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I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019 and I am now properly retired and trying to write a novel. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Thursday, 19 October 2017

"Down and Out in Paris and London" by George Orwell

George Orwell writes so clearly about such dreadful conditions. As with The Road to Wigan Pier he combines acute observation with insightful social commentary.

He starts by being unemployed and hungry in Paris. So hungry he starts to starve. He finds a job as a plongeur (dishwasher plus sous chef) in a Paris hotel and later a restaurant: he works long hours at breakneck speed in atrocious conditions.

Brilliant lines include:

  • The Paris slums are a gathering-place for eccentric people - people who have fallen into solitary, half-mad grooves and given up trying to be normal or decent. poverty frees them from ordinary standards of behaviour, just as money frees people from work.” (p 3)
  • Comment ├ępouser un soldat, moi qui aime tout le r├ęgiment?” (p 6)
  • And there is another feeling that is a great consolation in poverty. I believe everyone who has been hard up has experienced it. 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 of anxiety.” (pp 16 - 17)
  • Hunger reduces one to an utterly spineless, brainless condition, more like the after-effects of influenza than anything else.” (p 36)
  • You're not fit to scrub floors in the brothel your mother came from.” (p 68)
  • The pace would never be kept up if everybody did not accuse everybody else of idling.” (p 74)
  • It is the pride of the drudge - the man who is equal to no matter what quantity of work. At that level, the mere power to go on working like an ox is about the only virtue attainable. Debrouillard is what every plongeur wants to be called. A debrouillard is a man who, even when he is told to do the impossible, will se debrouiller - get it done somehow.” (p 77)
  • Mario ... had the typical drudge mentality. All he thought of was getting through ... and he decide you to give him too much of it. Fourteen years underground had left him with about as much natural laziness as a piston rod.” (p 77)
  • Roughly speaking, the more one pays for food, the more sweat and spittle one is obliged to eat with it.” (p 79)
  • For many men in the quarter, unmarried and with no future to think of, the weekly drinking-bout was the one thing that made life worth living.” (p 96)
  • Sharp knives, of course, are the secret of a successful restaurant.” (p 116)
  • 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.” (p 119)
  • A slave, Marcus Cato said, should be working when he is not sleeping. It does not matter whether his work is needed or not, he must work, because work in itself is good - for slaves, at least. ... I believe that this instinct to perpetuate useless work is, at bottom, simply fear of the mob. The mob (the thought runs) are such low animals that they would be dangerous if they had leisure; it is safer to keep them to busy to think.” (p 120)
  • Fear of the mob is a superstitious fear. It is based on the idea that there is some fundamental difference between rich and poor ... the average millionaire is only the average dishwasher dressed in a new suit.” (p 121)
  • I saw a hang-dog man, obviously a tramp, coming towards me, and when I looked again it was myself, reflected in a shop window.” (p 130)
  • Dirt is a great respecter of persons; it lets you alone when you are well dressed, but as soon as your collar is gone it flies towards you from all directions.” (p 130) 
  • I noticed, too, how the attitude of women varies with a man's clothes. When a badly dressed man passes them they shudder away from him with a quite frank movement of disgust, as though he were a dead cat.” (p 130)
  • Dressed in a tramps clothes it is very difficult, at any rate for the first day, not to feel that you are genuinely degraded.” (p 130)
  • He could pronounce the words ‘the dear Lord Jesus’ with less sham than anyone I ever saw. No doubt he had learned the knack in prison.” (p 142)
  • Flat feet, pot bellies, hollow chest, sagging muscles - every kind of physical rottenness was there.” (p 149)
  • How sweet the air does smell - even the air of a back-street in the suburbs - after the shut-in, subfaecal stench of the spike.” (p 149) 
  • De sight of all dat bloody print makes me sick.” (p 153)
  • He pined for work as an artist pines to be famous.” (p 153) 
  • You can have cartoons about any of the parties, but you mustn't put anything in favour of Socialism, because the police won't stand it.” (p 164)
  • Have you ever seen a corpse burned? ... They put the old chap on the fire, and the next moment ... he's started kicking. It was only his muscles contracting in the heat - still, it gave me a turn. Well, he wriggled about for a bit like a kipper on hot coals, and then his belly blew up and went off with a bang you could have heard fifty yards away.” (p 169)
  • The sort of atheist who does not so much disbelieve in God as personally dislike Him.” (p 169)
  • “Money has become the grand test of virtue. By this test beggars fail, and for this they are despised.” (p 175) 
  • Of its very nature swearing is as irrational as magic - indeed, it is a species of magic.” (p 178)
  • It was an evangelical church, gaunt and wilfully ugly.” (p 184)
Orwell writes so clearly; some of his descriptions are masterpieces. I loved the women "shuddering" away from the tramp "as though he were a dead cat". The verb is simple but accurate; it conveys a whole movement and emotion; the simile is spot on. There were characters in here who are as three dimensional as they would be if you met them on the street. There is no plot as such, but the everyday experiences kept me turning the pages. 

A wonderful piece of writing. October 2017; 216 pages

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