Patrick MacGill

The Rat Pit

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The name is taken from a lodging house in Glasgow ’where human beings, pinched and poverty stricken and ground down with a weight of oppression, are hemmed up like the plague stricken in a pest house’.

Forced into a life of prostitution and vice, this is the story of one woman’s decline and death. And yet it is the much larger story of the oppression, poverty and racism with which the Irish immigrant was treated, and of the hypocrisy of a society which used and abused and yet turned away from the underbelly which it had created. What is most terrible of all in The Rat Pit is that the Glasgow it describes is a real city and the Norah Ryan whose story it tells was a real person.

The book’s appearance proved deeply divisive owing to its fierce anticlericalism and unflinching portrayal of social conditions in the early years of the century. In the intervening years it has lost none of its power to shock.


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