Down and Out in Paris and London First Edition
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In Paris, Orwell lived in verminous rooms and washed dishes at the overpriced "Hotel X," in a remarkably filthy, 110-degree kitchen. He met "eccentric people--people who have fallen into solitary, half-mad grooves of life and given up trying to be normal or decent." Though Orwell's tone is that of an outraged reformer, it's surprising how entertaining many of his adventures are: gnawing poverty only enlivens the imagination, and the wild characters he met often swindled each other and themselves. The wackiest tale involves a miser who ate cats, wore newspapers for underwear, invested 6,000 francs in cocaine, and hid it in a face-powder tin when the cops raided. They had to free him, because the apparently controlled substance turned out to be face powder instead of cocaine.
In London, Orwell studied begging with a crippled expert named Bozo, a great storyteller and philosopher. Orwell devotes a chapter to the fine points of London guttersnipe slang. Years later, he would put his lexical bent to work by inventing Newspeak, and draw on his down-and-out experience to evoke the plight of the Proles in 1984. Though marred by hints of unexamined anti-Semitism, Orwell's debut remains, as The Nation put it, "the most lucid portrait of poverty in the English language." --Tim Appelo
About the Author
- Publisher : Mariner Books; First edition (March 15, 1972)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 224 pages
- ISBN-10 : 015626224X
- ISBN-13 : 978-0156262248
- Reading age : 14 years and up
- Lexile measure : 1020L
- Item Weight : 6.4 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.31 x 0.52 x 8 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #32,128 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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It was rough. Blair live hand to mouth, and being among the tramps, beggars, the destitute, he always had to watch his back, for there was always someone out to take his money, clothes, food, anything, at the first chance he gets. Needless to say, Mr. Blair survived and was able to give a clear account.
The book is evenly divided between his stints in Paris, then London. He covers Paris first. Paris is pictured as the lap of luxury, fashions, French architecture. I've been there myself, and it is amazing. Deep down below, in the unseen sections, are the workers, the dishwashers, those who do the dirty jobs to keep Paris glittering. Blair worked as a dishwasher and other similar, back breaking jobs at luxurious hotels, where the work was hard, conditions were unsanitary, and the pay was low. He literally had to pawn his clothes, look for the cheapest rooms to rent, and worked sometimes for 18 hours a day, with very little time to sleep. There were tough bosses and tough landlords, and he had to be tight with his money, buying the cheapest, and lowest quality food. Blair did have buddies to team up with, looking out for each other, and being there for the other when he was starving. Survival produces enemies off the streets, but it also produces great friendships. Blair had to take whatever job was available, for one hotel was opening up promising good paying jobs, but there were delays, so one could not depend on any "promises," for anyone.
London had it own adventure. Here Blair was traveling from spike (a hostel like place where tramps could spend one and only one night, with strict rules with a jail sentence for violating them) to spike, with a partner named Paddy. Again, there are situations where one smuggles in food and money against the rules, where other tramps steal them, and their clothes. If the tramp complained, he would go to jail. There were religious sponsored hostels, with strict rules also, and this simply tells of the travels of Blair and his buddy, obtaining money and food and shelter for the night.
In this book, Orwell/Blair does sympathize with the tramp, where his present situation is not always his fault. These are situations where one loses a job, then his home because he was unable to pay for it, or could never find a job, or many other reasons. This is very similar to today's situations where people are evicted from their homes forcing them to live out on the street or in their cars.
This book is a chronicle of what these people go through, and their actions are a result of their desperate attempt simply to survive.
In the process---never quite explicitly but always by unmistakable implication---he also makes a case for democratic socialism, one of his well-known lifelong causes. From the vantage of the 21st century his assumptions now ring rather simplistic and one-dimensional. But these shortcomings are forgivable, viewed in the context of the time.
Where the book really falls short, however, is in a deceit that Orwell never quite admits. Unlike the real-life characters he depicts, he is in the end a visitor to these milieus, even a voyeur, able at any time to return to his middle-class life in rural England. His pretension to the contrary, regrettably, carries hints of dishonesty, albeit on the margins, and detracts from the power that the book might otherwise have had.
Nevertheless a worthwhile read and one not one easily forgotten.
By Connor Burnett on August 20, 2020
Top reviews from other countries
The latter part of the book is about his return to London and how he survived day to day living on the streets with tramps and vagabonds and relying on charity for meals and a bed for the night.
This happened before he made his name as an author.
I read this book in an afternoon, I just could not put it down, a very good read!!