Sunday, February 16, 2020

"Down and Out on Paris and London".. a review..

... I was very much looking forward to re-reading this but in the end found it to be a very sobering experience..

The premise is simple, at roughly the end of the twenties stroke early thirties, Orwell had two periods of living hand to mouth, one period in Paris, and one period in London (and suburbs) and the idea was that he would document the experience in detail and given his readers and idea of what it was like to live literally on the bread line..

It's an Ivan Denisovich type of book..  so completely alien to most of its readers that it must (at the time) have been compulsive reading for those with an interest, giving in detail the daily issues with living one franc or half a shilling a day..  the constant search for work, begging, scrounging, work houses and doss houses, lack of sleep, an appalling diet, and the sheer dirt and grime of life in the very lowest levels of society at the time...

Interspersed through all of it are the characters Orwell meets, befriends, and sometimes works with, the stories he hears from either them, or in the bars, rooming houses, boarding houses and doss houses.. every now and again he breaks for a chapter to discourse on what he see's as the fundamental issues with certain facets of the life that he has an issue with - so we get a fair few snippets on why tramps exist, how to improve the doss houses, the differences in vagrancy laws in France and England, all fascinating stuff and quite readable...

Orwell is not backwards in advertising his socialist leanings, this book, Road to Wigan Pier,  and Homage to Catalonia are clear enough, but what surprised (and I have to say shocked) me, was that despite those socialist leanings, there is more than one anti-semitic comment...  I guess I'm more of a snow flake than I was when I first read the book, but I found the passages quite upsetting...   yeah, yeah, I know, "it is of it's time" and "don't judge the past by the mores/standards of today" etc etc but what shocked most is that the people concerned were doing no worse or better than anyone else, and that the epithet "Jew" was unnecessary...   makes you wonder given the current issues in the Labour Party whether there is something more fundamentally wrong, especially as Orwell wouldn't have had Zionism as a counter argument..

Recommend the book, be prepared to be shocked..  7/10


  1. I read it a long time ago, but much of it stayed with me. Tea and two slices and all that.

    I recently picked up an anthology of Orwells essays on Fascism and Democracy, which are still very pertinent.

    As for the casual racism, we forget how much social values have changed in the last 90 years, albeit in a tiny western Liberal bubble in global terms.

    1. Martin - you are absolutely right.. surprising how shocking it is though... blimey, I'm a western liberal bubble.. :o)) Tea and two slices, with margarine of course, never butter... and if it's Salvation Army, with a side order of evangelism and tea made with tea powder...

  2. Man up lad. Orwell was brilliant.

    1. Jubilo - on balance, yes without a doubt... always good to question though.. :o)