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Isn’t The Internet Amazing? #527

Posted: January 7th, 2004, by Marceline Smith

I’ve just been astonished for the second time in two weeks in relation to the work of Robert Tressell, author of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. You’ve probably never heard of this book but it’s possibly my favourite ever book and it even made it to #72 in The Big Read (where the BBC had great trouble finding anything to say about it, not surprising since they also managed to destroy the original tape of the dramatisation of the book after broadcasting it a mere two times). Anyway, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is one of the few books about working class life written by the working class, being the (semi-autobiographical) story of a group of house painters in Hastings at the turn of the century and the attempts of Owen to explain to them the principles of Socialism as a way of ending their poverty and powerlessness. It’s a great book, you should read it.

But to get back to the astonishment. Last week, I wandered randomly into a charity shop and discovered up on a high shelf a range of trade union and communist books, no doubt the past possessions of a recently departed relative. Among them was a copy of One Of The Damned, the biography of Robert Tressell which has been long out of print and which I have been trying to find a copy of for literally years, since reading the copy hidden in the vaults of Aberdeen Library. And here it was for the stupidly tiny sum of £2.75! Having now re-read the book, I’ve been filled with a sense of pained sadness and frustration as Fred Ball unravels the sad tale of Tressell’s life – his death in the workhouse, the butchering of the manuscript to cut it down to a shadow of the original, the loss of much of his murals and signwork and the general lack of recognition for his writing and artwork.

So then to discover this evening the TUC History Online website where they have scanned in every page of the original manuscript of this remarkable book, in Tressell’s handwriting with all the orginal amendments and self-censorship and all the later cutting and pasting (quite literally) and restoring, has quite knocked me over. Even just to see the original front page has practically made me want to cry.

It’s always been one of my main hopes for the internet, that you’d be able to find out anything at all in the greatest of detail and be able to see and read all the things currently hidden away in the archives of museums and universities. My heartfelt thanks go out to the TUC and all involved for making one person very very happy.

[I hope everyone enjoys the juxtaposition of today’s postings]

Marceline Smith

Marceline is the fierce, terrifying force behind diskant.net, laughing with disdain as she fires sharpened blades of sarcasm in all directions. Based in Scotland, her lexicon consists of words such as 'jings', 'aboot' and 'aye': our trained voice analysts are yet to decipher some of the relentless stream of genius uttered on a twenty-four hour basis. Marceline's hobbies include working too much and going out in bad weather.


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