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The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (Penguin Modern Classics) [Paperback]

Robert Tressell , Tristram Hunt
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (446 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 Aug 2004 Penguin Modern Classics

A sustained attack on selfish capitalism, and a Socialist critique of Edwardian England's social inequality, Robert Tressell's The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists includes an introduction by Tristram Hunt in Penguin Modern Classics.

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists tells the story of a group of working men who are joined one day by Frank Owen, a journeyman-prophet with a vision of a just society. Indicting the 'philanthropy' of the working class, who toil solely for the benefit of their masters, and initiating them into the secrets of the 'Great Money Trick' which alienates them from their labour, Owen's spirited attacks on the greed and dishonesty of the capitalist system rouse his fellow men from their political quietism. A masterpiece of wit and political passion and one of the most authentic novels of English working class life ever written.

Robert Noonan (1870-1911) who took the pseudonym 'Tressell' from the 'trestle table' of the sort used by decorators, was an Irish housepainter who came to England from South Africa in 1900. He settled in Hastings, where he worked as a signwriter for various building firms. Tressell never lived to see his book in print; he died of tuberculosis in 1911, aged forty.

If you enjoyed The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, you might also like Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk, available in Penguin Classics.

'Some books seem to batter their way to immortality against all 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'

Evening Standard

'A brilliant and very funny book'

Spectator

'[It] has always seemed to me a wonderful book'

George Orwell, author of Animal Farm

'The first great English novel about the class war ... witty, humourous, instinctive and full of excitement, harmony and pathos'

Alan Sillitoe


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Product details

  • Paperback: 784 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (5 Aug 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141187697
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141187693
  • Product Dimensions: 3.2 x 12.9 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (446 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 251,103 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

‘The first great English novel about the class war, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is spiked, witty, humorous, instructive and full of excitement, harmony and pathos.’ Alan Sillitoe

‘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.’ Evening Standard

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

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From the Back Cover

'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 master piece of wit and political passion and one of the most authentic novels of English working class life ever written.

“The first great English novel about the class war, 'The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists' is spiked, witty, humorous, instructive and full of excitement, harmony and pathos.”
ALAN SILLITOE

“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

“A torch to pass from generation to generation.”
TONY BENN

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
The house was named 'The Cave'. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
276 of 287 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A description of a journey through hell! 19 April 2001
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I first read the "Ragged Trousered Philanthropists" around 1947. It aroused such an interest in me that the story has remained fresh in my memory all of my life. I am now nearly 73 years old. It has been described as the first novel written by a working class person. The description of working class life in such a rich country is a permanent blot on the history of Great Britain. However Tressell writes with such humour that one minute you want to cry and the next explode with laughter. As a result of reading Tressell's book I became a Socialist. Nothing in my life has caused me to change my mind. The characters that Tressell described at the beginning of the twentieth century live on today. Read this book and I guarantee that your thinking will be radically affected. It was the only book that he ever wrote. Tragically, he never lived to see it published. Some people say that it won the election for the Labour Party immediately after the war.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the money trick 18 Nov 2010
By Richard
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I found out about this book at a union meeting a couple of colleagues were discussing it, i thought it sounded very interesting, boy was i surprised, basically the whole book could have been written yesterday, there ae so many things that happend back when this was written, that are still going on today.
The chapter called the money trick puts in to easy to understand way how workers were and are exploited by bosses, i have told many other colleagues about this book, and more often than not about the money trick, this is a fantastic insight in to days gone by, and a must read for trade unionist and anyone who feels they are exploited by bosses.
Definately a must have book.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars RTP 10 April 2012
Format:Paperback
I am ashamed to say that I have only recently read the unabridged version of Robert Tressell's Ragged Trousered Philantropist [RTP]. Many years ago I read my father's copy of the original Penguin edition that was an abridged version that had previously been abridged. Having lived in and walked the streets of Mugsborough [Hastings] all my life I felt almost duty bound to read it. I began with slightly gritted teeth knowing if I abandoned it before the end I would be reluctant to start over any time soon. As it turned out I found it engrossing, I didn't want it to end, it was one of those rare books I wanted to live in.
There is so much here. It's political message is, in a sense, blunted in the twenty first century. The solutions it offers were it least in part manifested in the post war settlement of the Attlee government that has been under attack since the 1980's. But the overarching questions that it asks -What are the causes of poverty, why do those oppressed willingly accept the values of the oppressors, why do they not rise up in revolt and take issue with the system that disadvantages them, remain vibrant.
On another level this is an historic record of the early twentieth century written from the ground up with cast iron authenticity. The author captures enough detail of his surroundings and of the characters to make it believable, touchable and easily recognisable. Tressell himself was a workman, his richly detailed account of working class life in Edwardian England is drawn from first hand experience. His understanding of human nature and its distortions caused by poverty were not imagined but drawn from his everyday experience.. It seems nothing short of miraculous that under these conditions he was able to write such an insightful account of what he experienced.
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64 of 68 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This makes powerful reading. My sense from the start was that the story wasn't fiction outside the names of those peopling it, but in fact the author's own experience of life endured by the working class in England at the turn of 1900. That in itself made it fascinating.

At times I felt the author's rants about the evils of capitalism and the working class being their own worst enemy tiresome (if true), but then I realised his frustration with the mindset of those he spent his working life with would have made him feel the need to rave. What could be worse than spending your every working day in the company of miserable forelock-tuggers, men who at once idolised and hated their masters, and hated themselves even more. We see much of this frustration in the character Owen and his contempt for his fellow workers for regarding their state of starvation and wretched poverty as a privilege and are fiercely committed to preserving the system that keeps them downtrodden. Kudos to the reader who wrote: 'Not only is capitalism unsustainable but immoral.' One need only look at how far downhill the world had gone (as capitalism has gained a surer foothold) in the hundred years since this book was written to know that. More than ever people find no shame in stepping on (or even stomping on) each other to gain an economic advantage.

When a used-to-be Socialist tells Barrington 'enlightenment will never be brought about by arguing with people,' I couldn't have agreed more. While Barrington took this on board as dishearteningly true, delightfully, it didn't take the fight out of him. If one is passionate about changing injustice, even against the odds, one can't help but go on fighting the fight to inform and educate others.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars definitely a good read. Loved the humour in it too
this book is as true today as when this was written years ago. nothing has changed about life and politics. definitely a good read. Loved the humour in it too.
Published 1 day ago by shashie
5.0 out of 5 stars This novel is a great introduction to socialism
This novel is a great introduction to socialism. The most striking thing about the book is that despite it being written over 100 years ago, how little peoples attitudes have... Read more
Published 2 days ago by Jonathan Lowe
5.0 out of 5 stars Enthralling and Enraging in Equal Measure
Although this book is a classic, I had never heard of it until someone recommended it to me. Couldn't put it down, it both enthralled and enraged. Read more
Published 6 days ago by Solitaire
5.0 out of 5 stars I re-read it from time to time and I'm always amazed at the hard times...
Every school pupil should be given a copy of this book. I was transported to a period which highlighted my own family's working class background. Read more
Published 8 days ago by Ms Maggie Brodie
5.0 out of 5 stars Life
Five out of five very good book about life for a working man and his family 100 or so years ago a must read for every trade union member
Published 9 days ago by frank line
2.0 out of 5 stars Two Stars
Disappointed in this read but everyone likes different books .although wasn't my thing others may enjoy it.
Published 12 days ago by sue
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly entertaining book...
I find the Ragged Trousered Philanthropist a thoroughly engaging and entertaining read and find myself lost in the thoughts and feelings of the characters as someone who can... Read more
Published 13 days ago by Bryan Dottin
5.0 out of 5 stars Old story still relevant today
Life in the past - low wages, uncertain employment, housing difficulties. The first chapter or so take a bit of getting used to but it's worth the effort.
Published 23 days ago by Granda
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent if you care about Socialism
This book gives a fictionalised account of working conditions in early 20th century Britain. Some parts of working life have obviously changed a great deal, and yet some ways in... Read more
Published 23 days ago by Luke Williams
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting read for social historians
You really must read this book. You will never moan about your lot in life again! We should be grateful to the author for leaving us this true account of what life was really... Read more
Published 27 days ago by Jayne23
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