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Views & Reviews Medical Classics

The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 04 April 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e2440
  1. Andrew Moscrop, clinical researcher, Department of Primary Health Care, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 4UP
  1. andrewmoscrop{at}

Sixpence ha’penny an hour; one pound, one shilling, and eight pence a week: these starvation wages buy the lives of Robert Tressell’s working men, painters, and decorators, who live in poverty and constant fear of being “stood off” from the job. The novel’s proletarian protagonists eat bread and margarine, inherit cast off shoes, pawn their possessions, take in lodgers, or take cheaper lodgings to save themselves from destitution. And they die young, from accidents in the workplace or exhaustion in the workhouse.

“There’s always been rich and poor in the world and there always will be,” they opine, yielding to the exploitation of their back breaking employers, rack renting landlords, and the monopolists of …

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