Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressel

Free US/UK Kindle Classic
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is a 1914 novel by Irish writer Robert Noonan who wrote under the pen name Robert Tressel. (US Edition)  (UK Edition)  Noonan was a house painter and his is one of those sad stories of literary rejection.  A family member was able to get the book published after Noonan's death from tuberculosis.

This is said to be the first book by a working class writer, the book that won Labour's first election and the Socialist bible.  That is a lot to put on one novel!

But Amazon Reader reviews say over and over that they are re-reading this semi-autobiographical story of humour and rage.  The novel is set in a fictional town in England, which is said to be Hastings.

Around the teakettle, a political discussion ensues:
'Wot's the use of talkin' like that?' he said; 'you know very well that the country IS being ruined by foreigners. Just go to a shop to buy something; look round the place an' you'll see that more than 'arf the damn stuff comes from abroad. They're able to sell their goods 'ere because they don't 'ave to pay no dooty, but they takes care to put 'eavy dooties on our goods to keep 'em out of their countries; and I say it's about time it was stopped.'

''Ear, 'ear,' said Linden, who always agreed with Crass, because the latter, being in charge of the job, had it in his power to put in a good--or a bad--word for a man to the boss. ''Ear, 'ear! Now that's wot I call common sense.'
This is a fairly talky book, but the talk is entertaining and the dialect is not tiresome as it is in some books.

Here a foreman is besieged by job applicants and decides to hire one:
You can come here to this job,' and he nodded his head in the direction of the house where the men were working. 'Tomorrow at seven. Of course you know the figure?' he added as Newman was about to thank him. 'Six and a half.'

Hunter spoke as if the reduction were already an accomplished fact. The man was more likely to agree, if he thought that others were already working at the reduced rate.

Newman was taken by surprise and hesitated. He had never worked under price; indeed, he had sometimes gone hungry rather than do so; but now it seemed that others were doing it. And then he was so awfully hard up. If he refused this job he was not likely to get another in a hurry. He thought of his home and his family. Already they owed five weeks' rent, and last Monday the collector had hinted pretty plainly that the landlord would not wait much longer. Not only that, but if he did not get a job how were they to live?
That is not a dilemma confined to pre-war Britain.

There is speculation the title of this book was meant to be "The Ragged Arsed Philanthropists."  "Philanthropists" because the workers received such low wages, they might be thought to be donating their services.

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