Bill Kerwin's Reviews > Down and Out in Paris and London

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
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Aug 26, 2016

it was amazing
Read in July, 2011


As anyone who has read 1984 can attest, Orwell is--among other things--a master of disgust, a writer who can describe a squalid apartment building, an aging painted whore or a drunken old man with just the right details to make the reader's nose twitch with displeasure, his stomach rise into the throat with revulsion. What makes this book so good is that--although he may continually evoke this reaction in his account of the working and the wandering poor--Orwell never demeans or dismisses the human beings who live in this repulsive environment. The people he describes may be disgusting, but they are often resourceful too, and Orwell makes it clear that it is the economic system itself--not the character flaws of particular individuals caught up in the system--which is to blame for so much squalor and suffering.

I would recommend this book to any one who wishes to read a vivid description of the conditions of those who live beneath the underbelly of society and the stratagems they use to survive, whether they be recently impoverished men endeavoring to maintain respectability, Paris dishwashers sweating through their underground existence, or British tramps enduring the daily bone-wearying trek for a cheap place to lay their heads.
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04/11 marked as: read

Comments <span class="smallText"> (showing 1-18 of 18) </span> <span class="smallText">(18 new)</span>

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Pete Wyeth Well said.


H. P. Reed This book revealed much I was ignorant of about George Orwell when I read it a few years ago. You expressed my own reaction to it more eloquently than I could hope to do.


message 3: by Hades (new) - added it

Hades Great review agree 100% + newfound hesitancy as you enter a restaurant.


message 4: by Tom (last edited Apr 13, 2016 07:51AM) (new)

Tom One of my favorite books of all time. As ex-waiter, I especially liked behind the scenes descriptions of posh restaurants. And his comments re panhandling as a form of work is brilliant. I think of it every time I get solicitations to feed the poor. Excellent complement to Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, I should think. (I've read only NYer excerpt for that one, but it is also a powerful and poignant indictment of treatment of impoverished people.)


message 5: by Rae (new) - added it

Rae Meadows Thanks for this review--this book was not on my radar but glad it is now. Sounds like he elucidates the world of the invisible.


Meredith Stranges "They made us pray for our bread and margarine". An unforgettable book.


message 7: by Tom (new)

Tom Meredith wrote: ""They made us pray for our bread and margarine". An unforgettable book."

Echoes similar scene in William Kennedy's novel about Depression-era homeless in Albany NY, Ironweed. Powerful book. Highly recommend.


Bill  Kerwin Tom wrote: "Meredith wrote: ""They made us pray for our bread and margarine". An unforgettable book."

Echoes similar scene in William Kennedy's novel about Depression-era homeless in Albany NY, [book:Ironweed..."


I've had that book on my "to read" list for years. Your recommendation is a reason to move it up.


Edmund Davis-Quinn Underrated and underread book. Still so accurate for so many, I bet.


message 10: by Sharyl (new)

Sharyl I didn't know about this...one would hope that things are much better, but...


Ayundabhuwana Couldn't agree more! I think if any other author was asked to write this, it would come off as eiher pitiful or degrading, but Orwell's writing made it perfect.


message 12: by Tom (new)

Tom I wonder how Jack London's The People of the Abyss stacks up? It's been on my list for decades -- one of these years, I reckon. Problem is I keep going back to reread Orwell. Also recommend Orwell's essay "How the Poor Die," based on his experience as patient in public ward for the indigent in Paris.

Novelist William T. Vollman had really good essay, "Homeless in Sacramento," in Harper's, March 2011. Sadly, one could put together a really interesting reading list of homeless lit, fiction and nonfiction.


Bill  Kerwin Tom wrote: "I wonder how Jack London's The People of the Abyss stacks up? It's been on my list for decades -- one of these years, I reckon. Problem is I keep going back to reread Orwell. Also rec..."

The London book has been on my list too. Another interesting book--although not quite the same thing--is Knut Hamsun's account of his "starving artist" days in "Hunger."


message 14: by Neale (new)

Neale My 'favourite' moment of Orwellian disgust (the one I can't scrape out of my brain) is the communion cup laced with an old lady's spittle from 'A Clergyman's Daughter'...

It's interesting to compare Orwell's tramp-narratives to those of W. H. Hudson and even to the tramp-romances of Jeffrey Farnol, which were popular at the time.


message 15: by Tom (new)

Tom Hudson and Farnol are new names to me. Will check them out. Never read Orwell's early novels.

Bit of a stretch, perhaps, but I'll add Frost poem "The Death of the Hired Man," one of his "dramatic" poems, in which farming couple argue over taking back an old, dying farm-hand who had left them for another job and now is homeless and unemployed. Actually, an interesting meditation on community / personal responsibility for the poor. See also Frost's "Two Tramps in Mud Time," which makes nice sidebar to Orwell's comments re nature of work.


message 16: by Ralph (new)

Ralph Pulner The feet smell made me physically gag when I read it.


Bill  Kerwin Ralph wrote: "The feet smell made me physically gag when I read it."

There's a gag in this book somewhere for everybody, and I'm not talking about stand-up comedy when I say that!


Jessaka Really great review,

Really great review.


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