The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists.

London: Grant Richards Ltd, 1914 Stock Code: 137406
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"Damnably subversive, but … extraordinarily real"

First edition, first impression. The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists is a classic of English working class literature, often compared with Zola's Germinal and described by George Orwell as "a book everyone should read" (Manchester Evening Times, 1946).

The author, Robert Philippe Noonan (1870-1911), was the illegitimate son of an inspector in the Royal Irish Constabulary. He settled in South Africa for ten years, where he helped found the Irish Brigade, which fought against Britain in the Anglo-Boer War, with John McBride and Arthur Griffiths. However, he left in 1899 before hostilities broke out and settled in Hastings. "Working in the building trade at subsistence wages, he contracted tuberculosis, was influenced by socialist writers such as Robert Blatchford, and became an active member of the unusually large Hastings branch of the Social Democratic Federation, whose banner he painted. He spent his spare time during the last ten years of his life writing by hand the 1800-page manuscript of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, which brought posthumous fame" (ODNB). He died in the Royal Infirmary in Liverpool; having set out to start a new life in Canada he got no further, was taken seriously ill, spent time in the workhouse, and "was buried in a pauper's grave in the city's Walton Park cemetery." Kathleen, his orphaned daughter, his wife having died in South Africa, sold the manuscript to Grant Richards for 25. The publisher described it as, this "damnably subversive, but extraordinarily real" novel, Alan Sillitoe subsequently called it "the first great English novel about the class war", and Michael Foot praised its "truly Swiftian impact". What is certain is the authenticity of its voice, which offers "a unique view of early twentieth-century working-class life through the eyes of an articulate proletarian" (ibid.).

Provenance: pencilled date and price to front pastedown: "9-4-14", six shillings; Tressell's biographer Dave Harker gives the publication date as 23 April. Elegantly miniscule ownership inscription to front free endpaper of R. M. J. Knaster (dated 1919), noted ephemera collector, educated at Perse School and Sidney Sussex, Cambridge, schoolmaster at Godalming before joining the office of the High Commissioner for India (1928).

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Octavo. Original black cloth, titles to spine and front cover in gilt, the latter decorated with an arabesque.


A very good copy, binding square and firm, cloth unfaded, gilt letters to front cover partially rubbed, touch of foxing to endpapers and prelims, the contents clean.


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