Imagine a late Victorian novel about working-class people written from a socialist perspective in the style of Charles Dickens. You will have a copy of Robert Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.

Set in the fictitious town of Mugsborough, based on Hastings, where Tressell lived and worked as a sign writer and decorator. Hastings is also our adoptive hometown on the south coast in East Sussex, England. Sadly, our copy of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists disappeared in our moves between Hastings and the USA.

The story of the novel’s publication is a tale of courage and tenacity. Tressell (a pen name) died a pauper before it was published. His life and his ideas live on in the novel. He is not forgotten in Hastings (e.g., Robert Tressell Close). Periodically there are events celebrating his life and work. A walking tour took us to the streets where he lived and worked and featured in the novel. We watched a stage production with actors wallpapering the set as they argued about socialism. Recently, sisters Scarlett and Sophie Rickard gave a presentation at the Hastings Museum and Art Gallery about their interpretation of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.

The Rickards were fascinating speakers and spoke enthusiastically about their adaptation of the 700-page novel into a 300-plus-page graphic novel. One sister focused on its adaptation, while the other brought it to life by working on an iPad. The original is not considered great literature. But how many novels can you name with a chapter called The Money Trick that explains how capitalism exploits workers?

The Rickards said they receive positive feedback, particularly from young and old readers who find the style and length of the original intimidating. A graphic novel faithfully and lovingly produced is much easier to read and understand Tressell’s compassion and convictions. I highly recommend it.

Rickards’ second graphic novel is an adaptation of Constance Maud’s 1911 book No Surrender about the fight for the right of women to vote. It is waiting for me to read it in a pile of books by my bedside.