The author did an excellent job with dispelling several of the myths that surrounded the author Tressell. This book was humorous at times and sad at others, but Mr. Tressell led a life just as exciting as the novels he wrote!
by Cristie Underwood (via NetGalley)
I find it strange that this book hasn’t attracted more attention since its publication in July 2018, and that as I write this (June 2019) there is only 1 review on Amazon and not even 1 on Goodreads. Robert Tressell’s novel The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is relatively well known and still acclaimed, so I would expect a book about it and its author would have found some readers. Be that as it may, this personal memoir by David Haines has much to recommend it. In it he aims to dispel some of the myths and rumours that have arisen about Tressell’s life, to put the record straight as much as he can. He knew Tressell’s daughter Kathleen and granddaughter Joan, so can draw on their reminiscences, and he also knew Fred Ball, Tressell’s biographer. Haines talks about the publication of the RTP, and explores the differences between Robert Noonan the man and Robert Tressell the author of the book, and how although the novel is often taken to be autobiographical, Noonan’s actual life diverges from the book’s narrative in many ways. He also talks about his rescue of a panel from a set of paintings Tressell painted for the chancel of St Andrews Church in Hastings, which was later demolished with no one caring to save the paintings. In 1980 Haines gave a lecture for the local WEA entitled “The Strange Case of Robert Tressell”, the success of which led to a subsequent series of lectures, one of which was even given by Tony Benn. The second part of the book is more of a personal memoir, with much about his marriage, his own career, and literary “society” in Hastings. He also shares his thoughts and musings on class, politics, what he calls “Tressillian values”, psychoanalysis (in particular the work of Karen Horney) and mental illness in general. There’s much to enjoy and learn here. It’s a valuable addition to Tressell studies, and an enjoyable and worthwhile read.