2013 Challenges, Books, The Classics Club

Book 194: Down and Out in Paris and London – George Orwell

Orwell, George - Down and Out in Paris and LondonI chose this novel because it has an awesome name. I had a vague idea of what the book was about, but didn’t have any particular views going into the book and didn’t realize it was nonfiction (or mostly so apparently) until after I finished reading and verified it because I wasn’t quite sure. I knew it was an ‘adventure’ of sorts and thus I stuck it into my Back to the Classics challenge as a Classic Adventure and it conveniently qualifies also for my Mount TBR and my longer term The Classics Club Challenge.

It only took about two days to read the book and what I primarily noticed was that people are really interested in Orwell. I had multiple people ask me what I was reading on the T. I assume this is because Orwell’s name is in pretty large letters across the cover and that portion stuck out of my back pocket. It was a bit strange, but it was nice to talk to strangers. I feel like most people have only read Animal Farm or 1984 like me, but those who have read most (or all) of Orwell say that this one is his best work and it’s interesting as it’s his first ‘full length’ work.

In actually reading the book Orwell’s descriptive abilities were impressive. Clearly he’s good at this from his other work I’ve read, but as 1984 is a dystopic future and this is an actuality he’s experienced the descriptions come across that much more powerful, as do the people he interacts with. I very rarely felt that Orwell’s fellow tramps and associates fall into caricatures and if they did, Orwell described people he’d heard of or whom others told him about and not people he’d actually encountered.

If there is one thing I didn’t like about the book, there were times when it felt like the protagonist/Orwell was slumming on purpose for the book. This only comes across occasionally and it’s very minimal. He does sort of account for this by discussing the lethargy created by not having food and thus the energy to go look for jobs, or the cost of postage for stamps, but it just seemed a bit set-up. The set-up feeling might be in-part to what many have said, including Orwell according to Wikipedia, is the slight exaggeration and re-ordering of events. But, overall this didn’t detract too much from the novel.

Recommendation: Definitely worth a read. It’s basically a how-to guide for tramps in Paris and London in the 1930s/40s, but it sheds light on a lot of societal issues at the time including situational homosexuality, disease and lack of healthcare and access to resources and class division.

Opening Line: “The Rue du Coq d’Or, Paris, seven in the morning.”

Closing Line: “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 the beginning.” (Not whited out as this is a work of nonfiction.)

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9 thoughts on “Book 194: Down and Out in Paris and London – George Orwell”

  1. This is such a tremendous book. Not exactly something to raise the spirits but it certainly packs a punch. Did you feel the Paris section was the stronger?

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    1. It really was and that bothered me. I felt like they weren’t really comparable situations. If he were a beggar in both or a waiter in both.

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