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The novels studied in schools.


John Simkin
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I recently wrote on the forum about my contacts with the last surviving relative of Robert Tressell.

http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=203

It got me thinking about the novels students study at school. Is ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist’ studied in schools? I would not argue that it was a great work of literature but it is a work of great social importance. It is claimed that it is the first truly working class novel. Although there were a great number of popular books about the lives of the working class published in the 19th century, this was the first book that came from the working class.

Robert Tressell’s book is important for other reasons. It has been claimed that Tressell had more impact on people’s political opinions in Britain than the work of writers such as Karl Marx and William Morris. Alan Sillitoe has pointed out that the book was very popular with members of the armed forces during the Second World War and claims that it was “the book that won the 1945 election for Labour.”

Is it still true that schools are guilty of ignoring working class culture? I would also be interested in reading the views of people from other countries. Do educational institutions study the literature of all its citizens? Or are we really only interested in the writings of an intellectual elite?

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You have challenged me to find that book. South Australian students have a range of choices with the novels and plays they study. In fact a percentage of the final year English Studies assessment is given to an individual projest. Yes, literatue of the working class is available through biographies or similar. Angela's ashes, "Tis ect. Sally Morgan's My Place follows the early life of an aboriginal girl who has been denied her heritage. Several Bryce Courtney novels follow a recent similar theme. Even "My left foot" reflects working class families.

I'm not sure of the content of ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist’

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You have challenged me to find that book.  South Australian students have a range of choices with the novels and plays they study.  In fact a percentage of the final year English Studies assessment is given to an individual projest.  Yes, literatue of the working class is available through biographies or similar.  Angela's ashes, "Tis ect.  Sally Morgan's My Place follows the early life of an aboriginal girl who has been denied her heritage. Several Bryce Courtney novels follow a recent similar theme.  Even "My left foot" reflects working class families.

I'm not sure of the content of ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist’

I agree that all schools will study modern working class novels. My point was that I believe there is a reluctance to study the cultural past of the working class. That schools are mainly about transmitting an approved culture. This mainly involves a middle class view of the working class rather than a working class view of themselves. Teachers rarely see this as a problem as they are by definition members of the middle class and are unaware of what some people would claim was cultural imperialism.

It was interesting that the Robert Tressell archive is still held by the family. The work of other famous authors of that period, usually reside in universities. I suspect that the Tressell archive will end up in a trade union museum rather than in a university.

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