more
David Hambling

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...more
Owen
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,...more
Kc
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
Maureen
Written and set in Edwardian England, it follows the working lives of a group of painters and decorators. Badly treated by their employers, it exposes the greed and corruption, the threat of eviction and starvation etc which was prevalent at that time.The author himself was a painter and decorator, and it's not hard to see that he was writing about the grim reality of his own life and that of his colleagues in those days before state welfare was introduced. This really is a classic in the social...more
Booklovers Melbourne
Also reviewed on http://bookloversmelbourne.blogspot.c...

Fairly recently I was browsing through my union membership magazine and it had a regular section that introduced the reader to their local union reps, with various questions about favourite TV shows, cars, food, political influences etc etc, standard trade magazine fare.

As you can imagine, being a CFMEU publication (Australia's construction industry union), lots of the answers revolved around AFL teams, Holden utes and left-wing historica...more
Kevin Futers
This book was written before the rise of the Labour Party in the UK and it details the horrors of a world without a centralised welfare state. Anyone contemplating eroding what we have now further should read the RTP and hopefully it would make them think again - or not, they probably would not care because they will never be in the position that these men - and women - find themselves in.
Because it was written in a different time, it could be very clear that life needed to be improved and how t...more
Anna
‘The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists’ is a wonderful, depressing book. Not surprisingly, it reminded me of Jack London’s The People of the Abyss, which similarly demonstrated the terrible plight of the poor in Edwardian England. The two differ, however, in that London focused on the city poor and presented his book as reportage. Tressell’s book centres around a town (a thinly veiled portrait of Hastings) and is told as a novel. Both are polemics, showing the reader the appalling suffering that...more
Bruce Beckham
My first encounter with The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists was in the window of a newsagent’s on our estate. We’d gather before cycling to school each morning, seeking safety in numbers to run the gauntlet of the local pack of feral mongrels.

The book seemed ever present, and its sun-bleached cover sported a rather poorly staged photograph – a Chaplinesque group of interior decorators? At that age, having no clue what ‘philanthropists’ meant, I developed the idea that it was some sort of comic...more
Paul Kearney
Owen is a talented working craftsman on the poverty line .His boss pays him little but is a fine fellow due to his charitable work. This makes him feel good while propping up other business interests for himself and his friends. Between themselves they organise positions in high office to make decisions on spending tax to help business employ the poor into low pay long hour work.Their not overly bothered by the poor in their workforce as they run a two party pro private system and own amongst ot...more
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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.

More about Robert Tressell...
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists Volume I [Easyread Comfort Edition] The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists Volume II [Easy Read Large Edition] The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists: A Play

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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.” 25 likes
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