The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is a classic representation of the impoverished and politically powerless underclass of British society in Edwardian England, ruthlessly exploited by the institutionalized corruption of their employers and the civic and religious authorities.
Epic in scale, the novel charts the ruinous effects of the laissez-faire mercantilist ethics on the men, women, and children of the working classes, and through its emblematic characters, argues for a socialist politics as the only hope for a civilized and humane life for all. It is a timeless work whose political message is as relevant today as it was in Tressell's time. For this it has long been honoured by the Trade Union movement and thinkers across the political spectrum.
From the Publisher
'Some books seem to batter their way to immortality against all the odds, by sheer brute artistic strength, and high up in this curious and honourable company must be counted The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. Robert Tressell's unfailing humour mixes with an unfailing rage and the two together make a truly Swiftian impact.' - Michael Foot, Evening Standard
'The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is a wonderful book. Its wonder comes from the raciness of its story and the passionate ethics that emerge.' - City Limits
'Robert Tressell has complete familiarity with the idiom of his characters. His language is bizarre, vital, highly inventive and precisely heard - it is a complete and living archaeology of the speech of a particular human group. A brilliant and very funny book.' -- Spectator
About the Author
Robert Tressell (17 April 1870 – 3 February 1911) was the pen name of Irish writer Robert Croker, who later changed his name to Robert Noonan. He is best known for his novel The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists.
Kathleen mentioned her father's novel to a friend of hers, writer Jessie Pope, who recommended it to her publisher. In April 1914, the publisher bought the rights to the book for £25, and it appeared in Britain, Canada and the United States later that year, in the Soviet Union in 1920, and in Germany in 1925. The version as originally published was heavily abridged by Pope, with much of the socialist ideology removed. Pope's version ended with the novel's hero, Frank Owen, who taught that "money was the cause of poverty", contemplating suicide.
The original manuscript was subsequently located by F. C. Ball and, after he had raised funds to acquire and reassemble the original version, an unabridged edition was published in 1955.
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists has been cited as a factor in the landslide Labour victory in 1945, and even for the election of two non-Labour-endorsed Communist members of Parliament that same year. It has been taught in schools and universities, and adapted for stage, television and radio, and readings have been performed at trade union meetings.
Declan Kiberd has argued that Pádraic Ó Conaire's seminal novel in Irish, Deoraíocht, has many parallels in its progressive socialism with Tressell's The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists.
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