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The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

Robert Tressell

Book Overview: 

Clearly frustrated at the refusal of his contemporaries to recognize the iniquity of society, Tressell’s cast of hypocritical Christians, exploitative capitalists and corrupt councilors 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 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. In vain 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”. Much of the book consists of conversations between Owen and the others, or more often of lectures by Owen in the face of their jeering; this was presumably based on Tressell’s own experiences.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . . he would keep his own counsel concerning what pay he was to receive, until he found out what the others were getting.

Just before half past eight Owen arrived and was immediately assailed with questions as to what had transpired at the office. Crass listened with ill-concealed chagrin to Owen's account, but most of the others were genuinely pleased.

'But what a way to speak to anybody!' observed Harlow, referring to Hunter's manner on the previous Monday night.

'You know, I reckon if ole Misery 'ad four legs, 'e'd make a very good pig,' said Philpot, solemnly, 'and you can't expect nothin' from a pig but a grunt.'

During the morning, as Easton and Owen were working together in the drawing-room, the former remarked:

'Did I tell you I had a room I wanted to let, Frank?'

'Yes, I think you did.'

'Well, I've let it to Slyme. I think he seems a very decent sort of chap, don't you?' . . . Read More

Community Reviews

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 aut...more

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 profita...more

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 i...more

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 beginn...more


This ragged monsterpiece, also titled The Labour 2019 Election Manifesto, is Jeremy Corbyns 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 paralle...more

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 socia...more

Ive 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...more

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 e...more

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...more

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 th...more

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