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The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is a classic political novel written by the Irish author Robert Tressell. The book provides a comprehensive portrayal of British social, economic, and political life at the turn of the 20th century.
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Robert Tressell (18 April 1870 – 3 February 1911) was the pen name of Irish writer Robert Croker, who later changed his name to Robert Noonan. He is best known for his novel The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists.
He wrote under the pen name Robert Tressell as he feared the socialist views expressed in the book would have him blacklisted. He chose the surname Tressell as a play on the trestle table, an important part of a painter and decorator's kit. (Until the full manuscript was published in 1955, all copies of the book cited the author as Robert "Tressall".) He completed The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, (originally called The Ragged Arsed Philanthropists) in 1910, but the 1,600-page hand-written manuscript was rejected by the three publishing houses. The rejections severely depressed him, and his daughter had to save the manuscript from being burnt. It was placed for safekeeping in a metal box underneath her bed
Unhappy with his life in Britain, he decided that he and Kathleen should emigrate to Canada; however, he only reached Liverpool when he was admitted to the Royal Liverpool Infirmary, where he died of 'phthisis pulmonalis' (i.e. pulmonary tuberculosis) on 3 February 1911, aged 40.
Noonan was buried in a pauper's grave on 10 February 1911 at Liverpool Parochial Cemetery, later known as Walton Park Cemetery. The location of the grave was not rediscovered until 1970. Twelve other people were buried in the same plot. The plot is now marked although the land is no longer used as a cemetery, it is now used by Rice Lane City Farm. The site is opposite Walton prison. A nearby road is named Noonan Close.
His daughter, Kathleen mentioned her father's novel to a friend of hers, writer Jessie Pope, who recommended it to her publisher. In April 1914, the publisher bought the rights to the book for £25, and it appeared in Britain, Canada and the United States later that year, in the Soviet Union in 1920, and in Germany in 1925. The version as originally published was heavily abridged by Pope, with much of the socialist ideology removed. Pope's version ended with the novel's hero, Frank Owen, who taught that "money was the cause of poverty", contemplating suicide
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists has been cited as a factor in the landslide Labour victory in 1945 and even for the election of two non-Labour-endorsed Communist members of Parliament that same year. It has been taught in schools and universities, and adapted for stage, television and radio, and readings have been performed at trade union meetings.