Down and Out in Paris and London
Down and Out in Paris and London is the first full-length work by the
English author George Orwell, published in 1933. It is a memoir in
two parts on the theme of poverty in the two cities. The first part is
an account of living in near-destitution in Paris and the experience
of casual labour in restaurant kitchens. The second part is a
travelogue of life on the road in and around London from the tramp's
perspective, with descriptions of the types of hostel accommodation
available and some of the characters to be found living on the
3.1 Chapters I–XXIII (Paris)
3.2 Chapters XXIV–XXXVIII (London)
4 Fact and fiction
6 Film adaptation
7 See also
9 External links
After giving up his post as a policeman in Burma to become a writer,
Orwell moved to rooms in Portobello Road, London at the end of 1927
when he was 24. While contributing to various journals, he
undertook investigative tramping expeditions in and around London,
collecting material for use in "The Spike", his first published essay,
and for the latter half of Down and Out in Paris and London. In spring
of 1928 he moved to Paris and lived at 6 Rue du Pot de Fer in the
Latin Quarter, a bohemian quarter with a cosmopolitan flavour.
American writers like
Ernest Hemingway and
F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald had
lived in the same area. Following the Russian
Revolution, there was a large Russian emigre community in Paris.
Orwell's aunt Nellie Limouzin also lived in Paris and gave him social
and, when necessary, financial support. He led an active social
life, worked on his novels and had several articles published in
Orwell's Paris street, in the 5th arrondissement: "tall old-fashioned
windows and dark grey leaded roofs; not far from the École Normale
Supérieure—earlier in the twenties, Hemingway had lived only 500
yards (460 m) from Orwell's street;
Elliot Paul was then still
living in his own 'narrow street', the Rue de la Huchette, in the same
arrondissement down by the river near the Place Saint-Michel; and
once, at the Deux Magots in 1928, Orwell thought he saw James
Orwell fell seriously ill in March 1929 and shortly afterwards had
money stolen from the lodging house. The thief was probably not the
young Italian described in Down and Out. In a later account, he said
the theft was the work of a young trollop that he had picked up and
brought back with him; it has been submitted that "consideration
for his parents' sensibilities would have required the suppression of
this misadventure. Whoever reduced Orwell to destitution did him a
good turn; his final ten weeks in Paris sowed the seed of his first
published book." Whether through necessity or just to collect
material, and probably both, he undertook casual work as a dishwasher
in restaurants. In August 1929 he sent a copy of "The Spike" to the
Adelphi magazine in London, and it was accepted for publication.
Orwell left Paris in December 1929 and returned to England, going
straight home to his parents' house in Southwold. Later he acted as a
private tutor to a handicapped child there and also undertook further
tramping expeditions, culminating in a stint working in the Kent hop
fields in August and September 1931. After this adventure, he ended up
Tooley Street kip, which he found so unpleasant that he wrote
home for money and moved to more comfortable lodgings.
Orwell's first version of Down and Out was called "A Scullion's
Diary". Completed in October 1930, it used only his Paris
material. He offered it to
Jonathan Cape in the summer of 1931. Cape
rejected it in the autumn. A year later he offered "a fatter
typescript (the London chapters had been added)" to Faber & Faber,
where T. S. Eliot, then an editorial director, also rejected it,
stating, "We did find it of very great interest, but I regret to say
that it does not appear to me possible as a publishing
It was in the home of Mabel Fierz that Orwell then discarded the
typescript. She had, with her husband, a London businessman named
Francis, been for a number of years a visitor to
Southwold in the
summer and was on friendly terms with the Blairs. Fierz at this point
took it to a literary agent, Leonard Moore, who "recognised it as a
'natural' for the new house of Gollancz."
Victor Gollancz was
prepared to publish the work, subject to the removal of bad language
and some identifiable names, and offered an advance of £40. The title
improvised by Gollancz, Confessions of a Down and Outer, bothered
Orwell. "Would The Confessions of a Dishwasher do as well?" he asked
Moore. "I would rather answer to dishwasher than down & out."
At the last minute, Gollancz shortened the title to Down and Out in
Paris and London. The author, after possibilities including "X," "P.S.
Burton" (an alias Orwell had used on tramping expeditions), "Kenneth
Miles" and "H. Lewis Allways" had been considered, was renamed
"George Orwell." Orwell did not wish to publish under his own name
Eric Blair, and Orwell was the name he used from then on for his main
works—although many periodical articles were still published under
the name Eric Blair.
Down and Out in Paris and London
Down and Out in Paris and London was published on
9 January 1933 and received favourable reviews from, among others, C.
Day Lewis, WH Davies,
Compton Mackenzie and JB Priestley. It was
subsequently published by Harper & Brothers in New York. Sales
were low, however, until December 1940, when
Penguin Books printed
55,000 copies for sale at sixpence.
A French translation, which Orwell admired, by RN Raimbault and Gwen
Gilbert, entitled La Vache Enragée, was published by Éditions
Gallimard, on 2 May 1935, with a preface by Panait Istrati and an
introduction by Orwell.
Chapters I–XXIII (Paris)
The scene-setting opening chapters describe the atmosphere in the
Paris quarter and introduce various characters who appear later in the
book. From Chapter III to Chapter X, where the narrator obtains a job
at "Hotel X," he describes his descent into poverty, often in
tragi-comic terms. An Italian compositor forges room keys and steals
his savings and his scant income vanishes when the English lessons he
is giving stop. He begins at first to sell some of his clothes, and
then to pawn his remaining clothes, and then searches for work with a
Russian waiter named Boris—work as a porter at Les Halles, work as
an English teacher and restaurant work. He recounts his two-day
experience without any food and tells of meeting Russian "Communists"
who, he later concludes, on their disappearance, must be mere
After the various ordeals of unemployment and hunger the narrator
obtains a job as a plongeur (dishwasher) in the "Hôtel X" near the
Place de la Concorde, and begins to work long hours there. In Chapter
XIII, he describes the "caste system" of the
hotel—"manager-cooks-waiters-plongeurs"—and, in Chapter XIV, its
frantic and seemingly chaotic workings. He notes also "the dirt in the
Hôtel X.," which became apparent "as soon as one penetrated into the
service quarters." He talks of his routine life among the working poor
of Paris, slaving and sleeping, and then drinking on Saturday night
through the early hours of Sunday morning. In Chapter XVI, he refers
briefly to a murder committed "just beneath my window [while he was
sleeping .... The thing that strikes me in looking back," he says, "is
that I was in bed and asleep within three minutes of the murder [....]
We were working people, and where was the sense of wasting sleep over
Misled by Boris's optimism, the narrator is briefly penniless again
after he and Boris quit their hotel jobs in the expectation of work at
a new restaurant, the "Auberge de Jehan Cottard," where Boris feels
sure he will become a waiter again; at the Hotel X, he had been doing
lower-grade work. The "patron" of the Auberge, "an ex-colonel of the
Russian Army," seems to have financial difficulties. The narrator is
not paid for ten days and is compelled to spend a night on a
bench—"It was very uncomfortable—the arm of the seat cuts into
your back—and much colder than I had expected"—rather than face
his landlady over the outstanding rent.
At the restaurant, the narrator finds himself working "seventeen and a
half hours" a day, "almost without a break," and looking back
wistfully at his relatively leisured and orderly life at the Hotel X.
Boris works even longer: "eighteen hours a day, seven days a week."
The narrator claims that "such hours, though not usual, are nothing
extraordinary in Paris." He adds
by the way, that the Auberge was not the ordinary cheap eating-house
frequented by students and workmen. We did not provide an adequate
meal at less than twenty-five francs, and we were picturesque and
artistic, which sent up our social standing. There were the indecent
pictures in the bar, and the Norman decorations—sham beams on the
walls, electric lights done up as candlesticks, "peasant" pottery,
even a mounting-block at the door—and the patron and the head waiter
were Russian officers, and many of the customers titled Russian
refugees. In short, we were decidedly chic.
He falls into a routine again and speaks of quite literally fighting
for a place on the
Paris Métro to reach the "cold, filthy kitchen" by
seven. Despite the filth and incompetence, the restaurant turns out to
be a success.
The narrative is interspersed with anecdotes recounted by some of the
minor characters, such as Valenti, an Italian waiter at Hotel X, and
Charlie, "one of the local curiosities," who is "a youth of family and
education who had run away from home." In Chapter XXII, the narrator
considers the life of a plongeur:
[A] plongeur is one of the slaves of the modern world. Not that there
is any need to whine over him, for he is better off than many manual
workers, but still, he is no freer than if he were bought and sold.
His work is servile and without art; he is paid just enough to keep
him alive; his only holiday is the sack [.... He has] been trapped by
a routine which makes thought impossible. If plongeurs thought at all,
they would long ago have formed a labour union and gone on strike for
better treatment. But they do not think, because they have no leisure
for it; their life has made slaves of them.
Because of the stress of the long hours, he mails to a friend, "B,"
back in London, asking if he could get him a job that allows more than
five hours' sleep a night. His friend duly replies, offering a job
taking care of a "congenital imbecile," and sends him some money to
get his possessions from the pawn. The narrator then quits his job as
a plongeur and leaves for London.
Chapters XXIV–XXXVIII (London)
The narrator arrives in London expecting to have the job waiting for
him. Unfortunately the would-be employers have gone abroad, "patient
Until his employers return, the narrator lives as a tramp, sleeping in
an assortment of venues: lodging houses, tramps' hostels or "spikes,"
Salvation Army shelters. Because vagrants can not "enter any one
spike, or any two London spikes, more than once in a month, on pain of
being confined for a week," he is required to keep on the move, with
the result that long hours are spent tramping or waiting for hostels
to open. Chapters XXV to XXXV describe his various journeys, the
different forms of accommodation, a selection of the people he meets,
and the tramps' reaction to Christian charity: "Evidently the tramps
were not grateful for their free tea. And yet it was excellent [....]
I am sure too that it was given in a good spirit, without any
intention of humiliating us; so in fairness we ought to have been
grateful—still, we were not." Characters in this section of the book
include the Irish tramp called Paddy, "a good fellow" whose "ignorance
was limitless and appalling," and the pavement artist Bozo, who has a
good literary background and was formerly an amateur astronomer, but
who has suffered a succession of misfortunes.
The final chapters provide a catalogue of various types of
accommodation open to tramps. The narrator offers some general
At present I do not feel that I have seen more than the fringe of
poverty. Still, I can point to one or two things I have definitely
learned by being hard up. I shall never again think that all tramps
are drunken scoundrels, nor expect a beggar to be grateful when I give
him a penny, nor be surprised if men out of work lack energy, nor
subscribe to the Salvation Army, nor pawn my clothes, nor refuse a
handbill, nor enjoy a meal at a smart restaurant. That is a beginning.
Fact and fiction
One of the debates surrounding Down and Out is whether it was a piece
of factual autobiography or part fiction. Orwell wrote in the
Introduction to the 1935 French edition: "I think I can say that I
have exaggerated nothing except in so far as all writers exaggerate by
selecting. I did not feel that I had to describe events in the exact
order in which they happened, but everything I have described did take
place at one time or another." In Chapter XXIV, it is "clear that
Orwell did distort facts by claiming on his return from Paris he found
himself down and out in London and had not 'the slightest notion of
how to get a cheap bed'. This of course heightens the tension [...]
but the truth is that in Paris he had already written his first
substantial essay, "The Spike", describing a night spent in a Notting
Hill tramps' hostel. Before his departure from England he had
voluntarily lived among tramps for some time."
In The Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell referred to the tramping experiences
described in Down and Out, writing that "nearly all the incidents
described there actually happened, though they have been
re-arranged." Some measure of the work's veracity may be gleaned
from a marked-up copy, containing sixteen annotations, which Orwell
gave to Brenda Salkeld. Of the descent into poverty from Chapter III,
he wrote, "Succeeding chapters are not actually autobiography but
drawn from what I have seen." Of Chapter VII, however, he wrote, "This
all happened;" of Hotel X, "All as exact as I could make it;" and, of
the Russian restaurant, "All the following is an entirely accurate
description of the restaurant." On the personalities, Orwell's own
introduction to the French edition states that the characters are
individuals, but are "intended more as representative types."
The luxury hotel in which Orwell worked in the autumn of 1929 was
identified as the Crillon by Sonia Orwell, as recounted by Sam White,
the London Evening Standard's Paris correspondent in his column for 16
June 1967. However, the writers Stansky and Abrahams have suggested,
in their study of Orwell, that it was the Hotel Lotti.
Within a month of publication, Humbert Possenti, "a restaurateur and
hotelier of forty years," had written to
The Times complaining that
the book was unfairly disparaging to the restaurant trade. The
Times Literary Supplement had previously reviewed Down and Out in
Paris and London, describing it as "a vivid picture of an apparently
mad world." Orwell responded to the restaurateur's criticism with
a letter to the same newspaper: "I do know that in our hotel there
were places which no customer could possibly have been allowed to see
with any hope of retaining his custom."
In the Adelphi,
C. Day Lewis
C. Day Lewis wrote, "Orwell's book is a tour of the
underworld, conducted without hysteria or prejudice [...] a model of
clarity and good sense." JB Priestley, in the Evening Standard,
considered it "uncommonly good reading. An excellent book and a
valuable social document. The best book of its kind I have read in a
Compton Mackenzie wrote of Orwell's "immensely
interesting book [...] a genuine human document, which at the same
time is written with so much artistic force that, in spite of the
squalor and degradation thus unfolded, the result is curiously
beautiful with the beauty of an accomplished etching on copper. The
account of a casual ward in this country horrifies like some scene of
inexplicable misery in Dante."
Following the American publication, James T. Farrell, writing in The
New Republic, called it "genuine, unexaggerated and intelligent,"
while Herbert Gorman wrote for the New York Times Book Review, "He
possesses a keen eye for character and a rough-and-ready 'styleless
style' that plunges along and makes the reader see what the author
wants him to see." In contrast, the reviewer for New English Weekly
wrote, "This book [...] is forcefully written and is very readable,
yet it fails to carry conviction. We wonder if the author was really
down and out. Down certainly, but out?"
Cyril Connolly later wrote, "I don't think Down and Out in London and
Paris is more than agreeable journalism; it was all better done by his
friend Henry Miller. Orwell found his true form a few years
later." Orwell agreed with this assessment. Henry Miller's
controversial work Tropic of Cancer (1934) is based on his own
experiences in Paris around the time Orwell was there.
In an essay for the 1971 The World of George Orwell, Richard Mayne
considered the book as typical of something that was true of a great
deal of Orwell's later writing: his "relish at revealing
behind-the-scenes squalor. He was always taking the lid off
things—poverty, parlour Socialism, life in a coal mine, prep-school
tyranny, the Empire, the Spanish Civil War, the Russian Revolution,
the political misuse of language. He might well have echoed W.H.
Auden: All I have is a voice/To undo the folded lie."
The narrator's comments on Jews in the book are cited by a journalist
Haaretz when considering what he terms "Orwell’s latent
anti-Semitism". Some suggest the work may have been Orwell's
parody of his own social upbringing and social class, noticing the
narrator has both racist and anti-racist outbursts. Another
commentator cites the book as evidence that anti-Semitism was much
more prevalent in Paris than in London.
In 2012, BBC News announced that
Billy Elliot writer Lee Hall is
penning a script for a film adaptation of Down and Out. "It's a very
timely book because it's about people in the midst of a depression,"
Hall said. The film will be shot by director Kevin Macdonald, who made
The Last King of Scotland
The Last King of Scotland and State of Play.
Bibliography of George Orwell
Penguin Classics 2001, back page description
^ Back cover description, Down and Out in Paris and London, Penguin
Classics, 2001 ISBN 978-0141184388
^ Ruth Pitter BBC Overseas Service broadcast 3 January 1956
^ Introduction, p. vii,
Penguin Classics 2001 edition
^ Ruth Graves Letter 23 July 1949 in Complete Works XX 150
^ Richard Mayne, The World of
George Orwell pp. 42–43
^ Mabel Fierz in Audrey Coppard and Bernard Crick Orwell Remembered
^ Dervla Murphy, Introduction, Penguin edition, 1989
^ D. J. Taylor Orwell: The Life Chatto & Windus. 2003
^ Introduction, p. ix Penguin Classics, 2001 edition
^ a b Orwell, Sonia and Angus, Ian (eds.). The Collected Essays,
Journalism and Letters of
George Orwell Volume 1: An Age Like This
^ a b Mishan, Ligaya. "Down and Out in Paris and London." The New
Yorker. 30 April 2009. Retrieved 2 April 2012.
^ Introduction, Penguin 1989 edition, p. x
^ Quoted in Michael Shelden, Orwell, p. 180. In July 1932, Orwell had
suggested calling the book The Lady Poverty referencing a poem of
Alice Meynell; in August 1932, he suggested In Praise of Poverty (A
Kind of Compulsion, Secker & Warburg pp. 253, 261).
^ Shelden, p. 180.
^ A Kind of Compulsion, 1903–36, p. 299
^ Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of
George Orwell volume I,
Penguin Classics 2001 edition, p. xiii–xiv
George Orwell The Road to Wigan Pier" Left Book Club 1937.
^ Michael Shelden Orwell: The Authorised Biography William Heinemann
^ A Kind of Compulsion 1903–36 p. 114
^ Possenti, Humbert. "Hotel Kitchens." The Times, 31 January 1933: 6.
^ a b c Google Books Scott Lucas, Orwell (2003) Haus Publishing,
ISBN 1904341330, 978-1904341338
^ Orwell, George. "Hotel Kitchens." The Times, 11 February 1933: 6.
^ Quoted in Orwell, The Transformation, Stansky and Abrahams, Paladin,
1984 edn., p. 26
^ Reviews in the Orwell Archive, quoted by Bernard Crick Orwell: A
Cyril Connolly The Evening Colonnade –
George Orwell I
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1973
^ Richard Mayne, The World of George Orwell, p. 45 Weidenfeld &
^ Pfeffer, Anshel (2012). "Was Orwell an anti-Semite?"
^ Philip, Mendes (2014). Jews and the Left: The Rise and Fall of a
Political Alliance. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 62.
^ Shindler, Colin (2011). Israel and the European Left: Between
Solidarity and Delegitimization (Google eBook). Bloomsbury Publishing.
p. 91. ISBN 978-1137008305.
^ Aberbach, David (Mar 1972). The European Jews, Patriotism and the
Liberal State, 1789-1939: A Study of Literature and Social Psychology.
Routledge. p. 32. ISBN 978-0415540131.
^ Youngs, Ian (30 March 2012). "BBC News –
Billy Elliot writer Lee
Hall adapts George Orwell". Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 16 July 2012.
Wikiquote has quotations related to: Down and Out in Paris and London
Down And Out In Paris And London at Faded Page (Canada)
Down and Out in Paris and London
Down and Out in Paris and London at Charles'
George Orwell Links (HTML
Down and Out in Paris and London
Down and Out in Paris and London at the British Library
Down and Out in Paris and London
Down and Out in Paris and London at Project Gutenberg Australia
Down and Out in Paris and London
Down and Out in Paris and London at george-orwell.org (HTML formatted)
"Reading Orwell" by George Packer,
Keith Gessen and others in The New
"On the trail of George Orwell’s outcasts" by Emma Jane Kirby, BBC
News, 5 August 2011.
Burmese Days (1934)
A Clergyman's Daughter
A Clergyman's Daughter (1935)
Keep the Aspidistra Flying
Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936)
Coming Up for Air (1939)
Animal Farm (1945)
Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)
Down and Out in Paris and London
Down and Out in Paris and London (1933)
The Road to Wigan Pier
The Road to Wigan Pier (1937)
Homage to Catalonia
Homage to Catalonia (1938)
"A Hanging" (1931)
"The Spike" (1931)
"Bookshop Memories" (1936)
"Shooting an Elephant" (1936)
"Spilling the Spanish Beans" (1937)
"Boys' Weeklies" (1940)
"Inside the Whale" (1940)
"My Country Right or Left" (1940)
"England Your England" (1941)
"The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius" (1941)
"The Art of Donald McGill" (1940)
"Poetry and the Microphone" (1943)
"Raffles and Miss Blandish" (1944)
"Good Bad Books" (1945)
"Notes on Nationalism" (1945)
"Books v. Cigarettes" (1946)
"Confessions of a Book Reviewer" (1946)
"Decline of the English Murder" (1946)
"A Good Word for the Vicar of Bray" (1946)
"How the Poor Die" (1946)
"The Moon Under Water" (1946)
"A Nice Cup of Tea" (1946)
"Pleasure Spots" (1946)
"Politics and the English Language" (1946)
"The Politics of Starvation" (1946)
"Politics vs. Literature: An Examination of Gulliver's Travels" (1946)
"The Prevention of Literature" (1946)
"Riding Down from Bangor" (1946)
"Second Thoughts on James Burnham" (1946)
"Some Thoughts on the Common Toad" (1946)
"Why I Write" (1946)
"Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool" (1947)
"The English People" (1947)
"Such, Such Were the Joys" (1952)
"As I Please" (1943–1947)
"London Letters" (1941–1946)
Betrayal of the Left (1941)
Inside the Whale and Other Essays (1940)
Critical Essays (1946)
Secker and Warburg
Victor Gollancz Ltd
Orwell's list (1949)
Eric & Us
Why Orwell Matters