on June 2, 2007
Be advised that the Harcourt edition appears to be the original edited version. As such the passages on slang end up containing a lot of "-----" which is interesting from the perspective of censorship in the 1930s, but is clearly contrary to the authors intent. Before purchasing a copy check the third or fourth page of chapter 32 for the following passage:
"The current London adjective, now tacked on to every noun is ..."
on June 30, 2004
This book reads much more like a memoir than the novel it is, and indeed it is a largely autobiographical work. Orwell begins with an anonymous narrator describing daily life in the poorer parts of Paris during the early 1900s. He describes the din, the dirt, the bugs, and all else in vivid detail. The narrator, an Englishman by birth, is living in Paris and running low on funds. We follow him through various attempts to earn money, including work as a lowly dishwasher or "plongeur" in the city's hotels, and also in one dubious restaurant. We learn all the dirty behind-the-scenes secrets of these operations, and it's quite enough to make one's skin crawl and cause one to avoid hotels and restaurants forever.
The second half of the book follows the narrator back to his native England, where he must find a way to get by in London while awaiting a permanent job. Here we are introduced to the tramp's way of life - vagrancy, begging, and sleeping in the cheapest (and filthiest) accomodations available. But we also get to know some of the narrator's fellow tramps, and to feel for them. They are not all the worthless, lazy scum that the higher classes of the time would paint them as. Orwell concludes the book with a brief treatise on the vagrant's plight and ways in which it can be eased, as well as making the tramp a usefull part of society.
Obviously Orwell's closing call-to-action is not entirely relevant anymore, as the workings of society have changed somewhat over the last century, but the book is nevertheless fascinating. A reader may at first be a little thrown off by the lack of a central plot, but once past this it is easy to get sucked into the world Orwell has illustrated here. His imagery is so striking that you actually feel as if you are sharing the narrator's experiences. You can feel the intense heat of the hotel kitchens, feel the weakness and weariness that comes with malnutrition, smell the grease and the sweat and the dirt.
And yet, as bleak as all this sounds, the book is not depressing. The narrator never lapses into dejection or self-pity, and the reader is left with a sense of hope throughout the novel. Being poor is not presented as a dead end - there are always ways to get by, some of them quite ingenious. And the narrator is even able to find humor in some of the truly absurd situations he finds himself in.
Any fan of Orwell's works will not be disappointed with this book. Or even if you've read nothing by Orwell (in which case you absolutely must pick up "1984" at some point), and merely want a glimpse into the life of the poor and jobless at this point in history, this is the book for you. And the fact that the narrator is anonymous (although the story is largely based on Orwell's life, the narrator is not, as some reviewers have claimed, Orwell himself) helps us imagine that he could be anyone, and that even we could be living this life. It's fairly short and easy to read, but opens up a whole world - one that is rarely contemplated in much detail - with it's rich descriptions. Definitely a recommended read.
Ostensibly a novel, this book is Orwell's thinly fictional account of a time he spent "slumming it" in Paris and London. Orwell had read and greatly admired Jack London's book, "People of the Abyss" (1902), which chronicled his time spent among the wretched poor of London at the turn of the century. In the prewar '30s Orwell followed London's journalistic example, and voluntarily entered the ranks of the barely surviving in Paris. His account is rich in it's evocation of sights, sounds, and characters of this day-to-day existence. When he isn't unemployed and pawning his clothes, he works 12-18 hour days as a "plongeur" (dishwasher/gopher) at various hotels and restaurants. It's a pretty awful never-ending cycle of poverty to be caught in, as Orwell's books amply demonstrates. He ends his Paris section by speaking directly to the reader about the reasons for such poverty. Rather than claim any kind of nobility in poverty, he points out that the terrible jobs he and his friends perform are largely useless work and can be easily made obsolete. Later he moves over to London and joins the ranks of the homeless tramps. This section is less vivid and strong, and is better as a simple sociological study of homelessness in Edwardian England. He somewhat awkwardly inserts a lot of info about slang which is interesting, but somewhat tangential. The extreme policies he decries here have been replaced by the modern welfare state economy. Altogether, it's an interesting journalistic/sociological exercise with some strong statements.
on March 16, 2013
This is an amazing story that I would definitely recommend reading.
Unfortunately for Orwell and me, the errors in the Kindle version were quite distracting. For one thing, words that are considered improper have been ---- out. This is a major problem considering the book includes a section specifically about the improper language used in London during the time. Quite a bit of this section is ---- out. Furthermore, there are typos all over the place. I submitted corrections for 23 errors. Stopping every now and again to report content error did not help the flow of the story.
Overall, I am going to try and get my money back for this purchase. Maybe I'll read the story again someday and have a much more pleasing experience.
on May 27, 2002
Like most of us, I read Orwell in high school ("Animal Farm" and "1984") and remained largely unaware that he�d written anything that didn�t involve either talking Trotskyite animals or a terrifyingly functional dystopia. A friend of mine gave me �Down and Out in Paris and London� a month ago, and I was unable to put it down until I was done. In what is basically the chronicle of a couple of months of self-induced misery, Orwell explodes a lot of myths surrounding poverty and the spirit-breaking labor that is, for many, the only exit from it.
We know the gist of the book: Orwell sets up shop amongst the �common people,� first washing dishes in various Paris restaurants and then tramping around London and environs. Proceeding via introductions and anecdotes--some hilariously funny, others downright heart-rending--�Down and Out in Paris and London� offers a detailed tour of a side of life that most of us will only ever read about. From the painstaking descriptions of exactly what kind of muck is to be found on the floor of a restaurant�s kitchen in 1920s and 1930s Paris (you don�t want to know, but he tells you) to elaborations on how to skirt begging laws in London and the dangers associated with such living, Orwell makes his points, one after the other. To his credit, though, there is little dogmatic moralizing; when, at the end of the book, he tells you what he�s learned, he doesn�t seem to feel the need to shove down the reader�s throat what is clearly stuck in his own. The feeling is strong, though, that you�d have to be blind, crazy or both, not to reach the same conclusions.
The greatest strength of �Down and Out,� though, is the manner in which Orwell never attempts to pass himself off as one of the people he is pretending to be. The English band Pulp has a song about rich kids slumming with the common people, but the song points out that, if the going ever really got tough, the rich kids can always call Daddy and have him bail them out. Orwell has to realize that he is in that same privileged situation; his tramping in London, for example, is simply to kill time until he can take up a legitimate position, and, along the way, he is able to borrow money several times from a friend in order to make ends meet. This distance that he subtly maintains between himself and those who have little choice in their fate only adds punch to the lessons he learns, and Orwell�s probably privileged reader (at least privileged enough to spend money on books) is permitted to learn alongside him.
There are picky complaints that could be lodged here--the untranslated French passages, for example, which will leave at a loss those without high school French--but, overall, �Down and Out in Paris and London� is a great read, one of those few books that manages to be both entertaining and properly disturbing. It has all the wit and scoop of later efforts like Bourdain�s recent best-seller, �Kitchen Confidential,� or Ehrenreich�s �Nickel and Dimed,� but �Down and Out,� after bigger game than Bourdain and less unforgivably preachy than Ehrenreich, manages to dig deeper under your skin and stay there longer. And that, as Orwell concludes, is a beginning.
on August 2, 2005
This book has become "Literature" with a capital L for the right reasons, because it's brilliant and a work of art, etc. I do not have the arrogance to use Amazon as a forum to critique a work by Orwell.
I only want to add that I am working on several restaurants in NYC as an architect, and I have brought this book along to meetings and given several copies to clients to show them other ways of looking at their business. It is easy to talk about being in someone else's shoes when that other person is "down and out," but Orwell manages to sympathetically explore aspects of extreme conditions with incredible empathy. And little pandering or sentimentality. It is not quit poverty he is describing as much as the driving oppression of a job -- especially in the restaurants (and hotel restaurants.)
This is why I've discussed the book with those clients. The business has hardly changed in eighty odd years, especially in any way that means anything to the people that are working washing dishes or cleaning hotel silverware. Reading some passages and have them shocked with recognition even now is remarkable.
on March 26, 2014
I should have checked the reviews. The Harcourt version, selling for USD 8.03 had a review by D. Escott, I should have read it. Unfortunately, I did not.
Here is my review that supports his:
Orwell is a great writer and Down and Out is very interesting.
Unfortunately, this edition is ruined by replacing every 'bad' word with -- -- two hyphens. If I had known this I would not have bought this edition. There is a chapter where Orwell is talking about profanity and the reader has no idea what words he is talking about. I just finished the book and today was in a bookstore and looked at a Penguin edition. The 'bad' words were in the book.
So I would recommend that anyone looking for Down and Out in London and Paris check that the book has not been sanitized.
I'm going to write to the publisher about this. I think it is deceptive to be selling a book without clear upfront warnings that it has been 'cleaned up'.
Sorry, at this point I can't recommend another edition since the 'samples' are all at the beginning of the book and the expunged parts are toward the back of the book.
I want to thank Amazon, they very graciously gave me a refund which I will use to buy a different version of the book. Orwell is certainly worth a re-read.
on July 27, 2005
Surprisingly, I hadn't read any of Orwell's books before. Instead of starting with '1984', I decided on this one.
Orwell paints a stark and totally realistic portrait of the life of a vagrant in Paris and London. He captures the mannerisms and desperation of men who want a better lot in life, but cannot get it because society has turned its back on them. I almost felt like I was there with Orwell as he stayed in lodging houses, worked menial jobs, and plotted his next move to get some food and shelter. That is probably the highest compliment an author can get.
My only quibble with the book is that the London portion of the book was significantly less entertaining than the Paris portion. Towards the end of the book, Orwell slips into a lot oof preaching about how to improve the lives of tramps, and this drags down the flow of the novel a bit. Plus, he doesn't seem to run into the same sorts of wild and crazy characters that he did in Paris. Perhaps it is because of less diversity in London, but it still dragged a bit.
That being said, this is a great book, and can still shed light on the plight of the impoverished today.
on December 15, 2011
In the early 1930s, Eton-educated George Orwell decided to do a stint of serious slumming in the greatest of European capitals in order to capture and comment on the lives of the poor, and, by extension, the rich. As the title suggests, the author begins in Paris where he scrounges to come up with the few francs necessary to put an ant-infested roof over his head. He doesn't wash (he can't afford soap), he survives on gulps of vin ordinaire and crusts of stale bread. At one point, he goes without eating for four days. Every morning, he meets Boris, an eccentric, crippled, former Russian soldier, and the two put their heads together to figure out a way to survive. For a long time, they are unsuccessful and things begin to look bleak, though Orwell takes it all in stride. "It is a feeling of relief," he writes, "almost of pleasure, at knowing yourself at last genuinely down and out. You have talked so often of going to the dogs - and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them, and you can stand it. It takes off a lot of anxiety."
Broke, Orwell manages a job as a plongeur [dishwasher] in the kitchen of a ritzy hotel. This section of the book is fascinating: the trench-warfare-like conditions accorded the staff juxtaposed against the opulence and excesses of the inn's aristocratic patrons. There are not many writers who could describe, essentially, labour for page after page and have you wanting more, but then there are not many writers like Eric Arthur Blair.
After Paris, it's back across the channel to London, and this segment is also extremely engaging, if not as bang-in-your-face as the France section. Particularly interesting are the comparisons and contrasts drawn between England and France, as Down and Out is now a historical document. In the heart of England, Orwell mingles with the homeless as he wanders from one spike (charitable shelter) to the next and survives (barely) on his wits and a diet of "tea and two slices."
The characters he meets and comes to know are absorbing, and the attitudes accorded them by society unfeeling. Orwell concludes that the difference between a beggar and a member of the landed gentry is money, and money only. Rather than the sort of spiritual guidance dished up by the likes of the Salvation Army, or a single night's stay at a spike (the hobos are turned out in the morning), what the destitute really require is a purpose, one Orwell believes the state ought to supply. Tramps' lives are meaningless, though they needn't be, Orwell argues, and goes on to outline proposals, both socialistic and humane. Orwell has become known almost exclusively for his Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, a shame, in a way, because Down and Out in Paris and London is nearly as good and surely as relevant. It is, in short, a classic.
Troy Parfitt is the author of Why China Will Never Rule the World.
on June 22, 2013
The Kindle version of this classic book is riddled with typos and, perhaps worse, seems to have been formatted using the original censored version--thus even mild slang like "bugger" is represented by dashes, surely not what Orwell or his estate would want. What a disgraceful job. The same is true for the Kindle version of Orwell's "Burmese Days." I am demanding my money back, and Amazon should root out these frauds, which do a disservice both to great literature and to e-reading in general. If rights holders are going to charge real money for backlist e-titles, they should make the small investment in proofing them first. And if they don't care about readers, maybe they will listen to Amazon.