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Down and Out in Paris and London (1933)

by George Orwell

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
7,1511201,076 (4.03)313
'You have talked so often of going to the dogs - and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them.' George Orwell's vivid memoir of his time among the desperately poor and destitute in London and Paris is a moving tour of the underworld of society. Here he painstakingly documents a world of unrelenting drudgery and squalor - sleeping in bug-infested hostels and doss houses, working as a dishwasher in the vile 'Hotel X', living alongside tramps, surviving on scraps and cigarette butts - in an unforgettable account of what being down and out is really like.… (more)
  1. 80
    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 Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (tcarter)
  4. 20
    The People of the Abyss by Jack London (bertilak)
  5. 31
    Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell (meggyweg)
  6. 31
    The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (meggyweg)
  7. 10
    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!
  8. 00
    A Walk on the Wild Side 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. 44
    Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain (sbuehrle)
  15. 01
    Life at the Bottom : The Worldview that Makes the Underclass by Theodore Dalrymple (bertilak)
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» See also 313 mentions

English (112)  French (3)  Hebrew (1)  Spanish (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (118)
Showing 1-5 of 112 (next | show all)
If you want to know how it is to be poor and work hard in Paris or be poor and a tramp in London in the 1930ies read this book. Makes you feel blessed. (Also you can follow up with Knut Hansum´s Hunger) ( )
  iffland | Mar 19, 2022 |
This book is based, at least in part, on Orwell’s own experiences as a poor person in Paris and London. I suspect that most of which he recounts was true. I found it extremely readable but I cannot say enjoyable.

He begins by recounting his time as a washer-up in Paris.

He lived in a Paris slum where “a third of the male population of the quarter was drunk”. There were lots of fights and at night the policemen could only come through the street two together.

He stayed at a dirty hotel with thin walls, down which long lines of bugs “marched all day like columns of soldiers and at night come down enormously hungry”; one had to get up every four hours and kill them.

Some of the lodgers, mostly foreigners, were “fantastically poor”.

There were many eccentric characters, some half-mad. Some lived lives “”curious beyond words”.

Some were always half-starved and half-drunk. (If I were half-starved, I wouldn’t waste money on booze, but then I’m not an alcoholic.) The filth of one couple’s room was such that one could smell it on the floor below. According to the Madame, neither of them had taken off their clothes for four years.

Orwell tells us the stories, circumstances, etc of the various hotel occupants.

At first, he could earn a little money by giving English lessons, but this source of income did not last.

He informs us of how many francs he earned and how many francs everything cost, also how many shillings this amounted to; but all this was long ago, and how much or little, this was, means nothing to us these days, neither the value of francs or shillings.

He mostly goes hungry, existing only on bread and margarine.

He discovers that “a man who has gone even a week on bread and margarine is not a man any longer, only a belly with a few accessory organs”.

Sometimes he is obliged to sell some of his clothes in a second-hand shop but gets practically nothing for them.

He tells us that when one has almost no money left one gets “a feeling of relief, almost of pleasure, at feeling yourself at last genuinely down and out”.

He tells us about his close friend, Boris, a Russian, who after becoming ill, has grown immensely fat from lying in bed. He had been a dish -washer and worked his way up to becoming a waiter.

Boris warns Orwell he will never make any money at writing, but he would help him get a job in a kitchen. (I don’t know if Orwell ever earned much money from his writing, but he certainly became world famous!)

Orwell works as a “plongeur”, a dish-washer, for a minimum wage.

He later works at a hotel; the dirt here is revolting, and worse in the kitchen. Conditions are disgusting, although the hotel was one of the most expensive in Paris.

I rarely eat in restaurants, but after reading this book, I may never eat in one again.

The second half of the book is about the author’s time in London.

He found a lodging-house where he could sleep in a dormitory for 15-20 men. The beds were cold and hard but the sheets were “not more than a week from the wash, which was an improvement”.

There was a kitchen, which was hot and drowsy with coke fumes. There was a general sharing of food; men who were out of work got fed by the others.

London was “cleaner and quieter and drearier” than Paris. The crowds were better dressed and the faces “comelier and milder and more alike”.

There was less drunkenness, less dirt, less quarrelling, and more idling.

There were places called casual wards, or spikes, where tramps, or others in Orwell’s situation, could spend the night.

There were other places where you could get a free cup of tea and a bun, but you had to say “a lot of bloody prayers” afterwards.

The tea was excellent but the men were not grateful for it because of all the forced praying.

One spike was a “smoky yellow cube of brick --- in a corner of the workhouse grounds”. There was a long queue of ragged men waiting for the gates to open. They were palpably underfed but friendly and many offered O tobacco, i.e. cigarette ends.

The spikes were all different; in some you could smoke but there were bugs in the cells, in one the beds were comfortable but the porter was a bully. And so on. You were not allowed to enter any one spike or two London spikes, more than once a month.

If you had more than eight-pence you had to hand it over at the gate.

A spike consisted of a bathroom and lavatory and perhaps a hundred cells in all.

Each man got rations of a half-pound wedge of bread covered with margarine, and a pint of bitter sugarless cocoa in a tin billy.

It was a normal condition for a spike that there were no beds – you had to sleep on the floor. Though you did get a blanket. There was a chamber-pot and a hot-water pipe. You could roll up your coat and put it against the hot-water pipe.

There was only one tub of water for all the men, so on one occasion O took a look at the black scum floating on the water from the other men’s faces and went unwashed.

O made friends with some of the tramps and tells us their stories.

The men were in a poor state of health owing to living for years on bread and margarine – they were destroyed by malnutrition.

I found Orwell’s account of his impoverished life in Paris and London fascinating though depressing. It made my own diet seem like one fit for a queen and also made me in comparison feel like a millionaire.

I highly recommend that you read the book, which is in my view his best, or one of his best, of those I’ve read. ( )
  IonaS | Jan 16, 2022 |
My comments refer to the Prabhat e-book edition instead of the Penguin edition.

George Orwell describes his personal experiences living among the poor and homeless in Paris and in London. He describes the everyday struggles of people who often went days without anything to eat. Telling the stories of many of the people he spent time with brings their world to life. The book concludes with a short essay urging people to view tramps in a better light. ( )
  M_Clark | Nov 11, 2021 |
Narrative of being poor in Paris and London
  kaki1 | Nov 7, 2021 |
Delves deep into the seedy underbelly of Paris and London, showing how the poor and the unemployed live.

Orwell presents a compelling and journalistic look at the penniless in Paris, focusing on fascinating characters that are interesting to read. His expose into the heart of Paris restaurants was damning and kept me wondering if they're the same still.

As for London, the life of the tramp wasn't very interesting or amusing as the Paris one. This is mostly because he wasn't working yet, so the chapters were very brief and felt tedious with description after description of life on the road. ( )
  bdgamer | Sep 10, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 112 (next | show all)

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
George Orwellprimary authorall editionscalculated
健, 小野寺Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brandt, BillCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kemppinen, JukkaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Murphy, DervlaEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Waasdorp, JoopTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
O scathful harm, condition of poverte!

—Chaucer
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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.
Quotations
[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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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'You have talked so often of going to the dogs - and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them.' George Orwell's vivid memoir of his time among the desperately poor and destitute in London and Paris is a moving tour of the underworld of society. Here he painstakingly documents a world of unrelenting drudgery and squalor - sleeping in bug-infested hostels and doss houses, working as a dishwasher in the vile 'Hotel X', living alongside tramps, surviving on scraps and cigarette butts - in an unforgettable account of what being down and out is really like.

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An autobiography by George Orwell living in poverty in 1930's Paris and London.
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