“Down And Out In Paris And London” Is George Orwell’s Disappointing Exception

George Orwell is one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. He was a soothsayer and a genius. Read Inside the Whale (a must read for all Orwell fans), Animal Farm, and 1984, and you will understand why the man has a reputation. However, Down and Out in Paris And London is not one of his better works. The book is decent at best (I give it three stars), and if the book was written by some random schmuck, my rating would be much more brutal.

Orwell has consistently proven his worth as a great writer, something rare even amongst the great writers who can only produce one masterpiece after a lifetime of striving to create a memorable piece of literature (e.g. John Kennedy O’Toole’s Confederacy of Dunces and Louis Ferdinand Celine’s Journey to the End of the Night). Unfortunately, Down and Out in Paris And London is not a masterpiece.  It is the one disappointing exception to an otherwise undisputed collection of great novels that champion the individual.

This book is an autobiography about his life “in the slums” and is Orwell’s earlier work when he was trying to make a name for himself as a writer (another reason I was light on the rating). Though I believe he chose this life, instead of actually being “down and out,” Orwell glamorizes poverty and the “interesting” bums he meets. Take for example the interesting and super intellectual bum named “Bozo.”  That is his real name…Bozo. I guess this Bozo character is extremely “authentic” and is idolized by Orwell, who won’t shut up about him.

Jean Paul Sartre (great writer in his own right, but a nut in his politics) is popular for glamorizing this idea of the “authentic” which consisted of being a drunk, poor asshole that was unemployed and was supposedly “sticking it to the man” by resorting to petty crime. We know now this is just celebrated perpetual adolescent behavior the hippies later would adopt and never seem to grow out of, even today. Grow up and start acting like an adult male. Luckily Orwell did later on.

Mr. Orwell could have left this “life of poverty” at any time, but rather enjoyed pretentiously pretending to be downtrodden, as if being poor was something to hold in high regard and something to strive for. As if rising out of poverty was not the goal of the poor, but smugly accepting your life was. In this book, Orwell wanted to be victimized to get a sensationalize story and exploiting his so-called poverty (just like that prick Jack Kerouac; pseudo-poverty is as transparent as a half-eaten greasy bag of fries found in a dumpster).

Orwell wanted a romanticized story and wanted to experience something “real” and “authentic.”  This “authentic life” consisted of being smelly and having lice while homeless homosexual men tried to penetrate his butt in his sleep on the floor of the disease infested Salvation Army (this is actually in the book). What a fun time and quite the amazing experience!

Down and Out in Paris And London is a testament of a masochist. This is common among some of Orwell’s other pieces. Another piece where he so cleverly attempts this glamorization is the short story “Down the Mine” from Inside the Whale.  It is another oversaturated sentimental propaganda piece to show empathy with the working class coal miners of the day. It is so overtly propaganda-like, one would question if it was done intentionally. There is no doubt the working class is an honorable class, but the way he writes about it borders on sappy romanticism. Orwell thinks he is almost suffering with them. I am surprised a miner didn’t call him a whiny pussy and kicked him out of the mine for getting in his way.

The book does contain some interesting points, such as Orwell’s commentary on the food industry. He talks about how sweat gets in the food from the cooks and other rather frivolous, but thought provoking ideas. Besides this, the book left me wishing it was packed with more interesting terms and phrases that we have all come to love (four legs good, two bad; Thought Police, Big Brother, etc). You won’t find any great terms or memorable phrases in Down and Out in Paris And London. The story is very redundant and the book could have ended a lot sooner, though this was one of the closest things to gems in the book:

Poverty frees them from ordinary standards of behaviour, just as money frees people from work.

Below are some vague and sporadic interesting quotes:

Without another word I pulled her off the bed and threw her on to the floor. And then I fell upon her like a tiger! Ah, the joy, the incomparable rapture of that time! There, Messieurs et dames, is what I would expound to you; voila l’amour! There is the true love, there is the only thing in the world worth striving for; there is the thing beside which all your arts and ideals, all your philosophies and creeds, all your fine words and high attitudes, are as pale and profitless as ashes. When one has experienced love- the true love- what is there in the world that seems more than a mere ghost of joy?

You are strong, eh?’ he said.
‘Very strong,’ I said untruly.

Down and Out in Paris And London is simple, well-written, and was a quick easy read. The content just didn’t grab me nearly as much as his later works. In the end, the only thing I really appreciated about the book was not working 14-hour days, 6 days a week, only to crawl into a bed of bugs while eating watery bread for every meal.

If you thought you invented “Bolsheviks” instead of saying “Bullshit,” you did not, because George Orwell did in this book. With this said, I would say this book is mostly “Bolsheviks,” so if you’re only a casual Orwell fan stick to his later works when he was seasoned with life experience and possessed a less idealistic view of the world. It was this very view that allowed him to see the Thought Police just over the horizon.

Read More: Down And Out In Paris And London

42 thoughts on ““Down And Out In Paris And London” Is George Orwell’s Disappointing Exception”

  1. No!!! I loved this book! Boris the Russian is such a wonderful character. And there’s so many little insights, like small gems hidden in a mine. Baaaaaaahhhhh!!!!!!!!

  2. Anyone read Keorauc’s “Satori in Paris”? I thought it was pretty good, read it like 10 years ago. Maybe i’ll go back and re-read it, your article inspired me

  3. It’s been a long time since I read it but I don’t remember being disappointed. I assume you have read “The Road to Wigan Peer”? It is a much better book, with a very interesting back story, which I won’t go into here.

  4. Wasn’t this the book where he showed that women can always spread their legs out of absolute poverty?

      1. Actually he said that a woman could always “attach herself to a man” as a last resort. This phrase is and was commonly used to describe marriage not prostitution

    1. I would also note that beggars and prostitutes are perhaps the mainstay of Marx’s lumpenproletariat. Marxist feminism is busy trying to destroy the potentially (counter/) revolutionary oldest profession, but nobody has paid real attention to the men right at the bottom. I mention this because feminism / female hypergamy will indirectly be swelling the ranks of the male lumpenproletariat. Again that makes it a (counter/) revolutionary force – depending of course on POV

    1. Dolan is a clown himself, I read him at exile he drips with envy and pretense- he is probably the War Nerd now and still has the pretense. I admit I do read him, he does have some good, solid stuff- but his critique of Orwell shows him up.

  5. Orwell got a little more authenticity than he bargained for. The book tells of men coughing their lungs out in these damp, stinky flophouses. Orwell himself died of tuberculosis at age 46, and this is probably where he contracted it.

  6. Animal Farm and 1984 will always be my favorites. But Down and Out in Paris and London has a certain charm as well I must admit.

  7. “Soothsayer”? “Genius”? Either you haven’t read much, or you haven’t recognized that Orwell is the original SJW. 1984 is a rip off of 2 or 3 previous 20th Century dystopian novels and Animal Farm is nothing but a metaphor for Stalin-era Soviet Union. 20th Century literary “genius”? Maybe Joyce, Faulkner, Jeffers, or Eliot… but not Orwell, who was nothing more then a lefty journalist.

    1. WE by Yevgeny Zamyatin, published in 1921.
      1984 and ANIMAL FARM are near beer compared to it.

  8. Is ‘Jon’s’ real name Will Self? Interesting that Orwell is a writer who can get attacked by both right left (Self) and the right. The idea that Orwell is the original SJW is something I’d not never thought of for sure, but while there are some superficial differences I’d say that’s wrong. The problem with SJWs is not just ‘what it says on the packet’ – after all in some sense just opposing a SJW is simply to be a different kind of SJW: we all want to change the world according to our idea of the good. Rather the poison that is Social Justice Warriordom, the modern phenomenon, is the method of the SJW, the fact that these are idiot activists who will use any means to change or socially engineer the world into what they think is the good. Change, progress etc those aren’t ‘Orwellian’ slogans. Humanity, decency, integrity, the means doesn’t justify the ends. Those are all things I’d associate with Orwell, and they aren’t slogans because he doesn’t use them, and because he has too much sincerity for the same.
    Re. Down & Out specifically, this has always received some criticism, for the simple reason that Orwell could have lifted himself out of the mire at any point. For that reason he can’t be quite the same as his ‘subjects’. In functions though as probably the best and most sincere ethnographies in existentence. Orwell isn’t making a gesture, he’s going that further mile that all the champagne socialists, or for that matter the Bolsheviks / communists he realised were so wrong would never have gone. Maybe he did idealise the poor, but if the enterprise could never be entirely inauthentic then, as an ethnographic text its seminal. Did Orwell want to make life better for his subject’s? I’m sure he did, but he didn’t come up with some inter-war equivalent to a hashtag campaign, he simply described what he saw. Some of what he notes is pretty red-pill and relevant to what we are saying notably his comments on tramps as sexual outcasts. Here are some extracts
    “[Poor men are] condemned to perpetual celibacy. For of course it goes without saying that if a tramp finds no women at his own level, those above–even a very little above–are as far out of his reach as the moon…there is no doubt that women never, or hardly ever, condescend to men who are much poorer than themselves.”
    “Tramps are cut off from women, in the first place, because there are very few women at their level of society. One might imagine that among destitute people the sexes would be as equally balanced as elsewhere. But it is not so; in fact, one can almost say that below a certain level society is entirely male… at that level men outnumber women by something like ten to one…
    “There is degradation worked in a man who knows that he is not even considered fit for marriage. The sexual impulse, not to put it any higher, is a fundamental impulse, and starvation of it can be almost as demoralizing as physical hunger. The evil of poverty is not so much that it makes a man suffer as that it rots him physically and spiritually. And there can be no doubt that sexual starvation contributes to this rotting process. Cut off from the whole race of women, a tramp feels himself degraded to the rank of a cripple or a lunatic. No humiliation could do more damage to a man’s self-respect.”
    If this is social justice warriordom the big mystery is why there are no social justice warriors today desperate to repair the situation. Explain why there is no hashtag#endhomelesscelibacy today. its the one thing SJWs could really do something about

    1. I found many gems in it and a comfort while I was down and out – I think the review is petty and superficial. I still remember the story of the tramp who didn’t have enough spirit to steal the milk, so true so poignant, so sad a picture of a broken man.

      1. Its an important and compassionate book and Orwell did right by the people he lived and worked with without preaching (as SJWs do). If I can understand in any way what it must have been like for you on the streets its because I have read this book

        1. Books are such individual experiences. These comments more than the review make me want to read the book, which I had never heard of. I assumed from the review I would agree with the reviewer, that Orwell was an upper class prig “slumming” to better understand the “little people.” Or, if this reference isn’t too dated, a “Rev. Scott Sloan, the man Time magazine called, ‘The fighting young priest who can talk to the young!’” Also known as, “Rev. Scott” from the earliest Doonesbury cartoons. “I was in Selma, damn it!” he yells at young ghetto children who question his street cred.
          I read both “Animal Farm” and “1984” in school (yes, we actually read them! “1984” was the hardest because I was only just learning to skip over the dull parts of a book!), but never looked at anything else Orwell wrote. Perhaps I’ll give his oeuvre a glance through. Thanks for the additional insights. And to the other commentor who reminded me of the word, “oeuvre”!
          P.S. The review wasn’t superficial. It was personal. Just saying.

        2. Thanks for the comment. Its a great book, quite slim, so you can probably consume it in a few sittings. There are a lot of clever authors out there but not that many perhaps who come across as genuinely honest and compassionate. Like you, I have yet to read some of his lesser known works, which I’ve been meaning to tackle for years.

      1. ha ha – although to be honest I’m not sure that didn’t happen straight after he wrote the Quantity Theory of Insanity

  9. I was actually about to buy this the other day, but I was on the fence about it. After reading this article and mulling it over a bit, I’m leaning more towards purchasing. I think it would be very interesting to read his early work, mainly because I’d be fascinated to see how it evolved, and how it compares with his more modern work.
    Thank you very much for the article!

    1. If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, especially a kitchen, and hated it, then you’ll like it.

      1. The way to overcome such a disqualification is to have a passion you care about more than her! This will allow you to cultivate a true air of aloofness toward women which is essential to Game. Women are drawn to a man whose world does not revolve around them. It’s like catnip to them. They either want to attach themselves to a man who has an interesting life so they can share it without effort, or they want to see if they can wrench him away from it and in so doing, destroy him!
        Once you have such an avocation you will work a job merely to support it.
        Someone once said, “Making your passion your job kills your passion.” It is inevitable. “Anything you have to do every day is a JOB.”
        In my case, “All employment is a form of prostitution. Doing what I love in exchange for a paycheck makes me feel like a prostitute who has to kiss her johns. I can’t do it. It’s too personal.”
        Or as the French character “Serge” said in the movie “The Core”, “I’m married to my work. Which makes my wife my mistress. That’s why I’m still in love with her.”

  10. I like It. I get your point, but remember that Bukowski, who is one of the most revered celebrators of poverty and dissolution ever, is revered in the manosphere. I believe in self- improvement in my real life, but it doesn’t mean I can’t take an interest in literary slumming.

    1. Buk did not celebrate “poverty” or “dissolution”. He just viewed these two obstacles as additional and unnecessary roadblocks hoisted upon contemporary man by our own progressive imagination. As usual, valuing preserverance and the wherewithal of our forefathers, he exemplifies for us how not to succumb to contemporary obstacles. Metaphorically speaking, Buk is a Spartan of sorts.

  11. “(just like that prick Jack Kerouac; pseudo-poverty is as transparent as a half-eaten greasy bag of fries found in a dumpster)”
    Or Thoreau, who lived on a mate’s property for a bit with slaves to do his laundry.

  12. In order to choose well, a person must make an informed decision. In fact, choice is predicated on knowledge of available choices. I think Orwell was admirably objective in describing both the pros and cons of poverty… As much as a person can be in the situation.
    When a person chooses against poverty, and chooses to take the necessary actions to prosper in a material fashion – it behooves them to know *why* they are choosing against poverty. Good and bad.
    There are benefits to washing dishes and partying after a shitty Paris restaurant closes for the night; nightlife, and no responsibilities has its allure.
    Working in order to prosper beyond poverty also has its allure.
    A man must choose.

  13. Animal Farm is still my favourite when it comes to Orwell. In fact, it’s not even the book itself that I like – it’s the part of the preface where he talks about censorship and how it’s usually not government-inflicted but self-inflicted by a society. Here’s a treat for you all:
    “At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was ‘not done’ to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.”

  14. Two things:
    – He slummed it for fodder to write the book.
    – He nicked the premise and execution from Jack London and his The People of the Abyss, which contains more in a sentence than everything in Orwell’s canon.

  15. The book is brilliant.One of the cornerstones of his work.My other favourite work is homage to catalunya.Down and out is great social realism and his observations are great. In Orwell’s fictional novel however,keep the aspidratsa up , the protagonist is
    in a bit self indulgant when he refuses to work in a good job but instead suffer in poverty.But then Orwell was from the upper classes.Still my favourite author though(and the only British one come to think of it)

  16. Down and Out is a fab book. Plot aside, the language he uses and his style of prose are wonderful. It’s short sighted to say this book is an exception to his genius.

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