Saturday, 30 April 2016

A Painter's Lot was not a happy one.

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists - Robert Tressell - Oxford University Press


I have been meaning to read this book for a long time. It is probably seven years since I purchased a copy so as to facilitate my intention but it is only in the past fortnight that I have opened it's pages. It was bought at what was one of Northern Ireland's independent booksellers. That bookshop is no more. Robert Tressell, (the pen name of Robert Noonan, christened Robert Croaker), would most definitely have had something to say about that.

Noonan was born in Dublin in 1870 to a Mary Noonan who had her infant son christened with his father's surname. His father was a retired senior police officer and magistrate. Noonan died of TB in 1911 with his book unpublished.

Noonan was a socialist and trade unionist. He was much influenced by the writings of William Morris. That said this novel does not represent the writings of a rabid individual. It is clever, it is amusing and it is thought provoking. There are several early references to the, "living wage." The book follows the lives and tribulations of a group of painters and decorators employed by the money grasping firm of Rushton & Co. This was a world which Noonan inhabited and there are most certainly elements of autobiography in the character of Frank Owen. The dread of the workhouse was clearly ever present in the mind of the Edwardian working man whose health was the only thing keeping him and his family from the clutches of the precursor of the welfare state.


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