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Tressell: The Real Story of the 'Ragged Trousered Philanthropists' [Paperback]

Dave Harker
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
RRP: £29.99
Price: £22.81 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

1 July 2003
Not many novels about working-class life have been reprinted over a hundred times in the UK, the USA, Canada, Australia, Germany, Russia, Holland Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Japan. Even fewer have sold over a million copies. Hardly any have been so often adapted for the stage, or featured on TV and radio. Above all, none have been passed from hand to hand as often by workers, and taken to their hearts. Robert Tressell's novel 'The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists' is straightforward and highly readable, but it is also a very odd book. After all, novels don't usually explain key points of Marxist theory. True, it has humour, parody, pathos, irony, rage, little victories, defeats, arguments and ideas, and it is brim full of contempt for the ruling class. But what practical political appeal can a tale of isolated Socialists, fighting for a Co-operative Commonwealth, possibly have today? Dave Harker describes Tressell's life, puts his book in its historical context, and traces its success over the past 90-odd years. This is the story of the left in Britain, from the Socialist Federation in the late 19th century, through to the trade union movement and New Labour today.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Zed Books Ltd; illustrated edition edition (1 July 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1842773852
  • ISBN-13: 978-1842773857
  • Product Dimensions: 23.9 x 15.7 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 459,380 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

'This is not only the most accurate biographical account of Robert Tressell, the Irishman who wrote the classic novel of English working class life. It is also a life history of his book, and of its extraordinary impact on 20th Century British Socialism. Harker draws on a deep knowledge of the political and cultural history of the left in order to place Tressell and his work in their contexts. He rejects the reverential tone in which Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is often discussed, subjecting its politics to a toughly critical appraisal. Tressell admirers may not agree with Harker's analysis, but they should be grateful to him for the way in which his meticulous research and challenging arguments will stimulate new discussion of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.' --Jonathan Hyslop, Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research

'Without any doubt TRESSELL is the most researched and comprehensive study into 'The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists', tracing its influence on social, political and literary thinking from when it was first published through to the present day. Able to quote from some previously unpublished material Dr. Dave Harker has produced a most interesting and informative book, invaluable to the 'ordinary' reader and the 'student' alike. It is essential reading for all those who seek a fuller understanding of the Tressell story' --Reg W. Johnson 'The Robert Tressell Family Papers'

About the Author

Dave Harker recently retired from Manchester Metropolitan University. He co-edited The Big Red Song Book (Pluto Press, 1977 & 1981), wrote One for the Money: Politics and Popular Song (Hutchinson, 1980) and co-editored the Open University Press's Popular Music in Britain series (1985).

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
The author of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, the classic English working-class novel, was not born in England, or into the working class, but he often tried to put people off the scent. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
75 of 79 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A long awaited update and much more 30 Oct 2003
Format:Paperback
A long awaited update - and much more.
Dave Harker’s new work is the first is the first book-length study of Robert
Tressell to be published since F C Ball’s 1973 biography One of the Damned,
which came out in 1973 and has been out of print for many years. More
importantly, perhaps, it is the first substantial subsequent study that,
whilst drawing on Ball’s work, has examined it critically and looked beyond it
to primary sources. In this endeavour, Harker has benefited greatly from his
access to the ever-expanding archive compiled and administered by Reg Johnson,
whose late wife, Joan, was Tressell’s grand-daughter and last surviving direct
descendant.
The value of Fred Ball’s astonishing efforts in tracking down the manuscript
of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, restoring it as closely to its
author’s original intended text as could reasonably be expected, given the
limited resources available to him, and collating the biographical detail he
gathered over a period of over thirty years is immense. This should not,
however, be allowed to hide the fact that his research was incomplete, and his
conclusions occasionally flawed. More recent essays that have failed to take
account of this do no justice to Ball by treating his findings as gospel
rather than building on them and augmenting them. The most recent and
exciting exception to this is Jonathan Hyslop’s discovery of the documents
relating to Tressell’s divorce case, in South Africa.
Read more ›
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30 of 39 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Forgetting Plato's Cave 24 Aug 2006
Format:Hardcover
Dave Harker has written a lengthy treatise on Tressell, he has covered the politics and sociology. However he has completely ignored the reason why Sweater's house was called 'The Cave'and thus ignored Tressell's interest in Plato, which he refers to as being a copy on the shelf. Harker should have read it, particuarly the allegory of the cave. Within the cave, Plato speaks of the immobilised prisoners, chained with their eyes and limbs fixed on the wall, in a perpetual state of dealing with the trivia of the petty miseries of men, while ignoring the call to leave this state and go to find the truth. On page 693, the men whom Sweater tyrannises, harness themselves to his victory ride, instead of the horses, dragging his coach through the mud and pouring rain all the way to the Cave. Most of them were accustomed to acting as beasts of burden, the wolves had an easy prey. This incidence follows from the election, where truth was discussed and not found, men preferring not to leave what they knew, even if for freedom. Perhaps their eyes would be so blinded as not to be able to see anything. Once enlightened the freed prisoner would want to return (Owen)to free his fellow bondsmen. They however, would attack any who sought to free them. Please Dave Harker, look at what you missed.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A long awaited update - and so much more 30 Oct 2003
By Mr. J. M. Smith-rawnsley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A long awaited update - and much more.
Dave Harker's new work is the first is the first book-length study of Robert
Tressell to be published since F C Ball's 1973 biography One of the Damned,
which came out in 1973 and has been out of print for many years. More
importantly, perhaps, it is the first substantial subsequent study that,
whilst drawing on Ball's work, has examined it critically and looked beyond it
to primary sources. In this endeavour, Harker has benefited greatly from his
access to the ever-expanding archive compiled and administered by Reg Johnson,
whose late wife, Joan, was Tressell's grand-daughter and last surviving direct
descendant.
The value of Fred Ball's astonishing efforts in tracking down the manuscript
of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, restoring it as closely to its
author's original intended text as could reasonably be expected, given the
limited resources available to him, and collating the biographical detail he
gathered over a period of over thirty years is immense. This should not,
however, be allowed to hide the fact that his research was incomplete, and his
conclusions occasionally flawed. More recent essays that have failed to take
account of this do no justice to Ball by treating his findings as gospel
rather than building on them and augmenting them. The most recent and
exciting exception to this is Jonathan Hyslop's discovery of the documents
relating to Tressell's divorce case, in South Africa.
The first section of Harker's book provides an updated narrative of the life
of the author and the early history of the manuscript, its original discovery
by those who were in a position to bring about its publication and the two
editing processes that it was subjected to in order to produce the severely
mangled 1914 edition and the even more drastically abridged one shilling
edition first published in 1918. All of this is told against the background
of a lively account of the socialist and labour politics of the time, which
continues as Harker relates the book's subsequent history through its
publication record and the stories of those who read it and whose lives were
radicalised by it. Ball's story is incorporated skilfully into this, as are the arcane ideological manoeuvrings of the various incarnations of the UK communist parties and their Trotskyist opponents. Overall the narrative is one of betrayal, the betrayal of ideals and of the people whose protection and advancement lies at the core of the socialist ideal as embodied in The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, culminating in the ultimate betrayal that is New Labour. Surveys of Labour MPs still indicate that Tressell's work is the favourite book of the Parliamentary Labour Party but one wonders how long it is since any of them actually read it!
Like Tressell, Harker is strong on diagnoses but less so on detailed remedies for the ills of the system that now dominates global culture, but also like Tressell he ends on an upbeat, with a timely call to arms and a plea for unity amongst those who crave the dismantling of capitalism and the construction of Tressell's dream of a Co-operative Commonwealth.
Anyone who wants to know all that is currently known about Tressell and The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, or to read an accessible summary of British Labour history, should buy/read this book.
Incidentally, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists seems to be availble in the US only as an expensive import, even though it is beginning to figure on University syllabuses. Time for a campaign to get it back in print over there I think.
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