Department of Languages & Humanities, GMIT
The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell
THE RAGGED-Trousered Philanthropists, written between 1906 and 1910, is the first important working-class novel in English literature.
The working class has championed this novel about their experience, written from their own point-of-view, like no other working-class novel. Its author, Robert Noonan [pictured below], was born in Dublin in 1870. He worked in England as a painter and decorator, and died of TB in a workhouse hospital.
For the first time in an English-language novel, an impoverished group of workers takes centre-stage. They are duped by what they read in The Daily Obscurer and Tressell castigates them for the ‘philanthropic’ acceptance of their destitution, their acquiescence that a good life is not for “the likes of us” and that their children should inherit this lot.
The boss Rushton (rush-it-on ) and his middle-men force the workers to hurry and slobber the work, and use inferior materials, while charging high prices. They threaten the casual labourers with unemployment - effectively the workhouse. They control the workers through council and church, and dominate their ‘private life’ in the pub.
The book’s individual hero is Frank Owen. His decorative painting of the drawing room is a supreme example of fulfilment through work. It is where Owen achieves his fullest humanity and the bosses lose control of him. Owen understands “Money is the real cause of poverty”, describing to his workmates the creation of surplus value.
More than 100 years after its first publication, The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists is still a revelation for readers, a book that describes the world as it is to this day.
Fine Gael councillor for Galway City West
Second Curve: Thoughts on Reinventing Society by Charles Handy
I READ this book a number of years ago, thinking it would be a quick read. However, I was very mistaken! I say this is not because it is voluminous but it is thought provoking and caused me to reflect.
The book is broken into 16 “essays” and discusses everything from the “second curve” to politics, education, and capitalism. Handy stirs up a curiosity in the reader such that you continue to search for further explanation. He contends that the “second curve” is what we need to “challenge the orthodoxy, dream a little, think unreasonably, and dare the impossible if we are going to have any chance of making the future work for all of us and not just the favoured few”.
'Interestingly and, most relevant to today, he details how change is easier in a crisis'
He discusses our understanding of life and suggests that sometimes we are required to change profoundly and need to begin a new course that is different to our existing one, which often necessitates a whole new way of looking at familiar problems.
He critiques our thinking and contends we must look very differently at the future and take control, or otherwise let others lead the way. Interestingly and, most relevant to today, he details how change is easier in a crisis, which succinctly brings us back to the core theme of the book; that the second curve in life and in business is critical in order to grow as an individual and as an organisation.
OVER THESE past few weeks of being in lockdown, aside from finishing my degree, I have had very little to do, so I have kept myself busy by playing with make-up for hours and lounging about the house reading.
I tend to gravitate towards autobiographies of strong women who have overcome hardship to achieve greatness in their lives. At the beginning of the lockdown, I needed to read something that would keep me motivated to continue studying for college. While searching for something motivating, I found Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming. Her positive attitude and drive for achieving change, emanated from her writing, and it was inspiring to read how much she had achieved before even meeting her husband.
Another personal favourite autobiography I continue to read over and over again during this quarantine is the autobiography from American-Columbian actress Diane Guerrero [pictured above], In The County We Love. This book highlights the injustice of the American immigration system and focuses on the devastation that deportation has on families and children.
As a drag queen, writing about what books I’m currently reading, many would probably expect me to say, “I’m reading RuPaul’s book, it’s changed my life” but no, I’m not that queen. I prefer reading stories of real people’s lives that bring to light tough subjects that people may avoid talking about. Don’t get me wrong, I still love to sit around and read a good vampire novel (currently on book nine of 13 of the Sookie Stackhouse novels ) but I think it's important to learn from other’s life experience and grow from it.