The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists – Robert Tressell
As is the case with Pilgrims Progress, this book can’t be reviewed using conventional criteria. Bunyan wrote a religious tract, Tressell a political one, and both were passionate in their beliefs. Tressell was against Capitalism and in favor of Socialism. Of that issue I won’t concern myself, but how well he handles his characters and plot is something I can address. We follow the lives of men in the building trades in a town in England in the early 1900s. The way they talk, the descriptions of their living conditions and the work they do – all are authentic. In the course of this six hundred page novel at least a dozen characters emerge as full-fledged personalities. So Tressell had raw talent as a writer. A chapter called “The Great Oration” (in which we get a heavy-handed description of how a society based on the precepts of Socialism would function) is followed by “The ‘Sixty-five.’ ” That number refers to the length of a ladder which is to be used in painting the eaves of a building. Scaffolding should have been erected but wasn’t because it would take too much time (all work is hurried, with no consideration of quality or the safety of the workers). The ladder is hauled into position by a frayed rope (which had previously been called to the attention of the supervisor, who declared it to be fine); the rope breaks, crushing Philpot. Though Philpot is a sympathetic character, Tressell doesn’t pause to shed a tear; in “The Ghouls” he moves directly into the underhanded machinations of various undertakers who are trying to get the job of burying Philpot. The clergyman who presides over the slipshod ceremony doesn’t hide his indifference, and one of the men lowering the body into the grave is the same supervisor who declared the rope to be safe. Philpot was well-liked, but his fellow workers don’t attend the funeral because to do so they would have to leave work and thus lose a few hour’s pay. This episode embodies many aspects of the entire novel, which brims with greed, injustice, and callousness. The Masters – those in positions of power – are depicted as monsters, both morally and physically (they range from fat to obese, and a Reverend Belcher is so bloated that he explodes). While the workers and their children live on the brink of starvation, the pet dogs of the Masters feast on chicken and rump steak. The names which Tressell gives the Masters reflect his contempt: Sweater, Slumrent, Starvem, Grinder. This isn’t a fairminded book; hatred drives it along. Among the subjects attacked is religion – or, rather, the clergy and the devoutly religious Masters, none of whom in any way follow Christ’s teachings; their sanctimonious hypocrisy is ridiculed with bitter sarcasm. The largest group Tressell has contempt for are the workers themselves, “imbeciles” who violently oppose doing away with a system that keeps them in dire poverty. They’re the “philanthropists” of the title, giving the charity of their underpaid labor to the wealthy. Since the author’s beliefs are so predominant, a few words need to be devoted to Robert Tressell (a pseudonym). This was his only book, and it grew from his experiences as a housepainter. He completed it in 1910 and sent it to publishers in a handwritten form; it was rejected. Disillusioned, he set out for Canada with his daughter Kathleen. He was suffering from tuberculous and died en route, at age forty; he was buried in a pauper’s grave. Kathleen returned to London with the manuscript, and a publisher bought the sole rights. The version that appeared in 1914 was cut by more than half, eliminating aspects that would offend moral and political sensibilities. It wasn’t until 1955 that Tressell’s work was published in an unabridged form and got the attention it deserved; the BBC dramatized it for television in 1967. Kathleen was still alive, but she was unable to see the show because she couldn’t afford a television set.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon
A fifteen-year-old boy named Christopher finds a dog lying in a neighbor’s yard. The dog has been killed with a garden fork. He decides to solve the mystery of who killed the dog and to write a book about it. This is the book he writes. Christopher goes to a school for kids with disabilities. He is very smart about things like science and math, but not smart about people. His mother is not living at home. His father tells Christopher she had gone into a hospital, and later he says that she has died. Christopher never knew she was sick and he never asks to visit her in the hospital. For me the missing mother was another mystery. A lot of the book was very boring because Christopher writes about things that interest him. These things did not interest me. He gives the entire plot of a Sherlock Holmes book. This was very boring. More boring are the lists and diagrams and equations. I wanted to know about the investigation into the murder of the dog, but there was very little about that. I stopped reading after I learned what happened to the missing mother. Christopher finds letters from her addressed to him. She did sex with a neighbor man and they ran off together to London. Christopher’s father had lied to him about her being dead. I didn’t believe the father would do this because he must have known he would get caught in a lie. Another thing I didn’t like in this book was the use of bad words like f*** and s***. Christopher’s father uses a lot of those words and I didn’t think a father would do that because it sets a Bad Example. When the woman whose dog is killed runs out of the house she says to Christopher “What in f***’s name have you done to my dog?” (he was just looking at the dog). I don’t think she would have used this word. I think the author, Mr. Haddon, was trying to make the book an adult book instead of a YA book by putting in bad words. (YA stands for Young Adult.) Mr. Haddon had a big success with this book. I think people liked it because it made them feel like good people who could appreciate a boy with disabilities. That’s all I have to say about this book.