Jan-Maat's Reviews > The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell
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Jun 16, 2011

bookshelves: 20th-century, british-isles, novel, politics-and-polemic

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 which there will only be one escape (or two if you include socialism).

Set in the still shabby seaside town of Hastings, and dealing with a bunch of painters and decorators trying to earn a living working for a penny-pinching firm, it reads like the bastard son of Hard Times. There are some great character names of the Bodgit and Scarper type, while most of the characters labour under a pernicious philosophy that keeps people down. The use of pieces of bread to demonstrate why the hero's co-workers are, and will remain, the eponymous ragged trousered philanthropists is alone worth the cover price of the book (view spoiler).

Nice to see that some familiar stories like pushing a sheet of paper into a room to check for fleas and the misappropriation of the tea fund have a long pedigree. The bitterness of the story comes from how much is still the same today, like the children sent to school without any breakfast. It's good to know that we haven't abandoned all our ancient traditions in this modern age.

May 2015
In the last few days before the General Election here in the UK I remember another scene from the book. The painters and decorators among themselves save up some money to have a Beano - a lunch with plenty of booze in a country pub outside of town. Out of politeness they invite their bosses and pay their way, on the day by the time it comes round to making the toasts the bosses have taken charge of the proceedings and almost none of the workers has any sense of just how incongruous this is. And when the hero of the story tries to point it out, he is shouted down. Plus ca change...
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Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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message 1: by Caroline (new)

Caroline Hummm....pushing a piece of paper into a room to check for fleas. A sentence by itself that has me scratching!

And the spoiler made me laugh...that's me....

message 2: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Caroline wrote: "Hummm....pushing a piece of paper into a room to check for fleas. A sentence by itself that has me scratching!

And the spoiler made me laugh...that's me...."

Good to see that the spoiler is working! ;)

message 3: by Marita (new)

Marita A very well written and amusing review!

message 4: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Marita wrote: "A very well written and amusing review!"

Glad you enjoyed it :)

message 5: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala Didn't know fleas liked writing so much!

message 6: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Fionnuala wrote: "Didn't know fleas liked writing so much!"

They love it. It's part of their general love of all things human. Their passion for us is so all consuming that they can't help themselves get close to us whenever the opportunity presents itself.

message 7: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala That's a great Flea Story, Jan-Maat!

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