11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (Penguin Modern Classics) (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.
This, to me, is one of the most moving books I've ever read, I can understand why so many value it so highly. What powers its message is not hard nosed politics but an ability to draw on the well spring of compassion that exists in all of us.