Down and Out in Paris and London

Down and Out in Paris and London
Down and Out in Paris and London  
Downout paris london.jpg
Cover of first edition
Author(s) George Orwell
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre(s) Non-fiction [1], Memoir [2]
Publisher Victor Gollancz (London)
Publication date 9 January 1933
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
ISBN ISBN 0-15-626224-X
OCLC Number 6082214

Down and Out in Paris and London is the first full-length work by the English author George Orwell (Eric Blair), published in 1933. It is a memoir [3] in two parts on the theme of poverty in the two cities. The first part is a picaresque account of living on the breadline in Paris and the experience of casual labour in restaurant kitchens. The second part is a travelogue of life on the road in and around London from the tramp's perspective, with descriptions of the types of hostel accommodation available and some of the characters to be found living on the margins.



After giving up his post as a policeman in Burma to become a writer, Orwell moved to rooms in Portobello Road, London at the end of 1927.[4] While contributing to various journals, he undertook investigative tramping expeditions in and around London, collecting material for use in "The Spike", his first published essay, and the latter half of Down and Out in Paris and London. In spring of 1928, he moved to Paris, where the comparatively low cost of living and bohemian lifestyle attracted many aspiring writers. He lived at 6 Rue du Pot de Fer in the Latin Quarter,[5] a bohemian quarter with a cosmopolitan flavour. American writers like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald had lived in the same area. Following the Russian Revolution there was a large Russian emigre community in Paris. Orwell's Aunt Nellie Limouzin also lived in Paris and gave him social and, when necessary, financial support. He led an active social life,[6] worked on his novels and had several articles published in avant-garde journals.

Orwell's Paris street, in the 5th arrondissement; " tall old-fashioned windows and dark grey leaded roofs; not far from the École Normale Supérieure - earlier in the twenties, Hemingway had lived only 500 yards from Orwell's street;Elliot Paul was then still living in his own 'narrow street', the Rue de la Huchette, in the same arrondissement down by the river near the Place Saint-Michel; and once, at the Deux Magots in 1928, Orwell thought he saw James Joyce." [7]

Orwell fell seriously ill in March 1929 and shortly afterwards had money stolen from the lodging house. The thief was probably not the young Italian described in Down and Out. In a later account he said the theft was the work of a young trollop that he had picked up and brought back with him;[8] perhaps "consideration for his parents' sensibilities would have required the suppression of this misadventure. Whoever reduced Orwell to destitution did him a good turn;his final ten weeks in Paris sowed the seed of his first published book."[9] Whether through necessity or just to collect material, he undertook casual work as a dishwasher in restaurants. In August 1929 he sent a copy of "The Spike" to the Adelphi magazine in London and it was accepted for publication. Orwell left Paris in December 1929 and returned to England. He went straight home to his parents' house in Southwold. Later he acted as a private tutor to a handicapped child there and also undertook further tramping expeditions culminating with a stint working in the Kent hop fields in August and September 1931. After this adventure, he ended up in the Tooley Street kip, which he found so unpleasant that he wrote home for money and moved to more comfortable lodgings.[10]


Orwell's first version of Down and Out was called "A Scullion's Diary". Completed in October 1930,[11] it used only his Paris material. He offered it to Jonathan Cape in the summer of 1931. Cape rejected it[12] in the autumn. A year later he offered, " a fatter typescript (the London chapters had been added)" to Faber & Faber, where T. S. Eliot, then an editorial director, also rejected it.[12] At this point Mabel Fierz - (Fierz and her husband Francis, a London businessman, had been visitors to Southwold in the summer for a number of years and were on friendly terms with the Blairs) - in whose home Orwell discarded the typescript, took it to a literary agent, Leonard Moore. Leonard Moore, "recognised it as a 'natural' for the new house of Gollancz." [13] Victor Gollancz was prepared to publish the work subject to the removal of bad language and some identifiable names. Gollancz offered an advance of £40. The title improvised by Gollancz, Confessions of a Down and Outer bothered Orwell. "Would The Confessions of a Dishwasher do as well? I would rather answer to dishwasher than down & out ", he told Leonard Moore. [14] At the last minute Gollancz shortened the title to Down and Out in Paris and London. The author, after possibilites including 'X', P.S.Burton - an alias Orwell had used on tramping expeditions -, Kenneth Miles, and H.Lewis Allways had been considered,[15] was renamed "George Orwell". Orwell did not wish to publish under his own name Eric Blair, and Orwell was the name he used from then on for his main works—although many periodical articles were still published under the name Eric Blair. Down and Out in Paris and London was published on 9 January 1933 and received favourable reviews. It was subsequently published by Harper & Brothers in New York. Sales however were low until 1940 when Penguin Books printed 55,000 copies for sale at sixpence.

A French translation, which Orwell admired, by R.N Raimbault and Gwen Gilbert, entitled La Vache Enragée, was published by Éditions Gallimard, 8 May 1935, with an exclusive introduction by Orwell.[16]


Chapters I–XXIII (Paris)

Two verbless sentences introduce the scene-setting opening chapters which describe the atmosphere in the Paris quarter and introduce various characters who appear later in the book. From chapters III to chapter X, where the narrator obtains a job at 'Hotel X', he describes his descent into poverty, often in tragi-comic terms. An Italian compositor forges room keys and steals his savings and his scant income vanishes when the English lessons he is giving stop. He begins at first to sell some of his clothes, and then pawn his remaining clothes, and searches for work with a Russian waiter named Boris - work as a porter at Les Halles; work as an English teacher; restaurant work. He recounts his two-day experience without any food and tells of meeting Russian 'Communists' who, he later concludes, must simply have been swindlers who exacted entrance fees to an imaginary society, and then disappeared.

After the various ordeals of unemployment and hunger the narrator obtains a job as a plongeur (dishwasher) in the 'Hôtel X', near the Place de la Concorde, and begins working long hours. In chapter XIII he desribes the 'caste system' in the hotel, manager-cooks-waiters-plongeurs and in chapter XIV, the frantic and seemingly chaotic workings of the hotel as he understands it. He notes also, "the dirt in the Hôtel X., as soon as one penetrated into the service quarters." He talks of his routine life as one of the working poor in Paris: slaving and sleeping, then drinking on Saturday night until the early hours of Sunday morning. In chapter XVI the narrator characterises the semi-autonomous existence by referencing a murder that was committed outside the hotel where he stays 'just beneath my window'. '[T]he thing that strikes me in looking back', he says, 'is that I was in bed and asleep within three minutes of the murder... We were working people, and where was the sense of wasting sleep over a murder?'

Misled by Boris's optimism, the narrator is briefly penniless again after he and Boris quit their hotel jobs in the expectation of work at a new restaurant, the 'Auberge de Jehan Cottard', where Boris feels sure he will be a waiter again. (At the hotel he had been doing lower grade work.) Boris explains that the "patron", 'an ex-colonel of the Russian Army,' seems to have financial difficulties — the narrator is not paid for ten days and spends a night on a bench rather than face his landlady over rent. 'It was very uncomfortable—the arm of the seat cuts into your back—and much colder than I had expected.'

At the restaurant the narrator finds himself working 'seventeen and a half hours' a day 'almost without a break' and looking back wistfully at his relatively leisured and orderly life at the Hotel X. Boris works even longer: 'eighteen hours a day, seven days a week'. 'Such hours', he explains, 'though not usual, are nothing extraordinary in Paris.' He adds that the Auberge, " was not the ordinary cheap eating-house frequented by students and workmen...we were picturesque and artistic...indecent pictures in the bar,[-] electric lights done up as candlesticks,...we were decidely chic." But, "the conditions behind the kitchen door were suitable for a pigsty." He falls into a routine again and talks of literally fighting for a place on the Paris Métro to reach the 'cold, filthy kitchen' of the restaurant by seven. In spite of the filth and incompetence, the restaurant turns out to be a success.

The narrative is interspersed with recounted anecdotes told by some of the minor characters such as Valenti, an Italian waiter at Hotel 'X', and Charlie, 'one of the local curiosities' who is 'a youth of family and education who had run away from home'.

In chapter XXII, Orwell considers the life of a "plongeur":

[A] plongeur is one of the slaves of the modern world. Not that there is any need to whine over him, for he is better off than many manual workers, but still, he is no freer than if he were bought and sold. His work is servile and without art; he is paid just enough to keep him alive; his only holiday is the sack... [they have] been trapped by a routine which makes thought impossible. If plongeurs thought at all, they would long ago have formed a labor union and gone on strike for better treatment. But they do not think, because they have no leisure for it; their life has made slaves of them.

Because of the stress of the long hours he mails to a friend back in London asking if he could get him a job that allowed him more than 5 hours sleep a night. His friend replies saying that he could get him a job taking care of a 'congenital imbecile' and sends him some money to get his possessions from the pawn. He then quits his job as a plongeur and leaves for London.

Chapters XXIV–XXXVIII (London)

The narrator arrives in London expecting to have a job waiting for him: he was told by a friend, to whom he refers as 'B.', that he would get paid to look after an 'imbecile'. Unfortunately the would-be employers have gone abroad 'patient and all.'

Until his employers return, the narrator lives as a tramp, sleeping in an assortment of venues : lodging houses, tramps' hostels (spikes), Salvation Army shelters. Because vagrants can not, " enter any one spike, or any two London spikes, more than once in a month, on pain of being confined for a week", he is required to keep on the move, with the result that long hours are spent tramping or waiting for hostels to open. Chapters XXV to XXXV describe the journeys, the different forms of accommodation, a selection of the people he meets, and the tramps' reaction to Christian charity; - " evidently the tramps were not grateful for their free tea. And yet it was excellent [-] I am sure too that it was given in a good spirit, without any intention of humiliating us; so in fairness we ought to have been grateful-still, we were not." (XXVI) Characters in this section of the book include the Irish tramp called Paddy - "a good fellow", but whose "ignorance was limitless and appalling", and the pavement artist Bozo who had a good literary background, was an amateur astronomer, but had suffered a succession of misfortunes that brought him down.

The final chapters provide a catalogue of different types of accommodation, and Orwell offers his general remarks, concluding

At present I do not feel that I have seen more than the fringe of poverty. Still, I can point to one or two things I have definitely learned by being hard up. 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.

Fact and fiction

One of the debates surrounding Down and Out is whether it was a piece of factual autobiography or part fiction. Orwell wrote in the Introduction to the 1935 French edition: "I think I can say that I have exaggerated nothing except in so far as all writers exaggerate by selecting. I did not feel that I had to describe events in the exact order in which they happened, but everything I have described did take place at one time or another..." In Chapter XXIV it is, "clear that Orwell did distort facts by claiming on his return from Paris he found himself down and out in London and had not the slightest notion of how to get a cheap bed. This of course heightens the tension...but the truth is that in Paris he had already written his first substantial essay, The Spike, describing a night spent in a Notting Hill tramps' hostel. Before his departure from England he had voluntarily lived among tramps for some time.." [17]

In The Road to Wigan Pier Orwell referred to the tramping experiences described in Down and Out, writing, "nearly all the incidents described there actually happened, though they have been re-arranged".[18]

Some measure of the work's veracity can be gleaned from a marked-up copy containing sixteen annotations on certain sections which Orwell gave Brenda Salkeld. Many major points have no comment, and for the descent into poverty from Chapter III, he wrote "Succeeding chapters are not actually autobiography but drawn from what I have seen". However, for Chapter VII he wrote "This all happened", on Hotel "X" "All as exact as I could make it" and on the Russian restaurant "All the following is an entirely accurate description of the restaurant".[19] On the personalities, Orwell's own introduction to the French edition stated that the characters are individuals, but "intended more as representative types".


Within a month of publication, 'a restaurateur and hotelier of forty years', had written to The Times complaining that the book was unfairly disparaging to the restaurant trade. The Times Literary Supplement had previously reviewed Down and Out in Paris and London, calling it "a vivid picture of an apparently mad world".[20] Orwell responded to the restaurateur's criticism ; "I do know that in our hotel there were places which no customer could possibly have been allowed to see with any hope of retaining his custom." In Adelphi, C Day Lewis wrote; "Orwell's book is a tour of the underworld, conducted without hysteria or prejudice ... a model of clarity and good sense."[20] J. B. Priestley, writing in the Evening Standard, considered it, "Uncommonly good reading. An excellent book and a valuable social document. The best book of its kind I have read in a long time."[20] Compton Mackenzie wrote of Orwell's, ' immensely interesting book' and called it: "a genuine human document, which at the same time is written with so much artistic force that, in spite of the squalor and degradation thus unfolded, the result is curiously beautiful with the beauty of an accomplished etching on copper. The account of a casual ward in this country horrifies like some scene of inexplicable misery in Dante." [21] Following the American publication, James T. Farrell, writing in The New Republic, called it "genuine, unexaggerated and intelligent" and Herbert Gorman, for the New York Times Book Review, wrote; " He possesses a keen eye for character and a rough-and ready styleless style that plunges along and makes the reader see what the author wants him to see." In contrast the reviewer in New English Weekly wrote "This book ... is forcefully written and is very readable, Yet it fails to carry conviction. We wonder if the author was really down and out. Down certainly, but out?"[22] Cyril Connolly later wrote "I don't think Down and Out in London and Paris is more than agreeable journalism; it was all better done by his friend Henry Miller. Orwell found his true form a few years later."[23] Henry Miller's controversial work Tropic of Cancer (1934) is based on Miller's experiences in Paris around the time Orwell was there.

In an essay for the 1971 The World of George Orwell, Richard Mayne considered the book as typical of something that was true of a great deal of Orwell's later writing; his - "relish at revealing behind-the-scenes squalor. He was always taking the lid off things - poverty, parlour Socialism, life in a coal mine, prep-school tyranny, the Empire, the Spanish Civil War, the Russian Revolution, the political misuse of language. He might well have echoed W.H. Auden: All I have is a voice/To undo the folded lie. " [24]

See also

Book collection.jpg Novels portal
  • Bibliography of George Orwell


  1. ^ Cambridge Companion to Orwell, p.44, The Truths of experience - essay by Margery Sabin
  2. ^ Penguin Classics 2001, back page description
  3. ^ Back cover description, Down and Out in Paris and London, Penguin Classics, 2001 ISBN 978-0-14-118438-8
  4. ^ Ruth Pitter BBC Overseas Service broadcast 3 January 1956
  5. ^ Introduction, p.vii, Penguin Classics 2001 edition
  6. ^ Ruth Graves Letter 23 July 1949 in Complete Works XX 150
  7. ^ Richard Mayne, The World of George Orwell p42-43
  8. ^ Mabel Fierz in Audrey Coppard and Bernard Crick Orwell Remembered 1984
  9. ^ Dervla Murphy, Introduction, Penguin edition,1989
  10. ^ D. J. Taylor Orwell: The Life Chatto & Windus 2003
  11. ^ Introduction, p.ix Penguin Classics, 2001 edition
  12. ^ a b Orwell, Sonia and Angus, Ian (eds.). The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell Volume 1: An Age Like This (1920-1940) (Penguin)
  13. ^ Introduction, Penguin 1989 edition, p.x
  14. ^ Michael Shelden, Orwell, p.180
  15. ^ Shelden, p.180
  16. ^ Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell volume I, p. 113
  17. ^ Introduction, Penguin Classics 2001 edition, p. xiii-xiv
  18. ^ George Orwell The Road to Wigan Pier" Left Book Club 1937
  19. ^ Michael Shelden Orwell: The Authorised Biography William Heinemann 1991
  20. ^ a b c Google Books Scott Lucas, Orwell (2003) Haus Publishing, ISBN 1-904341-33-0, 9781904341338
  21. ^ Quoted in Orwell, The Transformation, Stansky and Abrahams, Paladin, 1984 edn., p.26
  22. ^ Reviews in the Orwell Archive, quoted by Bernard Crick Orwell: A Life
  23. ^ Cyril Connolly The Evening Colonnade – George Orwell I Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1973
  24. ^ Richard Mayne, The World of George Orwell, p.45 Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1971

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