Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Book Thirty-Nine- The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists - Part Two

Robert Tressell
The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists is set prior to WWI in England and is essentially a long plea for socialism. Long. I finished it because I wanted to find out about some of the secondary characters, but the primary characters are strictly stereotypes. Only one of them varies from his type, and he goes from being a loving husband to being a jerkwad. But Owen the Socialist is SO too good to be true. At first I thought the novel was funny but then I saw that it is actually Making A Statement. It’s workers vs. bosses, poor against wealthy… Tressell is so in your face. He’s capslock Tressell. THIS SUCKS! HERE’S WHY! SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP AND LET ME TELL YOU WHAT TO THINK ‘CAUSE THE PEOPLE WHO TOLD ME WHAT TO THINK WERE WRONG! I don’t begrudge Owen the Socialist his zeal; I’m happy he’s politically engaged. After all, in this world people could and did starve to death and businesses had ‘apprentices’ who weren’t paid for the first three years. My problem with Owen the Socialist is his sweeping generalizations. Of course, his co-workers make sweeping generalizations of their own, and that bugs me, too. This is a connection with our own world – and sweeping generalizations are always wrong. (Bah dum dum ching) In Owen the Socialist’s opinion, business owners are bad. They are greedy, selfish and inconsiderate. The workers are desperate; they accept low pay, poor working conditions and long hours to support their families. There is no middle ground here – the bed is either too soft or too hard. Several conversations reminded me of people today complaining about corporations making profits. But if a company does not succeed, it is not simply the upper echelon staff that lose their jobs. It’s also the employees trying to hold on the last few years before retirement and the people thinking about having a baby and those who are on their first job out of college and the  cleaners and the people who stock the vending machines and people who deliver packages and people who sell office furniture and cafeteria workers and people who pick up the garbage and cafes and restaurants in the area who lose business. Why is profit a bad word? Everyone I know works for the money. (Donna Summer previously addressed this.) If I didn’t get a paycheck, I wouldn’t keep going to work. And yes, I would like a raise, thank you very much, so if I work for a corporation I want that corporation to succeed. If the big bosses make beaucoup money that’s okay because if they earn more I have a better chance of earning more. Plus, one day I might be a big boss. (I don’t work for a corporation, so this is all theoretical, or as Joey would say, “It’s a moo point.”) While the workers work (generally painting the interior of houses), they discuss various political issues of the day. Owen the Socialist usually tries to steer the conversation toward socialism, but his co-workers have their own ideas. Some conversations feature complaints about immigrants comin’ in and takin’ their jobs. (Some things never change?) There are also complaints about people who don’t work. At one point the Owen the Socialist says - Unfortunately, Owen the Socialist is not helped by the religious community of the town of Mugsborough. Only one brand of Christian is found in this book: the hypocrite. Did Tressell never meet a person who lived his faith rather than using it as an opportunity for personal gain? How sad. There are charities that do good works in Mugsborough, though their deeds have a catch: you have to listen to a sermon before you get your free bowl of soup.  Mrs Knobrane and Mrs M. T. Head are two of the do-gooders. Great names, eh? Another cool name is that of Mr. Snatchum, the undertaker. Apparently, funerals are a competitive business in Mugsborough.  :bring out yer dead:

This book describes a wretched life and doesn’t allow for moments of hope that someone like Dickens provides. Dickens managed to shake up his society while appealing to a broad audience. This is something Tressell fails to do, but this is perhaps an unfair comparison. Who can measure up to Dickens?I’m not sorry I read this book but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else. Robert Croker/Robert Noonan used the pseudonym Robert Tressell for this book. He was concerned that his politics, so evident in this work, would interfere in his search for a job. Tressell could have been a character in this book; he worked very hard for very little money, had difficulty finding work, and died of TB at 40 years of age. This book was published after Tressell died.“The question is, what is the cause of the lifelong poverty of the majority of those who are not drunkards and who DO work? Why, if all the drunkards and won't-works and unskilled or inefficient workers could be by some miracle transformed into sober, industrious and skilled workers tomorrow, it would, under the present conditions, be so much the worse for us, because there isn't enough work for all NOW and those people by increasing the competition for what work there is, would inevitably cause a reduction of wages and a greater scarcity of employment.”Most of the men Owen the Socialist works with are not interested in his politics. Not that they have thoughtfully chosen another path; they fight about it like people today fight about politics: "I’m right so you must be wrong.""Nuh uh! I’M right and YOU’RE wrong!"
"Well you’re just stupid!" "I know you are but what am I?"  In the form of a monologue on a rainy day, the author gives his philosophy of a socialist land where everyone is equal and all are happy. Honesty compels me to report that I did not read the entire monologue, but I did find it interesting that there are no alcoholics under socialism. I mean, alcoholics would be avoided by others. “… but if they became very degraded, we should still remember that they were our brother men and women, and we should regard them as suffering from a disease inherited from their uncivilized forefathers and try to cure them by placing them under some restraint: in an institute for instance.”So if you were an alcoholic, there was good news and bad news and really bad news. Good: Recognition that alcoholism is a disease.Not So Good: Alcoholics should be locked up to be cured.Terribly Not Good: “Another good way to deal with 'em,” said Harlow, “would be to allow them double pay, so as they could drink themselves to death. We could do without the likes of them.” (Spoiler alert: Harlow is not a socialist.)

Friday, September 13, 2013

Book Thirty-Nine - The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists - Part 1.5


Daily Obscurer
Makehaste and Sloggit

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Book Thirty-Nine - The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists - Part One

I knew nothing about this book when I started reading it, and that's how I like it. No preconceived notions! The first hundred pages or so were witty and fun. I'm about halfway through and it hasn't been so much fun lately, but I'm still liking it.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Book Thirty-Eight - The Shell Seekers - Part Two

Rosamunde Pilcher
From The 50 Best Hotels in Cornwall

I actually finished this book some time ago but it has taken a while for me to get back to my blog. This is the story of a family, of how it came to be, how the members of that family hurt each other and loved each other. It’s a story of difficulties during WWII, of living in Cornwall, England (a place I have visited and loved!), of sacrifice and selfishness, of love and loyalty, of birth and of death. It’s a wonderful story and I highly recommend it.

There was something there, veneered by wariness.

What a great line!
One character reminded me of a few people I’ve known – if you gave him a million dollars he would complain. And he’d ask for another million within thirty days. Alas, these people will never be happy, but then happiness is not what they seek. Gotta have the stuff: the car, the house, the vacation home, all the stuff to fill both houses, etc. Now, I could be wrong, but I believe if money could buy happiness the Betty Ford clinic would be empty.

It was going to be all right. There were to be no histrionics. For this deliverance [character’s name] was deeply grateful, but she felt sad too, because it is always sad when someone you have known as a child finally grows up, and you know that they will never be truly young again.

Yes! Such mixed emotions. There is just something about being a child and believing in magic – believing anything truly is possible. What do we lose when we stop believing in the tooth fairy (for instance)? It’s that whole growing up thing – parents have children so they will leave one day –that’s the eventual goal, right? To rear children who will become happy, responsible, independent adults? The last two years I’ve watched the Decorah Eagles, a pair followed by cameras in their cottonwood tree in Decorah, Iowa.The Raptor Resource Project put up the cameras and people all over the world watched on Ustream. This year the pair decided to move -- even though the old nest had an open floor plan! According to the experts, eagles really like to build nests. Needless to say, there are no cameras in the new nest so we won’t be able to watch them this year. Seeing these eagles for the past two years was such a gift. We saw the Mama lay the eggs, watched as both Mom and Dad incubated their babies (and shimmied to close any open air holes between the nest and the eggs). And then, one by one, the babies hatched. They struggled out of their shells and entered this world. We watched Mom and Dad feed them and teach them. And we watched and watched and eventually each little eaglet flew from the nest for the very first time. And it’s the poignancy of those moments that this character felt when she knew that the child would never be truly young again.

A ring was the accepted sign of infinity, eternity. If her own life was that carefully described pencil line, she knew all at once that the two ends were drawing close together. I have come full circle, she told herself, and wondered what had happened to all the years. It was a question which, from time to time, caused her some anxiety and left her fretting with a dreadful sense of waste. But now, it seemed, the question had become irrelevant, and so the answer, whatever it was, was no longer of any importance.

This made me cry when I read it and again as I just wrote it down here. It is always poignant reading the story of someone's life - you dip into the past for a while and then head back to the present. You go back and forth and learn why the person is who they have become. And the person seems to want to tie up loose ends from the past. They know they've reached the last phase of their lives and as they look back, it's all very emotional to me. I don’t want those characters I love to die, just as I don’t want the people I love in my life to die. And yet they do. We all will. Reading a book like this brings back all of those feelings. It makes me think. And that can’t be a bad thing, can it?