Classics Without All the Class discussion

41 views
Buddy Reads > Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell

Comments Showing 1-16 of 16 (16 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by [deleted user] (last edited Jun 10, 2016 08:43AM) (new)

Hi everyone! We can begin to discuss the book here. I am going to start reading it tonight, and am looking forward to hearing what everyone has to say about it!


message 2: by [deleted user] (last edited Jun 11, 2016 02:47PM) (new)

So far the picture he has painted of Paris is very detailed! “There were eccentric characters in the hotel. The Paris slums are a gathering-place for eccentric people—people who have fallen into solitary, half-mad grooves of life and given up trying to be normal or decent.” There are definitely some interesting people in that hotel. I liked the description of how the Rougiers made their money...that was pretty funny!

He's also made some decent points about how one goes to great lengths to keep up appearances, so as not to show one has fallen on hard times. Like borrowing Boris’ coat and since it is too big, wearing it unbuttoned with his hand in his pocket.

Boris made a good point about all this: “Appearance—appearance is everything, mon ami. Give me a new suit and I will borrow a thousand francs by dinner-time." And also: “It is fatal to look hungry. It makes people want to kick you.”

The most interesting points thus far, in my opinion, have to do with hunger and how it affects one. “And then the mind wanders to other topics. A bread and margarine diet does, to some extent, provide its own anodyne.” How true!

Anyone else have any preliminary thoughts?


message 3: by Valerie (new)

Valerie Brown Well, I've just caught up to where you were!

Yes, there certainly is a lot of local 'color' which really gives a sense of place. Boris is a great, larger than life, character who I am enjoying.

My opinion, at this point, of the narrator is that he isn't the brightest bulb in the basket. Since this seems to be considered a fictionalized memoir, it is interesting that he doesn't mind casting himself in an unflattering light.


message 4: by Cindy (new)

Cindy I am amazed how much filth the characters take for granted. They go to their rooms and watch the bugs on the walls. The hotel where he worked was terrible. The cook that spit in the soup turned my stomach. The main characters were not bright but you feel sympathy. They were hungry and looking for work. You could set this story for today's economy. You hear so many stories of people looking for work and living paycheck to paycheck.


message 5: by Valerie (new)

Valerie Brown Yes, you are right, Cindy. It seems to me that even today that people faced with extreme poverty are often forced to live in circumstances + places that we would never consider.

It was the the filthy fingers in the food that really did it for me! I can see that this book would have been an eye opener for the upper classes when it was published!


message 6: by [deleted user] (last edited Jun 14, 2016 09:17AM) (new)

Cindy, the hotel did indeed seem a wretched place to work. I can't imagine running around on average 15 miles per day in a place that is generally hotter than 110 degrees! It sounds so grueling. Then add to that the filthy conditions, and it really gets awful. The worst part for me was the state of the dishwater they had to use to clean the dishes...disgusting!

Valerie and Cindy, I agree with you too in that this type of poverty can and does seem all too prevalent nowadays. Many of his points about poverty and areas for improvement are still quite valid.

His next place of employment after the hotel was in many ways worse. I liked the description of that vile employer: “…he had a trick of swiftly disappearing when asked for money. His blend of shiftiness and aristocratic manners made him very hard to deal with.” Also, how “He kept the same hours as the rest of us, but he had no work to do, for it was his wife who really managed things. His sole job, besides ordering the supplies, was to stand in the bar smoking cigarettes and looking gentlemanly, and he did that to perfection.” What a lousy guy. Orwell does a terrific job succinctly sketching characters in my opinion.

The restaurant owner and the overall climate there were definitely worse (and dirtier) that the hotel: “There was not the same furious rushing and yelling as at the Hôtel X, but an atmosphere of muddle, petty spite and exasperation.” I was glad when he finally left for London!


message 7: by Valerie (new)

Valerie Brown I just read that part over lunch. He is very good at sketching out the characters, and he seems pretty evenhanded at it.

I was wondering how much they were actually earning. I did a very quick google search, and it appears the franc had very little value after WW1, particularly in the mid to late 20s when Orwell would have been in Paris. The graph I found is a little hard to read, but if I assume a franc was worth .03 US dollar - that means he was earning $15 as a dishwasher (etc). He (well all of them) worked more than 15 hours a day, so they were earning less than $1 an hour. It really is hard to imagine.


message 8: by Valerie (new)

Valerie Brown I just finished this morning. I'll be interested to hear what everyone thinks of the London portion of the book!


message 9: by [deleted user] (new)

Valerie wrote: "I just finished this morning. I'll be interested to hear what everyone thinks of the London portion of the book!"

Valerie, that's really interesting what you found out about the actual wages they earned. You're right...that is hard to imagine.

I have also finished the book, and thought that the London portion was a bit less interesting than Paris. It had some more great character sketches, such as the tramp who “considered himself in a class above the ordinary run of beggars, who, he said, were an abject lot, without even the decency to be ungrateful.”

I also liked some of his analyses of the ridiculous laws and conditions of the times, such as this part: “The reason why they have to pretend to sell matches and so forth instead of begging outright is that this is demanded by the absurd English laws about begging. As the law now stands, if you approach a stranger and ask him for twopence, he can call a policeman and get you seven days for begging. But if you make the air hideous by droning ‘Nearer, my God, to Thee,’ or scrawl some chalk daubs on the pavement, or stand about with a tray of matches—in short, if you make a nuisance of yourself—you are held to be following a legitimate trade and not begging. Match-selling and street-singing are simply legalised crimes.” What a screwy system!

I was initially surprised by the behavior of the tramps at the church, but he made some good points as to why it happened: “The scene had interested me. It was so different from the ordinary demeanour of tramps—from the abject worm-like gratitude with which they normally accept charity. The explanation, of course, was that we outnumbered the congregation and so were not afraid of them. A man receiving charity practically always hates his benefactor—it is a fixed characteristic of human nature; and, when he has fifty or a hundred others to back him, he will show it.”

What are your thoughts?


message 10: by Valerie (new)

Valerie Brown Yes, I felt that the London part was weaker and some of it felt 'tacked on' to pad out the book.

However, it was interesting to read how the government of the day arranged the system for homeless people. Now (at least in Canadian cities) you aren't forced to walk from shelter to shelter. Although, of course, they aren't allowed to stay in the day either.

I was particularly struck, in the London section, how they survived (if they were lucky!!) on tea and 2 pieces of toast. Yikes. I doubt I could walk all those miles every day on that little sustenance.

As for the incident in the church he may be correct that it was 'mob mentality'. On the other hand, I would be annoyed if I had to sit through a church service for the minimal charity they provided. As well, I'm sure all of them weren't thinking properly due to their lack of food (and everything else for that matter). Charity is a tricky thing, the benefactor wants to feel good about themselves and the recipient wants to be treated with respect and be able to hold onto their dignity.

I'm sure this book was a real eye-opener for those who read it.


message 11: by Cindy (new)

Cindy I just finished this book. It was a real eye opener. It will totally change your views on poverty, tramps or homeless people. The London section was sad. I asked the same question why did they have the tramps sit idle in the work houses. I would think they could do some kind of work. The bread and tea diet was heartbreaking. Where were the charities and church organizations? They are supposed to feed the hungry. This book is scary too, I read a quote that most people are one paycheck from being homeless. Lose your job, get sick,etc... I will be thinking about this book for awhile. I would have trouble enduring the filth and stink in some of the sleeping places.


message 12: by Valerie (new)

Valerie Brown Before I get busy and forget, I wanted to thank you, Tara for organizing this.

As I mentioned in the 'sign up' thread, I'll use this for my A-Z author challenge. The longer story is my computer somehow completely (and I mean completely) deleted my spreadsheet where I keep track of what i plan on reading for the A-Z challenge + the Reading with Style challenges (another group), not long before your post. This is a problem since I plan my A-Z at the beginning of the year, in case i have to order books from the library. So I was casting about to fill in the letters I hadn't read (and I couldn't remember all of my picks!).

I'm quite sure this book was not on my planned list, but I am so glad to have read it. I enjoy Orwell a lot, and like Cindy, I will be thinking about it for some time. I read A LOT and, yes I do remember what I read generally, but most of the books don't have impact this one did. So, good choice!


message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

Valerie wrote: "Yes, I felt that the London part was weaker and some of it felt 'tacked on' to pad out the book.

However, it was interesting to read how the government of the day arranged the system for homeless ..."


Valerie, that was an excellent point you made about the tricky nature of charity. In fact, his insights into charity and human nature were some of the most profound observations in the book.

And walking that far on tea and toast had to be beyond wearying. I can't imagine having to live like that for any length of time.


message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

Cindy wrote: "I just finished this book. It was a real eye opener. It will totally change your views on poverty, tramps or homeless people. The London section was sad. I asked the same question why did they have..."

Cindy, great point about having the tramps sit idle in the work houses. That made me angry too, and I thought Orwell's idea about gardening made a hell of a lot of sense. It was an awful system in many ways, and led to so much waste!


message 15: by [deleted user] (new)

Valerie wrote: "Before I get busy and forget, I wanted to thank you, Tara for organizing this.

As I mentioned in the 'sign up' thread, I'll use this for my A-Z author challenge. The longer story is my computer s..."


Thanks for saying that, Valerie! And thank you both for reading it with me.

That's quite a shame about your computer! It must have been really frustrating, I know I hate it when I lose stuff like that.

I'm glad you enjoyed the book. It certainly gave the reader a lot of important issues to think about, and was very worthwhile.

Good luck with the rest of your A-Z reading challenge :)


message 16: by Shane (new)

Shane (mytholgylove) | 1 comments I am a big fan of Orwell's description of French life in Paris at that time, indeed I believe it is the better half of the book. My father was a French chef growing up around that period, he verifies that much of what Orwell says of working in the kitchens is accurate. Even the most obscure people he meets in the narrative have brusquely defined character. Paris's people are as mad as they are debonair, and Orwell captures that stylish madness and laissez faire "allow to do" of the French attitude. If it weren't for 1984, this would be his best for sure.


back to top