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The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

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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 masterpiece of wit and political passion and one of the most authentic novels of English working class life ever written

608 pages, Paperback

First published April 23, 1914

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About the author

Robert Tressell

26 books50 followers
Robert Tressell (pen name used by Robert Noonan; April 17, 1870—February 3, 1911) was an Irish-British writer best known for his novel The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 687 reviews
Profile Image for Maureen .
1,385 reviews7,088 followers
January 11, 2019
Written and set in Edwardian England, ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’ follows the working lives of a group of painters and decorators. Badly treated by their employers, it exposes the greed and corruption - the threat of eviction - and starvation etc which was prevalent at that time. The author himself was a painter and decorator, and it's not hard to see that he was writing about the grim reality of his own life and that of his colleagues in those days before state welfare was introduced. This really is a classic piece of social history in Great Britain, and in some ways is still relevant today.
Profile Image for MJ Nicholls.
2,024 reviews4,072 followers
November 13, 2019

This ragged monsterpiece, also titled The Labour 2019 Election Manifesto, is Jeremy Corbyn’s favourite novel, a 600-page sprawling rant against the ruling capitalist elite and their exploitation of the conditioned workers. Reading the novel over 100 years on, the parallels between now and then are identical—the right-wing British press and psuedo-aristo politicians have managed to manipulate a vast swathe of working-class voters into trusting them on delivering “Brexit”, i.e. a literal punch in their faces, a literal sundering of their nations, a literal robbing of their trouser pockets, a literal fistfuck up the anus of their futures. Look, I am as indifferent as the next man to the plight of moronic Sun-readers in Workington. I am sitting here listening to the new Kim Gordon record, pondering last night’s teriyaki avocado and sweet potato curry, and praising Rodrigo Fresán’s translator on Twitter. I am not Workington man. I am a man who hates dimwits as much as the schemers manipulating dimwits into voting against their interests. But the time comes when right-wing press barons have to be kicked repeatedly in the shins, have to be Steve-Albinied up the keester, and that time is now, in this election. So, vote for anything other than Boris. Read this important, relentless, grinding, and timeless novel, not the Telegraph, the Express, or the Mail, and vote like a proper fucking human being.

Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,549 reviews1,825 followers
April 30, 2020
Not what I was expecting, no Hardy-style wife selling, or Dostoevsky-style pushing daughter into prostitution to earn some hard cash and less searing than Boys from the Blackstuff. Maybe it is too English and mild mannered, I mean there are only three deaths and only one couple forced into the workhouse - what kind of indictment of capitalism is this!

Perhaps that is the book's secret strength. It is not a picture of extreme hardship but it's working class characters are boxed in a trap from which there will only be one escape (or two if you include socialism ).

Set in the still shabby seaside town of Hastings, and dealing with a bunch of painters and decorators trying to earn a living working for a penny-pinching firm, it reads like the bastard son of Hard Times. There are some great character names of the Bodgit and Scarper type, while most of the characters labour under a pernicious philosophy that keeps people down. The use of pieces of bread to demonstrate why the hero's co-workers are, and will remain, the eponymous ragged trousered philanthropists is alone worth the cover price of the book .

Nice to see that some familiar stories like pushing a sheet of paper into a room to check for fleas and the misappropriation of the tea fund have a long pedigree. The bitterness of the story comes from how much is still the same today, like the children sent to school without any breakfast. It's good to know that we haven't abandoned all our ancient traditions in this modern age.

May 2015
In the last few days before the General Election here in the UK I remember another scene from the book. The painters and decorators among themselves save up some money to have a Beano - a lunch with plenty of booze in a country pub outside of town. Out of politeness they invite their bosses and pay their way, on the day by the time it comes round to making the toasts the bosses have taken charge of the proceedings and almost none of the workers has any sense of just how incongruous this is. And when the hero of the story tries to point it out, he is shouted down. The patriotic conservatism of the working men on the bring of poverty with no consciousness of the injustice of their own situation remains ever green too. Plus ca change...
Profile Image for Jerome Willner.
9 reviews2 followers
January 31, 2012
If you've ever reflected on the woes of the world, this novel might offer some relief.

Relief that is, from any illusion that things will probably be ok; that we have learnt from mistakes of the past, and that we are at the dawn of some enlightened benevolent age.

Written and set in the Edwardian era of 1901 to 1910, Robert Tressell describes his work ...
"My main object was to write a readable story full of human interest and based on the happenings of everyday life, the subject of Socialism being treated incidentally."

Drawn heavily from, and perhaps because of, his own life experience; Tressle's fictional novel is about a group of 'working' men and their families, fighting for survival in a relentless and mortal struggle, to avoid poverty, and starvation.

Their work as hired 'temporary hands' in a painter and decorating firm, is short term and uncertain. Desperately trying to keep themselves and their families out of the workhouse, this vulnerability is fully exploited by their employers. Tressle who worked as a painter and decorator himself, uses his knowledge of this trade, and almost certainly anecdotal experience, to describe their profession, and therefore their 'plight' with a dark realism.

His working men lead harsh lives at the whim of their bosses, with little praise or pay for their labours, and harsh penalties or dismissal for the slightest of mistakes.

With unflinching attention to detail he reveals the drama unfolding in the daily routine of their lives, their happiness, and their misery. The importance of this work lies not with the subjects and their circumstances, but with the author's socioeconomic analysis of them. With the dedication of a master-craftsman, he describes each chararacter's difficult situation in context, and explains their limited options with factual fatalism. His ability to place you in the very skin of his characters is perhaps a measure of the integrity of this work.

The characters are strongly detailed in vivid technicolour, not from outward apearance, but from their circumstances and the particular ways they each have of dealing with the world in which they find themselves. The drama of their lives is interwoven with a narrative, that arranges each scene, then lets it play out as we voyeuristically watch, like helpless bystanders to one car crash after another.

With surgical skill, and sometimes without the tenderness of foreplay, the reader is sand-blasted. Bleak tales of desperate poverty unfold in minute detail. You are immersed in and become part of the drama in ways that feel immediate and uncomfortabe. As you read, you may occasionally need to set the book aside and compose yourself. This isn't real, it's just a story! ... or is it?

This is a human story, and it is eminently readable, but it also chillingly reveals the schism and vice at the heart of the capitalist so-called civilisation, based on the system of money.

With ingenuity, and in the mode of tragedy, we are shown in a hundred different and nasty ways, how man abuses his fellow man. Thankfully we are also shown how alternatives to this dystopia might be possible.

Readers may realise and underscore the moral message of this novel. Not only because (given the circumstances of Tressle's life), it is remarkably balanced, but also because driven to despair by poverty, the author almost destroyed his amazing work, and ultimately died from TB, a disease suffered by the impoverished and the down-trodden.

And the message ...that society's repeated failure to fairly distribute the necessities of human life, and a pathalogical tendency towards corruption and vain consumption are so prevalent, so manifestly routine, that our doom is all but certain. Our very survival as a species may lie in re-organizing our affairs efficiently for the benefit of all, rather than the priviledge of few.

Almost 100 years after it was first published, the relevance of this work, and it's ability to speak to us in the 21st century is surely a stark indictment of our time.

Engaging and informative - for the socially conscious, and ethically minded. Essential reading.

Dedicated to J & P Batty, who lent me this brilliant book to read. Thank you so much. (Jerome Willner).
Profile Image for Megan Baxter.
985 reviews656 followers
May 19, 2014
This book makes me feel like a bad leftie. I wanted to like it so much more than I did, and while parts of it are very powerful, the book is overlong, and treads the same ground so often that I had to force myself to finish it.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook
Profile Image for Katie Lumsden.
Author 1 book2,822 followers
December 16, 2020
A really brilliant read – compelling, moving and thought-provoking, with wonderful characterisation. I loved it.
Profile Image for Trevor.
1,294 reviews21.7k followers
June 26, 2018
I’ve had a long and somewhat strange relationship with this book. My father asked me to read it when I was about 11 and I started it, but must have only read the first couple of chapters. All the same, and that was over 40 years ago, I remembered bits of it as I read it again this time.

This is an ideological book, and it is a work of fiction. Part of me believes that fiction and ideology make bad bedfellows. Part of the reason for that is that fiction nearly always allows (and frequently implies) an ironic reading, and ideology doesn’t really expect that and so is undermined by not seeing the possible ironic reading. But this book is perhaps a little too didactic to allow an ironic reading.

My father was a house painter – and this is set amongst a group of house painters. I worked with my father for a couple of years while I was finishing my first degree. I’ve never really had a head for heights, and so that made a lot of the job an exercise in terror for me. But one of the things that painting does, that most of the other jobs I’ve done since don’t do, is it allows you to see a job finished. So much work today is task based and all part of an extreme division of labour, such that nothing one does ever really feels like it was you that did it. Painting isn’t like that. Although, oddly enough, it is here in this book, because of the forced cutting of corners the bosses require.

This book is about the ugly side of capitalism and the hardships it causes working people, it is a book calling for socialism by pointing out the systemic failures of the capitalist system and how these will only be overcome once private ownership is abolished. There would have been quite a long period after the second world war when people might have smugly felt that that harsh face of capitalism had become a thing of the past and that now the abject poverty facing people as described in this book, where people were required to be able and willing to work all day and all week, and still live in poverty, had become unthinkable. But we have returned to a time when people can work (and even work in multiple jobs) while still not having the basic requirements of life: shelter, food, clothing.

And what is particularly interesting about this book is that all of the excuses and explanations and victimisations and lies that were told then to justify why we have poverty and unemployment and hardship are exactly the same ones that are used today. For this alone, it is worth reading this book.

There is a bit of this towards the end where a socialist confronts someone who had been a socialist but has sold out. The ex-socialist says he still knows that the only hope for the future is socialism, but then he says that his problem isn’t with the idea of socialism, but with the utter stupidity of the working class – because he knows that the working class will fight till the death to defend the rights of their masters to exploit and starve them and their families. They would literally beat socialists to death for questioning the right of ‘their betters’ to have riches while they are denied even the crumbs. That while the socialists try to use reason as their weapon to make the world a better place, the working class have received a lifetime of lies about socialism from the media, their employers, politicians, and ministers of religion and would sooner kill the messenger than disturb the status quo. Basically, truth is not enough – something truth-tellers have been learning since Socrates.

Like I said, this is a book with an unashamed ideological message, it presents, in fictional form, many of the ideas and arguments socialists have put about the nature of money, exploitation, and how the socialisation of production, distribution and exchange might usher in a world for the benefit of all humanity, even including the rich. As such, reading this might save you from having to read what are much harder texts to read, such as Capital.

One of the parts of this book I really wasn’t expecting was the number of times when Owen considered killing his wife and child, rather than leave them to a world where he wasn’t going to be there to support them. This was a dark theme that haunted this book, I felt. There are many interesting parts to this book – and I can’t help feeling it is as relevant today as it was when it was originally published.
Profile Image for Kc.
37 reviews
October 22, 2013
Everyone should read this book. 100 years on we have a welfare state, the NHS and numerous rights at work. These are precious and well fought for but recent government is trying to undermine and backtrack on these achievements. Privatisation of parts of the NHS, selling off Royal Mail - a profitable state-owned public service, zero-hour contracts and demonisation in the press (run by those who have a massive stake in the system) of the poor, disabled, working poor and anyone else who is considered 'outside' of the faux-moral norm are attempts to allow one group to become stinking rich at the expense of another. Let this book both show how far we have come but also act as a warning - be careful who you vote for!
Profile Image for [ J o ].
1,938 reviews428 followers
February 7, 2017
Read as part of The Infinite Variety Reading Challenge, based on the BBC's Big Read Poll of 2003.

Just wonderful. At times sickening, but also heartening and exactly what one needs in this era, for good and bad. Moreso brilliant for what it stands for rather than how it is written or the plot, but even so the plot is worthy in its own right. Full review to follow.

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Profile Image for Stephen Robert Collins.
564 reviews49 followers
April 21, 2020
Have ever hear of the joke about watching paint dry. This the book that sets right This union book not an easy read but very rewarding one it is like The Grapes of Wrath set in wallpaper.
Set in poor man's wages & the North around bad wages workers who are treat like filth I loved it.
A book that is set long before anyone thought of minimum wages .A socialist Nightmare that is filthy shades of grey , this the very edge of being of labour party a time when a roll of wallpaper cost men's weeks wage packet and more. The idea of block raised wallpaper by William Morris that cost in to days money £250 handcrafted.
Tressell create 's a book that isn't as popular today because it has been forgotten about and is not on the school corclica or I never hear of it been televised which I can't see it been popular.
It is very funny book, very sad book and very Union book. The sadness part of this book is that it was published in April 1914 to show paint trade was been treat and by end of year it didn't matter because WWI started and the paint was drying in the poppy fields in blood.
This isn't anything like watching paint dry.

Profile Image for Marcus.
29 reviews5 followers
July 21, 2007
I read the complete, unedited text, after being given it as a rather thoughtful Christmas present. It is rightly heralded as a classic piece of working-class literature, as it takes you into the brutish yet everyday horrors endured by the British working-class, at a time when socialism was beginning to gain ground.

One of the most arresting aspects, is how little our lives have changed in the time since it was written (1914). Certainly there have been great strides forward in many aspects, but the essence of domination, resistance, apathy and endurance remain. It is the way that this book makes them all the more visible in our present lives-cutting through the plethora of appearances/desires-to reveal a world of deep inequality, abuses of power and adherence to orders of the day.

Don't be put of by the density and length, it really works in creating a convincing atmosphere of the times and allows room for a rather surprising ending.

The authors own life, and the route to this books production is worth reading also;

Profile Image for John Farebrother.
114 reviews27 followers
July 11, 2019
A profoundly moving and patriotic book, which should be read by everyone who lives in the UK and professes to care about the country and its people. Written just before WWI, it has become a classic of the socialist movement, and as such is perhaps not so well-known as it should be.
The great socialist injustices of the day are exposed and explored in a fly-on-the-wall reportage of the lives of a group of semi-skilled and skilled workmen in a fictional English town. One of the things that struck me most is how much some things have never changed since then, despite two world wars and several Labour governments. And how in some ways society is regressing today, back to those very dark days. In many ways this book lays the groundwork for the late Harry Leslie Smith's masterpiece Harry's Last Stand: How the World My Generation Built is Falling Down, and What We Can Do to Save It. Make sure you read it!
Profile Image for Sarah Neofield.
Author 3 books37 followers
June 7, 2019
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is by far one of my favourite books. It's so much more than just a novel or just an essay - and incredibly, the observations Tressell makes are (sadly) just as timely today as they were 100 years ago.
Profile Image for Steve Mitchell.
926 reviews13 followers
April 3, 2021
This is one of the greatest books that I have ever read and it brilliantly illustrates the reasoning why I am a fully paid up, card carrying member of the Labour party and wear a red ‘A’ lapel badge! It’s not so much the book that changed my life as reassured me that I was right in the first place.

This novel is set at the start of the 20th century and the birth of Britain’s Labour party as they attempt to bring about a Socialist utopia for the working classes. Outlining the resistance to change by the Liberal and Tory governing classes as well as the very workers that would benefit the most from the changes highlights the idiocy of the day. The working classes did not seek to better their lot condemning their children to the same fate even when the Socialists demonstrate the folly of continuing with the current state of affairs. ‘The Great Money Trick’ is brilliantly illustrated by Frank Owen – one of the Socialist heroes of the book – where the factory owners reap the benefits of the worker’s labour, pay them a wage which they must use to purchase the very necessities that they created to survive and so remain in poverty. The book also highlights the idiocy of the Socialists in trying to reason with people by rational argument that the change would benefit them when they are too set in their ways. George Barrington – the other Socialist hero of the story – demonstrates that money is the root cause of poverty and how the work can be fairly carried out for a fair wage so that nobody should suffer the indignity of destitution.

So if you think that the wages you receive for the work that you do does not tally with the value of what you produce; read on and the reasons shall be revealed.
1,250 reviews42 followers
December 12, 2011
A passionately written socialist polemic describing the hardships Edwardian housepainters had to endure. There are no shades of grey in this novel, and the author believes that if you have a point to make, dont make it once when you can do it twenty times. Additionally the solution presented in the book with the benefit of being able to look back at the 20th century is naive to say the least. What however endures in this book beyond any doubt and provides it with a compelling voice even today is what happens when the weak have no rights, the inhumanity of greed, and finally the self defeating cooperation the oppressed show the oppressors.
Profile Image for James Hartley.
Author 10 books127 followers
January 14, 2018
I first came across this while reading the Secret Diary of Adrian Mole - a "sacred text" of mine when I was about 12. Adrian, wanting to be an intellectual, had got hold of the book but - I think - wasn´t sure he wanted to read a book about badly dressed stamp collectors. Now this book itself has become something of a sacred text to a lot of people and - finally getting around to reading it at 44 years young - I can see why.
I don´t have much to add to what you can read in the other reviews or in summaries of the book except that there is a lot of humour in the book. It´s a wry, funny read, from the author´s punning name to the characters - my favourite being Diddlum. The horror of poverty is there, of course, in all it´s stark reality - and behind that ironic smile, you can never get away from the writer´s burning sense of injustice and unfairness. There are unexpectedly gentle, moving moments too. Tressell can really write.
I love the story of the book itself - rejected by publishers during the author´s lifetime and boxed up in a tin under the dead writer´s bed - recovered, rescued and somehow brought back to life, albeit in gutted, manipulated form, only to be finally saved and fully restored thanks to iron steam and the love of a devotee who bought the original manuscript in a cafe and went to work on it. Truly a sacred book - a very unique read and important, whichever political flag you fly and follow.
Perhaps the socialism outlined in the book has dated rather (this was written when there was no National Health Service or Social Security system, but workhouses were still very much in operation) but the basic critique of the capitalist system and how it benefits those pulling the strings is spot on and still very relevant. There are detailed, amusing accounts, of how politicans and the media are complicit in keeping everyone in their place - although the final verdict is damning: we live under this system because we are too blinkered, lazy or unenlightened to do anything about it - it´s just how it is.
If overlong, well worth a read. A keeper.
Profile Image for Rob.
Author 5 books25 followers
May 13, 2009
This classic example of early socialist fiction, little read at the time of its publication nearly a hundred years ago, has found favour in recent times following the questioning of the capitalist system brought on by the credit crunch. Concentrating on working conditions in a painting and decorating outfit, the book celebrates the labour theory of value and condemns the exploiting class.

Whilst occasionally subsiding into a ranting, didactic style, Tressell writes with enough verve, humour and intelligence to create a varied cast of characters including the malevolent Hunter (also known by the charming nickname of "Misery"), corpulent Crass and working class hero Owen. The book has a myriad of targets including the Church, Edwardian philanthropy and the unthinking working class, who just accept their lot unblinkingly. The book is fascinating from an historical point of view in that it was written at about the point that organised labour was getting off the ground.
Profile Image for Paul Howsley.
Author 1 book19 followers
December 22, 2015
A must read for anybody interested in socialism or the life of the working class before its emergence. Told before the NHS and before welfare, reading it now is a reminder of what current governments are trying to take us back to. The book tries to expose greed and exploitative working conditions and it's quite disheartening to think that 100 years on the battle remains, quite possibly even more so.

The worst thing about this book is that it is still relevant.
Profile Image for Sarah Honeysett.
Author 27 books4 followers
April 1, 2017
Socialist classic and allegedly the book that won the 1945 election for Labour, I had the good fortune to find a cheap copy in the small independent book shop near the University when I was a student in Sheffield. I would never have believed that thirty years later, and with the book itself now over 100 years old, we would be back in a world where workers in underpaid, irregular work can literally go hungry.

I still think there's no better explanation of the failings of capitalism than Owen's demonstration of the system using his colleagues' slices of bread, and the scene late in the story where Barrington encounters the workers' children outside the toyshop moves me to tears every time I read it.

It's too long, it's sentimental, the politics is laid on with a trowel (or a well-loaded paintbrush) and the 'bad guys' are rather two-dimensional and get their just desserts in somewhat contrived circumstances. But what the heck - it's 'The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists' and it's an inspiration!
19 reviews2 followers
April 14, 2012
What a book. This is a novel exposing greed, corruption and the pusillanimous nature of the class system which is as relevant today as it was on the day it was published.

The story revolves around the plight of working men and how they are perceived by and treated as sub-human commodities by their bosses and the bosses underlings. Tressell (a nom-de-plume for Robert Noonan)was a journeyman painter and decorator and moved from his native Ireland to follow any work he could find. The novel is a distillation of his experiences until he died a pauper in a Liverpool workhouse and was buried in a communal pauper's grave along with twelve other unfortunates.

The novel is written in a clear and concise style devoid of verbosity and plunges a stilletto deep into the heart of a grasping and uncaring society. If you have a belief in an equal society where those who require help can access it without shame or vitriol, this is a must-read book.
Profile Image for Kim.
412 reviews13 followers
January 22, 2020
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is a novel by Robert Tressell first published in 1914 after his death in 1911. An explicitly political work, it is widely regarded as a classic of working-class literature. Robert Tressell was the pen name of Irish writer Robert Croker, who later changed his name to Robert Noonan. It seems to me it would be easier to just keep your name then try to go through whatever it is to go through to change your name not only once but twice. The name Crocker was the name of his father, Samuel. Tressel was Crocker's illegitimate son, but his father, who had a family of his own, provided for Tressell until his death. I don't think a man with a family should have an illegitimate son, but he did. His mother's name was Mary Noonan and she raised him. I found it interesting that on May 27, 1890 he broke into the house of his sister's employer, Charles Fay junior, a shipping agent. He then had stolen a quantity of silver and electro-plated articles, whatever they are. He was given a six month prison sentence. I wonder why he broke into a house in the first place, I also wonder why, of all people he would pick his sister's employer, I would think his sister just might lose her job over that, also he must not have been very good at it, he got caught. After living in a whole bunch of places he eventually ended up in Hastings, Sussex. Here, he found work as a sign writer, I know a man who used to be a sign painter, he was amazing, he could keep all the letters and such perfectly matched just free handing them. Anyway, Tressell's work as a sign writer was at much lower wages and in far poorer conditions than he had experienced in other places he had lived. Tressell became a Socialist, believe me if you read the book you'll figure that out pretty fast, and that is why he wrote under the name Tressell, he feared his socialist views expressed in the book would have him blacklisted. Blacklisted from what I don't know. I'm moving on to the book now.

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is based on his own experiences of poverty and his terror that he and his daughter whom he was raising alone, would be consigned to the workhouse if he became ill- which he did, Tressel wrote a detailed and scathing analysis of the relationship between working-class people and their employers. The "philanthropists" of the title are the workers who, in his view, acquiesce in their own exploitation in the interests of their bosses. That's for sure, you will know that just by reading the preface:

"I designed to show the conditions resulting from poverty and unemployment: to expose the futility of the measures taken to deal with them and to indicate what I believe to be the only real remedy, namely - Socialism. I intended to explain what Socialists understand by the word "Poverty"; to define the Socialist theory of the causes of poverty, and to explain how Socialists propose to abolish poverty."

That is fine, I have no objection to learning what Socialists feel about poverty or anything else, I have certainly learned it now. What bothered me is that every time our main character, Frank Owen opened his mouth it was to tell us once again about Socialism. Instead of getting me more and more interested as the book goes on it makes me want to cry out "no, not again"! I would feel the same way if each time I walk out of my house one of my Christian brothers or sisters started telling me about going to church. It also made me wonder if every time someone comes near me do I start telling them about Christmas. I'll have to pay attention to what I'm saying for awhile. Here are some of Owen's beliefs we get to hear over and over again:

"We've had Free Trade for the last fifty years and today most people are living in a condition of more or less abject poverty, and thousands are literally starving. When we had Protection things were worse still. Other countries have Protection and yet many of their people are glad to come here and work for starvation wages. The only difference between Free Trade and Protection is that under certain circumstances one might be a little worse that the other, but as remedies for Poverty, neither of them are of any real use whatever, for the simple reason that they do not deal with the real causes of Poverty.'

'Over-population!' cried Owen, 'when there's thousands of acres of uncultivated land in England without a house or human being to be seen. Is over-population the cause of poverty in France? Is over-population the cause of poverty in Ireland? Within the last fifty years the population of Ireland has been reduced by more than half. Four millions of people have been exterminated by famine or got rid of by emigration, but they haven't got rid of poverty. P'raps you think that half the people in this country ought to be exterminated as well."

"Your question has really nothing to do with the subject we are discussing: we are only trying to find out why the majority of people have to go short of the benefits of civilization. One of the causes is--the majority of the population are engaged in work that does not produce those things; and most of what IS produced is appropriated and wasted by those who have no right to it."

"These are the wretches who cause poverty: they not only devour or waste or hoard the things made by the worker, but as soon as their own wants are supplied--they compel the workers to cease working and prevent them producing the things they need. Most of these people!' cried Owen, his usually pale face flushing red and his eyes shining with sudden anger, 'most of these people do not deserve to be called human beings at all! They're devils! They know that whilst they are indulging in pleasures of every kind--all around them men and women and little children are existing in want or dying of hunger.' "

These are some of the things he thinks about his fellow workers:

"As Owen thought of his child's future there sprung up within him a feeling of hatred and fury against the majority of his fellow workmen."

"THEY WERE THE ENEMY. Those who not only quietly submitted like so many cattle to the existing state of things, but defended it, and opposed and ridiculed any suggestion to alter it."

"THEY WERE THE REAL OPPRESSORS--the men who spoke of themselves as 'The likes of us,' who, having lived in poverty and degradation all their lives considered that what had been good enough for them was good enough for the children they had been the cause of bringing into existence."

"He hated and despised them because they calmly saw their children condemned to hard labour and poverty for life, and deliberately refused to make any effort to secure for them better conditions than those they had themselves."

"It was because they were indifferent to the fate of THEIR children that he would be unable to secure a natural and human life for HIS. It was their apathy or active opposition that made it impossible to establish a better system of society under which those who did their fair share of the world's work would be honoured and rewarded. Instead of helping to do this, they abased themselves, and grovelled before their oppressors, and compelled and taught their children to do the same. THEY were the people who were really responsible for the continuance of the present system."

"Those who worked were looked upon with contempt, and subjected to every possible indignity. Nearly everything they produced was taken away from them and enjoyed by the people who did nothing. And then the workers bowed down and grovelled before those who had robbed them of the fruits of their labour and were childishly grateful to them for leaving anything at all."

"No wonder the rich despised them and looked upon them as dirt. They WERE despicable. They WERE dirt. They admitted it and gloried in it. "

"Thousands of people like himself dragged out a wretched existence on the very verge of starvation, and for the greater number of people life was one long struggle against poverty. Yet practically none of these people knew or even troubled themselves to inquire why they were in that condition; and for anyone else to try to explain to them was a ridiculous waste of time, for they did not want to know.

The remedy was so simple, the evil so great and so glaringly evident that the only possible explanation of its continued existence was that the majority of his fellow workers were devoid of the power of reasoning. If these people were not mentally deficient they would of their own accord have swept this silly system away long ago. It would not have been necessary for anyone to teach them that it was wrong."

You would think his thoughts toward the people he is trying to help would be just a little bit nicer than his. However, it's not only the workers he seems to hate, he has spared plenty of hatred for the "bosses" too:

"Any profit that it was possible to make out of the work, Rushton meant to secure for himself. He was a smart man, this Rushton, he possessed the ideal character: the kind of character that is necessary for any man who wishes to succeed in business--to get on in life. In other words, his disposition was very similar to that of a pig--he was intensely selfish."

"Most of these people!' cried Owen, his usually pale face flushing red and his eyes shining with sudden anger, 'most of these people do not deserve to be called human beings at all! They're devils! They know that whilst they are indulging in pleasures of every kind--all around them men and women and little children are existing in want or dying of hunger!"

Anyway, you get the idea, his views on Christians are, if anything, worse. I could list those but the more I think about these things the more tired I get of thinking of these things. I will say though if the workers, bosses, and Christians really acted in Tressill's time the way they do in the book, no wonder he wrote Owen the way he did. When Owen wasn't giving us another one of his speeches I could have liked the book. There were many interesting characters, and most of them had interesting names such as Mr. Grinder, the green grocer; Mr. Sweater the draper; Mrs. Starvem, Mr. Hunter, Mr. Belcher, Rev. Bosher, and Mr. Rushton who owns both Rushton & Co., Builders and Decorators, and the funeral parlor. Which got me wondering what building and funerals could have in common, and that got me thinking of my childhood when there were three funeral homes in the valley that were also furniture stores. I think they've all dropped the furniture by now, but what was the link I wonder, in the first place? Anyway, some of the workers are, Slyme, Joe Philpot, who indulges freely, and Crass; then there's the Besotted Wretch and the Semi-drunk, if they had other names I never saw it.

I was interested in the story. I wanted to know things like, would Easton and Ruth's child die, what illness did Owen have, what about Nora, how sick is she? Will I ever find out what Besotted Wretches real name is? Things like that, I was interested in the character's lives, even Owen's if he could stop talking once in a while. I will give the book two stars, maybe three I haven't decided. If you read the book and see a link between building and funerals let me know, I'm going to ask my husband if he knows what the link between furniture and funerals would be. Then it's on to the next book.
1 review2 followers
January 26, 2013
I originally got this book from my local library and set about reading it daily on my commute to work. my commute used to be 40 minutes and the time flew by as I turned page after page of this book.

I have always been a bookworm and can say hand on heart that this is one of two books that I call the best books I have ever read. The other is To Kill a Mockingbird. I cannot explain to people why I love this book as much as I do, it is the only book that has ever made me laugh and cry.

Since I read this book, I have been suggesting it to everyone I know but I can never ever tell them what is so good about it, it's just a fantastic book.

I won't lie and say that it is all easy reading, there are bits which are tough going but fight through them and you'll realise why this book is now considered a classic.

I have now read this book about five times and every time I notice new things which I've previously missed..

BBC Radio 4 had a recording of this book an I remember listening to it on my tv as I had just set it up and was checking the channels. I recall that Johnny Vegas did one of the voices and now whenever I read the book, I hear only his voice only head.
Profile Image for Rachel Hirstwood.
150 reviews
June 17, 2011
For what could have easily turned out as a really long political tratise, this was a fabulous good read! I loved everything about it. The names of the characters (Tressell names all the baddies in the story with names that describe their character like Dickens, only actually funny), the dialect, the era, the details of the work the characters were doind. ALL of it was great. It's not often you get to the end of a 620 page novel and then go back to the beginning and read all the notes, the preface, the footnotes and still enjoy it. I wish it had gone on for longer!
Profile Image for 🌶 peppersocks 🧦.
1,219 reviews13 followers
April 15, 2022
Reflections and lessons learned:
“Socialism is a plan by which poverty will be abolished, and everyone enabled to live in plenty and comfort with leisure and opportunity for ampler life…”

I’ve been meaning to read this after seeing more recent comedian (lovely ‘liberal elite’) reviews and the timing of the mid elections/continuing political social commentary ‘unrest’ (? he was near a glass of champagne boohoohoo vs taking us into an illegal war/David Kelly weirdness? Hmmm… as ever, I seriously hope that I’m wrong on the very latter, but levels of impeachment people…) is quite interesting. I possibly wouldn’t have ran as fast to read it had I known that Steven Twigg was also a narrator but it actually worked really well for the speeches and gave me the balance that I think that this does display.

A really important book for anyone claiming to be a socialist (not just a leftie) as some of the concepts proffered are undoubtedly attractive, but if only they would work, which they might if humanity wasn’t about one-upmanship. Some great theories, some idealistic, and some not ever destined to work, but some that would be so good - if they’re not debated though, we will not have anything moving forward… and The Red Flag will always end with ‘power to the people’ in my mind!

“I think I have some money…”
Profile Image for Jackie.
131 reviews10 followers
September 28, 2016
The tale is set in Mugborough, about 200 miles from London. It tells an everyday story of those who work in the building trade particularly painter and decorators. It was written in 1906 and details a year in the life of the works, their families, and the men/firms who employ them. There is a constant fear of unemployment which means that rents cannot be paid, food cannot be bought, debts mount, workers get ill, eventually die or become so destitute they get sent to the workhouse for their pains. It details the political and social conditions of the community where allegedly there is a ‘safety net’ where monies can be allotted but because of the prejudices and moral judgement of the great and the good, often those, deserving some help rarely get it in spite of the jumble sales, soup kitchens, the ‘Assistance Board', et al.
The workers at Rushton & Co were typical of the firms employing labour at that time. Rushton was the boss, whilst Hunter (also known as Nimrod or Misery) was the foreman, but both these men put the fear of God into the workers, because the actual fact of being watched or the fear of being watched loomed large. Within the group were the painters, decorators, boy apprentices, as well as people like Owen who could turn his hand to more intricate drawing and painting. Their wives and children shared their misery, with women doing sewing, cleaning or washing whilst their betters were seen in carriages and big hats. The novel exposed the raw competition, not just between the different building companies or the classes, but also between workers at every level with the employers always trying to cut the cost of the job by taking the wages down from seven pence an hour to five pence halfpenny, with everybody pitched against each other. Even families wouldn’t help in the support of their mother and father who lived with their daughter-in-law.
Eventually the old man Linden dies in the workhouse aged 67 and gets buried in a pauper’s grave whilst his grandchildren live in one room with the Easton’s. The Barrington’s of the world were few and far between but he did bring in a large slice of contentment for a short period of time over Christmas just to show that good, decent people do exist and they don’t have to wrangle to survive.
I did really enjoy the descriptions of the public meetings where the electorate or at least those that could vote in 1906 harangued those standing for election especially when Sweater, the owner of the big house stood as a Liberal for election. The whole novel was so very modern, the visionary Frank Owen was ahead of his time whilst the apprentice – Bert White, was just travelling the same road as all the other working men, most of them really believed things could not be changed, even to providing a fire for the lad. The suicide of Misery was a bit unexpected. All very sad but very true. A brilliant novel, remarkable in every way, one which I will never forget.
Profile Image for Patrick.
1 review3 followers
April 4, 2012
This book, as well as being a socialist's bible, is a gripping commentary on the social conditions of the time...a detailed and scathing Marxist analysis of the relationship between the working class people and their employers. The "philanthropists" of the title are the workers who, in Noonan 's view, acquiesce in their own exploitation in the interests of their bosses.
Clearly frustrated at the refusal of his contemporaries to recognise the inequalities and corruption of society, Tressell's cast of hypocritical Christians, exploitative capitalists and corrupt councillors provide a backdrop for his main target — the workers who think that a better life is "not for the likes of them". Hence the title of the book; Tressell paints the workers as "philanthropists" who throw themselves into the grind of back-breaking work for poverty wages in order to generate profit for their masters.
The hero of the book, Frank Owen, is a socialist who believes that the capitalist system is the real source of the poverty he sees all around him. To no avail he tries to convince his fellow workers of his world view, but finds that their education has trained them to distrust their own thoughts and to rely on those of their "betters". It will make you laugh, cry and gasp in amazement....it may well plant an ideological seed that may change your view on life....it is still very relevant today.
Profile Image for Sarah.
4 reviews
October 17, 2013
Having read various reviews and heard often about this book, I expected to like it much more than I did.

At the beginning I found the story and ideas interesting and started to identify with the main characters, but as you progress through the novel the same arguments are repeated over and over again, often using identical wording, making the whole book start to feel like a bit of a struggle. I still have about a quarter of the book to go, but already I am skimming sections (something I never usually do) and constantly watching the % calculator on my Kindle, hoping to advance quickly to the end.

Overall I think the concept is interesting but the execution is too repetitive, making it more of a laborious manifesto read than an enjoyable and thought-provoking novel. If the book could be shortened by 30%, I think it would be a big improvement.
Profile Image for Al.
Author 27 books156 followers
December 7, 2015
I read this on the recommendation of an ex brick layer, who said reading this book at a young age helped define his life.
What is really striking is how little so many things seem to have changed in the labour market.
Written with humour, compassion , and love.
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