First publlished OTD in 1914, The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists, a semi-biographical novel by the Irish house painter & sign writer Robert Noonan, who wrote the book in his spare time under the pen name Robert Tressell. Clearly frustrated at the refusal of his contemporaries to recognise the inequity and iniquity of society, Tressell’s cast of hypocritical Christians, exploitative capitalists & 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 back-breaking work for poverty wages to generate profit for their masters.

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One of the characters, Frank Owen, is a socialist who tries to convince his fellow workers that capitalism is the real source of the poverty he sees all around him, but 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. Available online.

 

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