William Pett Ridge (1859-1930) was an extremely prolific and popular author, publishing over sixty novels and short-story collections. We have ten novels by William Pett Ridge in the collection: click here to see the full list. Pett Ridge’s upbringing was humble; his father was a railway porter, and the young Pett Ridge became a clerk in a railway clearing-house. Somehow, after working from nine until seven o’clock he found the energy to attend evening classes at Birkbeck Literary and Scientific Institute and to write stories.
Pett Ridge specialised in depictions of the London poor, and Thomas Henry is an example of this. However, as its inclusion in the ‘Mills and Boon Laughter Library’ suggests, he did not portray London life as grim or tragic. Pett Ridge was a humorist, and he depicted working class characters as ‘enjoying their amusements much more fully than their drab, boring middle-class counterparts’. He was part of a ‘Cockney school’ of novelists, including Henry Nevinson, Edwin Pugh, Arthur St John Adcock, all owing a great deal to Dickens. George Johnson argues that his main flaw was that he ‘perpetuated the sentimental Victorian myth that cockneys with enough character could triumph over all obstacles’, but it could also be argued that he was bold in breaking away the conventional tragic depiction of the slums.
(Source: George Malcolm Johnson, ‘Ridge, William Pett (1859-1930)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004)
The Daily Telegraph described Thomas Henry as ” A shillingsworth of pure joy.”
Here’s a review by Helen N:
On first reading I was quite confused because one of the author’s characteristics is to use very little description and there is more information about Thomas Henry in the sketch on the front cover than there is in the text. It isn’t until page 51 that we learn that he is about fifteen and a half.
Thomas Henry is a van guard for a driver named Wryford and together they operate in Edwardian London where most vehicles are horse drawn, and where time is more leisurely than nowadays. There is no attempt to write in a cockney dialect but the rhythms of the speech give a sense of how they should be spoken.
The story is told almost entirely through dialogue and action and both are lively. Pett Ridge is very obviously influenced by Dickens, but it is the Dickens of Pickwick Papers rather than Bleak House. The tone is good humoured and optimistic – Thomas is in favour of giving women the vote to get it over. He leads a protest in favour of extra pay and then finds that no-one supports him, however his initiative gets him promotion. There is a chapter set in the country where the “natives” attempt to put him in his place but he is uncrushable and turns the tables on them. He also begins to walk out with the daughter, Annie.
The most charming chapter is where he intervenes in a falling out between Wryford and his wife. She is set to emigrate after a tiff but Thomas Henry cleverly talks her out of it.
It occurs to me that the work would translate well to radio and that the stories might well be attractive to reluctant readers, because of their clean narrative style and simple content.
W. Pett Ridge was a prolific author, now forgotten. The book is a relaxing read and very typical of a time when there was a boom in books published for the railway traveller.
Oooh – books for the railway traveller! Makes me want to go on a long, slow train journey!!
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