Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell


It is 1933 and it will be 10 + years before Orwell publishes Animal Farm and 1984, both of which will warn of the dangers of totalitarianism and promote his beliefs in a fairer society.  In his book, Down and Out in London & Paris, he writes about poverty and how he survived.

Orwell was a tutor in London, but he has gone to Paris. He has no job when he arrives, and he cuts back on food, and later pawns his good clothes, to get by for a few days. He finds an old friend Boris, a fat Russian, but he is also out of work.  The struggle for weeks and eventually the two of them finally do find work-Boris as a waiter and Orwell as a dishwasher. The dishwashing job turns out to be 14 hours a day of cleaning in the sweltering heat of kitchens, in bottom floors of the hotel basements.  

Orwell's Paris experience with poverty was eating at bistros, living in rented rooms, and working in almost prison like circumstances, no mention is made of goals or desires.  He can see that there are little opportunities to rise above where one starts in life. He describes drinking on a Saturday night, as the "one thing that made life worth living". At one point a murder happens right outside where he is sleeping and he tells us that within three minutes he had gone back to sleep, not wanting to waste time over it.

Boris talks Orwell into going to another hotel to work because of the promotion to maître d’ he can get. Orwell follows him, but the new kitchen, where he is still a dishwasher, is even more hot and cramped than before. He now works 18 to 20 hours a day and makes less. Finally, he is so demoralized he returns to London, which comprises the second part of the book.

Orwell describes London’s poor as mobile, not able to rent or stay in a job long, but forced to wander from shelter to shelter across London. When he arrives back in London his plans to be a babysitter for a wealthy family fall through. He has no money and must pawn his best suit again.  He finds that he must join others who are wandering from shelter to shelter and living off food that is barely fit for human consumption, living as a beggar and a tramp. The hunger and filth are with him constantly and he feels the challenge of being considered contemptible to others.

When the book ends Orwell can get the job he had originally planned.  His closing remarks are that poverty is a condition best to be avoided.

This book will add to how you see George Orwell's books, Animal Farm and 1984.  This autobiography precedes those books and suggests how his viewpoint on society may have evolved. 

Quotes by George Orwell

“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.” 

“The stars are a free show; it doesn't cost anything to use your eyes”

 “Within certain limits, it is actually true that the less money you have, the less you worry.” 

“It is fatal to look hungry. It makes people want to kick you.” 

“Dirt is a great respecter of persons; it lets you alone when you are well dressed, but as soon as your collar is gone it flies towards you from all directions.”