George Orwell – Down and Out In Paris and London

  Author: George Orwell
Title: Down and Out In Paris and London
Date read: 30 October to 6 November
Published: January 1933
Publisher: Martin Secker & Warburg Limited
Length: 213 pages
Genre: Fiction/semi-autobiography/social commentary
Why I picked it up: Interested in Orwell’s writings
Rating: 4 stars
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Brace yourself for an ineloquent post…a lot of ‘I liked this book.’ XP

I really enjoyed reading this book. Even from my own ‘objective’ viewpoint, it’s probably not a 4 star book (maybe 3 or 3.5 ;P) but my reading experience was good enough for 4 stars. The book was rather humourous. There were no traces of self-pity or suggestions that people should be charitable, etc. – quite the opposite, in fact. I’m not too sure how to describe it…he writes like it’s just a matter-of-fact that he’s ended up in this position and so he has to go about things in a certain way. There isn’t really any blame placed anywhere, not on himself or on the government, for example. I liked the inclusion of sort-of ‘mini essays’, where Orwell describes his own ideas on what should be done to deal with the problem of poverty as seen and experienced by him. For example, around page 116, his descriptions and opinnion on the life of a plongeur, and one why remains in that life. I just really like his style, I don’t know…it’s so easy to read and flows nicely but it isn’t too simple or dull or overflowery or anything. I feel like it’s just-right porridge 😛

I marked a couple of passages that I liked…his early description of poverty told in the second person”

You go to the baker’s to buy a pound of bread, and you wait while the girl cuts a pound for another customer. She is clumsy, and cuts more than apound. “Pardon, monsieur,” she says, ‘I suppose you don’t mind paying two sous extra?” Bread is a franc a pound, and you have exactly a franc. When you think that you too might be asked to pay two sous extra, and would have to confess that you could not, you bolt in panic. It is hours before you dare venture into a baker’s shop again.

His description of relief, an interesting notion for someone who has never experienced such a thing:

And there is another feeling tha tis a great consolation in poverty. I believe everyone who has been hard up has experienced it. It is a feeling of relief, 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.

I read a fairly old edition of this book, published in 1966 (it’s from the library; it has stamps in it from January 1969!). There’s a passage where Orwell writes on swear words commonly used at the time, and what’s appropriate and not and how they’ve changed over the years. A lot of the words, however, are blanked out! So there is a whole paragraph where he’s discussing how one word is still appropriate but may become inappropriate in the future, but the word is blanked out so I have no idea what it is. Interestingly, bastard was not blanked out. I keep saying ‘blanked out’ because I’m really not too certain as to why this would be the case – I’m thinking censorship perhaps? But I really don’t know too much about this. 

  • I wonder if the blanked out words are in later editions. If you google part of a passage, it may come up.

    I've not read Down and Out but I love Orwell's non-fiction. You might want to give Ode to Catalonia a try someday. It's a wonderful memoir of the time he spent in Spain during their civil war. There's also a great bit of video, available on YouTube, that features him explaining how to make tea while on the battlefront in Spain.

  • Good idea! I will try that out now…the first thing I found was on george-orwell.com and the blanks are still there… I found what appears to be somebody's school response suggesting 'Orwell is careful about the words that he actually spelled in the novel, this is because his incentive was to later impress the publishers andeditors and get the book published.' That sounds reasonable to me, but it's not a very good source. Next time I go to the library I will see if I can find a newer edition.

    Thanks for the recommendation as well, I will add it to my list! I'm glad you mentioned that video, little supplementary tidbits like those are always interesting.