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Down and Out in Paris and London by George…

Down and Out in Paris and London (original 1933; edition 2010)

by George Orwell

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
5,55191778 (4.04)261
Title:Down and Out in Paris and London
Authors:George Orwell
Info:Benediction Classics (2010), Hardcover, 198 pages
Collections:The Skeptic’s Guide to the Great Books, Your library

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Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell (1933)

  1. 70
    Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich (WoodsieGirl)
    WoodsieGirl: I'd recommend reading both, just to see how little things change.
  2. 50
    The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell (meggyweg, John_Vaughan)
  3. 30
    The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (meggyweg)
  4. 30
    Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell (meggyweg)
  5. 20
    The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (tcarter)
  6. 43
    Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain (sbuehrle)
  7. 10
    The People of the Abyss by Jack London (bertilak)
  8. 00
    A Walk on the Wild Side: A Novel by Nelson Algren (WSB7)
    WSB7: Contrasting life of the down and out at the same period of time in New Orleans.
  9. 00
    Hotel Bemelmans by Ludwig Bemelmans (SomeGuyInVirginia)
  10. 00
    Ragged London: The Life of London's Poor by Michael Fitzgerald (meggyweg)
  11. 00
    Hard Work: Life in Low-Pay Britian by Polly Toynbee (DLSmithies)
  12. 00
    English Journey: Or the Road to Milton Keynes by Beryl Bainbridge (John_Vaughan)
  13. 00
    Lowest of the Low by Günter Wallraff (alv)
    alv: Orwell lives together with the lowest of the lowest in the Paris and London of the final 20s. Walraff impersonates a turkish immigrant to the prosperous Federal Republic of Germany of the mid-80s.
  14. 00
    In Search of England by H. V. Morton (John_Vaughan)
    John_Vaughan: On re-reading these two books it is hard to believe that these two works were written almost at the same time and about the same culture. One by Blair deliberatly self-impoverished, one by Morton - by car!
  15. 01
    Life at the Bottom : The Worldview that Makes the Underclass by Theodore Dalrymple (bertilak)

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» See also 261 mentions

English (85)  French (3)  Hebrew (1)  Norwegian (Bokmål) (1)  Spanish (1)  All (91)
Showing 1-5 of 85 (next | show all)
While I've read most of Orwell's novels I have somehow never got around to his non-fiction. As I was a journalism student, this is close to criminal. In happy remedy to this, BBC radio is currently having an Orwell season, all the programmes (readings, adaptations and documentaries) archived for posterity at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01pyz0z so please pay it a visit.

Down and Out in Paris and London is, along with The Road to Wigan Pier and Homage to Catalonia, considered one of the great pieces of reportage of the 20th century. Orwell's description of his time living on (and below) the breadline in these two capitals is breathtaking. He manages to combine a journalistic distance with a visceral understanding and explanation of what it means to be truly broke, to a level which is almost inconceivable in the same societies scant decades later. His descriptions of hardship never come across as unfair or whining, partly because the level of poverty is so extreme but mostly due to the fact that he so often compares his own plight with others he meets who are even worse off than himself; Orwell has the expectation that his privation is temporary (and we know this to be the case, in retrospect) many of the people he meets are sinking to depths he assumes he will never reach, habituated to their lot, or otherwise hopeless cases. Yet Orwell's writing is infused with compassion and a sense of social justice that he is never condescending to or belittling of their situations; without preaching he draws attention to the social inequalities that not only allow but require people to beg or starve, that marginalise a large section of society to the impoverishment of everyone due to the moral damage and human waste this engenders. Such ire as Orwell expresses (and there is not much; this is a book of compassion rather than anger) is reserved for those who perpetuate the status quo - whether they are those who use their power over anyone worse off than themselves, the religious charities who exploit the need of the poor to spread their message or those vagrants who still somehow buy into the injustice.

This is, perhaps, the definitive example of journalism as social activism, and serves not only as a reminder of how things once were but as a warning in a time when social safety nets are being dismantled in the name of austerity of the very real social and human dangers of a society that is happy to regard those who have fallen on hard times as surplus to requirements. ( )
  Pezski | Jun 8, 2017 |
Well written, engaging, informative and compassionate.
  cakecop | May 30, 2017 |
An investigation into the what and the why of the poor based on Orwell's own experiences in Paris and London during the 1920s / early 30s. How much is memoir and how much is fiction is hard to tell, but I expect a lot of the detail is based on fact. The first section deals with Paris. Here Orwell (or the narrator who we presume is Orwell) describes the lives of the destitute. He meets a Russian called Boris that leads him into a job as a plongeur, the lowest rung on the hotel kitchen staff ladder. This entails very long hours of hard work in dirty and hot conditions. A host of characters and anecdotes pass by until Orwell gets a job in London, except he has to wait a month for it to begin, during which time he lives on the road with a tramp called Paddy. This was much different to Paris. Tramps, because of the law, could not spend more than one night a month in the same 'spike' hence they wandered (still wander?) the countryside moving from one hostel to another. As in Paris we learn something of what it is like to be hungry and treated with little respect.

Following each half of the book Orwell gives a chapter over to some more considered thoughts on the lives of plongeurs and tramps. He likens the life of a plongeur to a slave, but a slave doing work that is not even necessary but down to fear of the mob. Tramps he finds are often victims of vagrancy laws that keep them moving and when the are not moving they are effectively held in cells. This to no real end other than to appease the perception that they are all thieves and blackguards.

"Then the question arises, Why are beggars despised?- for they are despised universally. I believe it is for the simple reason that they fail to earn a decent living. In practice nobody cares whether work is useful or useless, productive or parasitic; the sole thing demanded is that it shall be profitable. In all the modern talk about energy, efficiency, social service and the rest of it, what meaning is there except 'Get money, get it legally, and get a lot of it'? money has become the grand test of virtue. "

"It is curious how people take it for granted that they have a right to preach at you and pray over you as soon as your income falls below a certain level."

( )
1 vote Lord_Boris | Feb 21, 2017 |
A bleak account Orwell's life during a time when he was mainly without work and money. In one section, he writes about how little people with a good job know of the details of daily life among the severely impoverished. This kind of literature should be required reading for anyone assuming political office. Although Orwell found his way out of poverty, his case was unusual, making for a rare glimpse into this unfortunate world. ( )
  bkinetic | Feb 10, 2017 |
Autobiographical stories about the authors time living as a poor dishwasher in Paris and as a homeless tramp around London.
While a modern reader will find it un-relatable in the specific, the general observations about the nature and futility of poverty are both interesting and still applicable. ( )
1 vote bensdad00 | Jan 10, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 85 (next | show all)

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First words
The Rue du Coq d'Or, Paris, seven in the morning. A succession of furious, choking yells from the street. Madame Monce, who kept the little hotel opposite mine, had come out on to the pavement to address a lodger on the third floor.
[Chapter 30]

The next morning we began looking once more for Paddy's friend, who was called Bozo, and was a screever—that is, a pavement artist. . . . He was an embittered atheist (the sort of atheist who does not so much disbelieve in God as personally dislike Him), and took a sort of pleasure in thinking that human affairs would never improve.
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Book description
An autobiography by George Orwell living in poverty in 1930's Paris and London.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 015626224X, Paperback)

What was a nice Eton boy like Eric Blair doing in scummy slums instead of being upwardly mobile at Oxford or Cambridge? Living Down and Out in Paris and London, repudiating respectable imperialist society, and reinventing himself as George Orwell. His 1933 debut book (ostensibly a novel, but overwhelmingly autobiographical) was rejected by that elitist publisher T.S. Eliot, perhaps because its close-up portrait of lowlife was too pungent for comfort.

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:21 -0400)

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The adventures of a broke British writer as he works as a dishwasher in Paris and stays in homeless shelters in London.

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