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.

One of the characters, Frank Owen, is a socialist who tries to convince his fellow workers that capitalism is the … More

First published OTD in 1914, The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists is a semi-biographical novel by the Irish writer Robert Tressell, published after his death from tuberculosis in 1911, about a house painter’s efforts to find work in the fictional English town of Mugsborough (based on the coastal town of Hastings) to stave off the workhouse for himself and his daughter. An explicitly political work, it is widely regarded as a classic of working-class literature.

‘The present system means joyless drudgery, semi-starvation, rags and premature death; and they vote for it and uphold it. Let … More

Over the last century the novel ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’ has been credited with having more influence on the growth of the labour & trade union movement than Marx & Engels. Yet for a long time little was known about the author, a house-painter called ‘Robert Tressell.’ Ian Hernon has traced his life from Victorian Ireland & South Africa to Edwardian Hastings &, ultimately, Liverpool. It is the story of how arguably the greatest novel about the English working class sprang to life from Tressell’s bitter experience & first-hand observations. It is also the personal story of a workmate & single parent who was much-loved in life & venerated after his premature death before his masterpiece was published.

That masterpiece has particular resonance in today’s political climate of austerity and division. With a preface by Len McCluskey, General … More