Tuesday, 9 February 2010

The Painters Bible, or the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists



I've recently finally got round to reading the Ragged Trousered Philanthropist, and it is a phenomenal book. It might just top my chart of favourite novel currently dominated jointly by Nineteen Eighty Four and Animal Farm.

Don't worry although this is labelled under review thats just an excuse to fill out that ink list to the left, I'm not worthy of analysing this fully this more like some thoughts, or a love letter.

The Foreword alone is very illuminating, the original manuscript by Robert Tressell (Real name Robert Noonan) was cut down from 250,000 words to a mere 90'000 after his death by Jessie Pope most famed for here Patriotic poems during the slaughter of the First World War,editing in those days actually entailed physically cutting out whole pages and paragraphs and scribbling out other sections. It only exist today in complete form (or as close to it as possible some pages were sadly unrecoverable) do to the sterling efforts of one man and his wife Fred Ball, Mr Ball a great admirer of its cut down publication researched the book and discovered the old manuscript and purchased it for £63 and then spent a number of nights with his wife at the Kitchen table matching up cut marks on bits of paper and deciphering scribbles to restore it to its present form.

I'd just like to spare a few seconds to thank Mr Ball and his wife err... Mrs Ball for there hard work and for restoring this masterpiece to its rightful glory.

But anyway, other then its engaging plot and blueprint for the moral superiority of Socialism, it is also fascinating and somewhat depressing to find out how little has actually changed. In the first chapter alone not only are the Painters and other decorators arguing about the merits of free trade vs, protectionism, but there also lamenting the news in the tabloid "Daily Obscurer" about the flood of immigration and how there all taking British jobs,sound familiar to anyone? that one little chapter quite clearly debunks the current myths about immigration now as well as Owen's (are heroic Socialist) comments did back then. For if what rags like the Express and the Mail claim about the "coloured and slavic hordes" and how there teeming over the channel for over a hundred years non stop (barring the two world wars) then surely they'd have already over run us. Incidentally the targets for the papers Patriotic ire haven't really changed, today its mainly Poles and Muslims who are stigmatised but back in the early 20th century it was mostly Russians and Jews who got the stick. Stalin when he was a young Communist was once beaten up in a pub in London when here for a Marxist conference supposedly for flirting with a local girl.

Another quite clever sub plot of Tressells is his attacks on religion,they do involve the lack of empirical evidence argument at times, but many centres around the endemic corruption of those who preach it (the Reverend is fat and bloated, and all the vile Capitalists are active members of the congregation) and Marx's "Opiates of the masses" theory, which given that the manuscript was written up over 1910 genuinely surprised me how uncompromisingly atheistic this book is, Tressell uses Owen to deftly turn the logic of evangelical Christianity on its head, one particularly funny example is when one tee-totalling character warns them all about hell and explains how happy he is now he's accepted God into his heart, Owen simply responds that he thinks its appalling to be pleased about believing millions are being tortured in a great fiery pit. Which actually is quite true if you think about it, to get satisfaction from a serving a power that YOU know to employ a Hell dimension would certainly point to a quite severe sadistic streak.

Anyway the point of this little diatribe is essentially this, The ragged Trousered Philanthropists is an excellent book for you if your interested in any of the following, Socialism, British Working class life in the early 20th century, God or the lack thereof, Or painting and woodwork. If you don't have it you should get it and read it, and if you already have it you should memorise it and give it to someone else who hasn't.

2 comments:

  1. Excellent book. Sadly, the only problem is that there are too many Barringtons and not enough Owens in the movement.

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  2. Well Darren, I do agree with your point in general in the case of Barrington I am willing to cut him some slack as he at least was willing to actually live as a worker for awhile and see for himself how poorly the working class is treated which is alot more then most "Champagne Socialists" are willing to do before advocating a watered down taxation policy that won't touch there bank balance.

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