Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell


A book stolen (not literally) from a charity shop; beaten and worn; its previous owner of whom wrote on the first page Judith, second name illegible, the date 1995; years before I was even born.

To sum it up; me and this bad boy were going to have some fun.

And isn’t it different?

I love a bit of Orwell; having read both 1984 and Animal Farm; in that order. I’ve been dying to get my hands on this one; not really being sufficiently within the funds to buy a brand new one from Waterstone’s, this charity shop treat was the perfect excuse to simply convince and assure myself ‘I definitely need this one’; never mind the fifty books yet to be opened.

Having never really read into Orwell and the context in which he wrote in; him being an Etonian came of a bit of a shock to me as well as the fact of Eton’s education system dismissing English Literature as a simple pastime, not something to be taught back in the day: oh how the other half live! It also makes me wonder what form Orwell‘s writing would have taken if he had have been able to pursue it at school. Would he be the much loved and adored author we know? Or just Eric?

On to the book, then.

Knowing Orwell‘s schooling; it came as a great surprise to see and wonder just how on earth this probably well-off man, managed himself in the immense poverty in which he immersed himself into quite willingly; if not forcefully. His writing speaks volumes also on what he shied away from; anything luxurious or had worth to it. He drowned in the working class society of Paris; yet his writing was not solemn and self-pitying, but full of pride and an air of snobbishness which he seemingly tried to cover up. It is almost as if he loves it; he loves the poverty and having nothing.

Or is he simply able to live and experience it without the prejudice as he is able to have a hand on the safety button and escape from it all; his peers and family happy with that decision.

So as much as he tries to kid himself throughout this type of memoir of poverty, I still believe that the old Etonian is very much alive in him.

But don’t get me wrong it was a huge insight into that world which one can’t deny is utterly alien to our own; you don’t know poverty until you’ve read this book. 


These two extracts stood out at me; first for Orwell‘s utter Britishness and then for being a wise fella.

There are, indeed, many things in England that make you glad to get home; bathrooms. armchairs, mint sauce, new potatoes properly cooked, brown bread, marmalade, beer made with veritable hops- they are all splendid, if you can pay for them.

Basically he named the most British things…

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 modem 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. By this test beggars fail, and for this they are despised. If one could earn even ten pounds a week at begging, it would become a respectable profession immediately. A beggar, looked at realistically, is simply a businessman, getting his living, like other businessmen, in the way that comes to hand. He has not, more than most modem people, sold his honour; he has merely made the mistake of choosing a trade at which it is impossible to grow rich.

This one hit home…


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