The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

Posted by The Futility Monster on July 10, 2010 @ 22:55

A sight enough to fill even the steeliest left-winger with dread...

Being from Liverpool, and seeing the pauper’s grave that author Robert Tressell resides in on numerous ghoulish occasions with my family, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists was probably something I’d heard of before it was healthy to.

My family, many of whom are quasi, pretend socialists, embarrassed about the liberal black sheep in the family, insist that I should read this book. It has some interest to me, but my appetite for reading very old bits of political literature is very low, because vast swathes of it is simply not relevant to modern political analysis.

Then, in the last year, a friend of mine, a voracious reader, told me he’d managed the whole turgid thing. I don’t know whether he read the edited version, or the full 1,700 page unabridged one, but either way his words were something along the lines that it was thoroughly dull, and that I shouldn’t touch it.

The joy was palpable. Oh, now I had an even better excuse not to read it. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, phoneys.

But then, in an extraordinary twist, I relented. A little.

Today, as a birthday present, we went to see the book in play form. A little more easy on the eye. Plus, very much abridged. I suspect I got the edited highlights. The very edited highlights.

I have to admit it was pretty good. It didn’t change my opinion of the fact that I think it doesn’t really resonate in modern politics, but from a historical perspective it was interesting. The early struggles of the British co-operative and Labour movements to rebalance the political elite more in tune with the needs of the vast majority of the country were undoubtedly tough… but, with hindsight, were a massive success.

It also made me think just how much the Labour Party has changed from its roots. And how the modern British political parties have adapted to the new world of mass enfranchisement, trying to absorb the concerns of the common majority (if they exist) and reflect them back in synthetic anger.

But broadly, being someone who goes to the theatre once in a decade, it was an excellent diversion. I wouldn’t know what good theatre is if it smacked me in the face, so I won’t pretend to be a critic, but they acted well and the performance was slick. Can’t ask for more.

Overall, it did make me think, which I suppose was its goal. It made me wonder what we’re to make of the modern working classes, and what the creation of the welfare state, which was the message behind such books in the first place, has done to society, both in its huge success in solving the problems of the book, and the unexpected consequences of dependence and poverty of aspiration.

Maybe more on that some other day, though it’s something I’ve almost wittered about in the past.

For now though, at least I can sort of pretend that I read the book…


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