Wednesday, 21 January 2009

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

Title: The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

Author: Robert Tressell

Number of pages: 742

Started: 13 January 2009

Finished: 21 January 2009

Opening words:

The house was named `The Cave'. It was a large old-fashioned three-storied building standing in about an acre of ground, and situated about a mile outside the town of Mugsborough. It stood back nearly two hundred yards from the main road and was reached by means of a by-road or lane, on each side of which was a hedge formed of hawthorn trees and blackberry bushes. This house had been unoccupied for many years and it was now being altered and renovated for its new owner by the firm of Rushton & Co., Builders and Decorators.

There were, altogether, about twenty-five men working there, carpenters, plumbers, plasterers, bricklayers and painters, besides several unskilled labourers. New floors were being put in where the old ones were decayed, and upstairs two of the rooms were being made into one by demolishing the parting wall and substituting an iron girder. Some of the window frames and sashes were so rotten that they were being replaced.

Read the whole book here

Plot summary:

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

Read some background on the book here.

What I thought:

I enjoyed this book, it was a bit repetitive in places and I can imagine that if you don’t have any left wing leanings then this is probably not the book for you, but if you want to get some insight into what this country was like at the beginning of the twentieth century before the arrival of any form of welfare state, it paints a pretty grim (and accurate) picture.

This book has inspired many people to become Socialists and has highlighted the plight of those who have nothing to fall back on if they are only reliant on an employer keeping them in a job. It is a major criticism of Capitalism and sees Socialism as the only way to create a fair society.

Reading this book post-Communism having risen and fallen in Russia and also having only known only ever lived in a country that has a welfare state and also that is Capitalist, it is perhaps difficult to see why Capitalism is seen as quite so evil, but in the current economic climate it is a telling tale of what can happen if we rely too much on working only base our choices on making money and without much regard to others.

A really interesting read and one that gives an interesting perspective on how ‘socialist’ out current government is.


Kahless said...

So how 'socialist' is our current government...

I suspect the answer is not much?

Random Reflections said...

Kahless - I would say that it is very hard to see a lot of the socialist basis of Labour in the current government. I think they perhaps might even be slightly horrified by some of the principles included in this book.