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Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, The

novel tressell properly

a novel by Robert Tressell, published in 1914. ‘I have invented nothing. There are no scenes or incidents in the story that I have not witnessed wither myself or had conclusive evidence of’, said Tressell of his pioneering novel, and the great strength of the work is its authentic portrayal of Edwardian society and its insights into the misery and extortion which formed the backbone of this great British age. The novel concerns the working lives of a group of painters and decorators, and their gradual realization that it is not so much their employers and social betters who cause their poverty and poor working conditions, but the system itself. The guiding metaphor of the novel is the decoration of Mayor Sweater's house, for which paint is watered, work skimped, and wages cut, to allow for the owner's profits. Only the Moorish Room is properly prepared and painted by Frank Owen, a signwriter and socialist, whose painstaking work suggests the pleasure to be gained from labour well done and properly rewarded. Despite its didactic tone, the novel is genuinely funny and deeply moving. The book became a popular success after the First World War, and has been frequently dramatized.

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