Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
Opening sentence: “A succession of furious choking yells from the street.”
I didn’t quite know what to expect when I started listening to this (it was my audiobook for the month), all I knew was that it was an account of the time Orwell spent living rough on the streets of Paris and London and that upon its publication in 1933, he didn’t want to degrade his family name with the tales of his exploits, so created his now iconic pen name, rather than use his given one: Eric Arthur Blair. He said this about his decision,
“I would prefer the book to be published pseudonymously. I have no reputation that is lost by doing this and if the book has any kind of success I can always use the same pseudonym again.”
Written when Orwell was starting his career as a writer, it highlights that he always had an interest in social justice and the way people are treated due to their place in a particular society’s hierarchy. Themes that he would, of course, delve into later in his best-known novels: Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949).
This memoir recalls the differences between living in poverty in Paris verses London, which Orwell actually did due to being in-between jobs and having no money. Although his recollections did feel a tad repetitive, sadly, when your every waking moment is fixated on making sure you have enough money for your next meal and finding somewhere to stay for the night, life is repetitive. It was interesting to see how the cultural differences between the two capital cities filters down through all layers of society, each having its own set of rules, even if you are living in poverty.
Orwell captures his experiences in effortless prose and concludes with his thoughts on what could be done to help the poor men (and he points out that it is mainly men rather than women that find themselves homeless and on the streets) living in these conditions and uses this book to try and change the public’s general negative opinion about people living on the streets. This is a fascinating read for both an insight into its topic and an insight into its author.