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213 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 1933
‘Salope! Salope! How many times have I told you not to squash bugs on the wallpaper? Do you think you’ve bought the hotel, eh? Why can’t you throw them out of the window like everyone else? Putain! Salope!’ The woman on the third floor: ‘Vache!’
Quarrels, and the desolate cries of street hawkers, and the shouts of children chasing orange-peel over the cobbles, and at night loud singing and the sour reek of the refuse-carts, made up the atmosphere of the street.
It was a very narrow street—a ravine of tall, leprous houses, lurching towards one another in queer attitudes, as though they had all been frozen in the act of collapse. All the houses were hotels and packed to the tiles with lodgers, mostly Poles, Arabs and Italians.
At the foot of the hotels were tiny bistros, where you could be drunk for the equivalent of a shilling. On Saturday nights about a third of the male population of the quarter was drunk. There was fighting over women, and the Arab navvies who lived in the cheapest hotels used to conduct mysterious feuds, and fight them out with chairs and occasionally revolvers.
At night the policemen would only come through the street two together. It was a fairly rackety place. And yet amid the noise and dirt lived the usual respectable French shopkeepers, bakers and laundresses and the like, keeping themselves to themselves and quietly piling up small fortunes. It was quite a representative Paris slum.
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 fof anxiety.Before getting deeper into the analysis, I need to tell you how funny this book is. I've read some of Orwell's nonfiction but this is by far his most personal account. Usually, Orwell is very stingy with sarcasm and humour, but this time around we were really on the same page.
I am trying to describe the people in our quarter, not for the mere curiosity, but because they are all part of the story. Poverty is what I am writing about, and I had my first contact with poverty in this slum.
Six francs is a shilling, and you can live on a shilling a day in Paris if you know how. But it is a complicated business.I loved how honest he was about being ashamed of being poor. And how he tried to hide it from the laundress, the hoteliers and basically everybody. He talked about how little he had to eat, that he could only wash himself once a month and was wearing practically the same clothes everyday because he sold the rest of his stuff. It is quite crazy to think about.
Eighteen hours a day, seven days a week. Such hours, though not usual, are nothing extraordinary in Paris.
'But what about the suitcase?'I mean HOW GREAT IS THAT QUOTE. I'm getting serious Oscar Wilde-vibes from it.
'Oh, that? We shall have to abandon it. The miserable thing only cost twenty francs. Besides, one always abandons something in a retreat. Look at Napoleon at the Beresina! He abandoned his whole army.'
No doubt hotels and restaurants must exist, but there is no need that they should enslave hundreds of people. [...] Essentially, a 'smart' hotel is a place where a hundred people toil like devils in order that two hundred may pay through the nose for things they do not really want.A little fun fact regarding waiters: George says that in some hotels/ restaurants waiters get sooo many tips that they actually pay the patron for their employment and they get paid no wages, they manage to live (quite excessively) off tips. That's crazy to think about!
Fear of the mob is superstitious fear. It is based on the idea that there is some mysterious, fundamental difference between rich and poor, as though they were two different races, [...] but in reality there is no such difference.
To sum up. A plongeur is a slave, and a wasted slave, doing stupid and largely unnecessary work. He is kept at work, ultimately, because of a vague feeling that he would be dangerous if he had leisure.
In Paris, if you had no money and could not find a public bench, you would sit on the pavement. Heaven knows what sitting on the pavement would lead to in London - prison, probably.One of the most interesting London chapter was the one in which he talked about beggars and why people hate them and don't think it's a real job.
I suppose they were 'nancy boys'. They looked the same type as the apache boys one sees in Paris.
It is taken for granted that a beggar does not 'earn' his living, as a bricklayer or a literary critic 'earns' his. [...] If one could earn even ten pounds a week at begging, it would become a respectable profession immediately.A chapter I found very charming and in which I could highly relate to George was the chapter in which he basically made a glossary of London slang, defining the words he wasn't familiar with before. It is just such a George Orwell thing to do and I loved it.
My story ends here. It is a fairly trivial story, and I can only hope that it has been interesting in the same way as a travel diary is interesting. [...] At present I do not feel that I have seen more than the fringe of poverty. [...] I shall never again think that all tramps are drunken scoundrels, nor expect a beggar to be grateful when I give him a penny, nor be surprised if men out of work lack energy, nor subscribe to the Salvation Army, nor pawn my clothes, nor refuse a handbill, nor enjoy a meal at a smart restaurant. That is a beginning.It is, George, it is. Down and Out in Paris and London is by far my favorite piece of nonfiction by Orwell. It's rich in social commentary and criticism and I'd highly recommend it to everyone looking for a raw and honest account of poverty in Europe's capitals in the 1920s.