Down and Out in Paris and London: A Review

7 Mar

-For the Uncensored!

While many would begin to imagine that George Orwell’s seminal book 1984 is the crowning achievement of his career, you have to go back to a book called “Down and Out in Paris and London” as the book is an memoir, essentially about a time when George Orwell was broke and he had to work as a busboy and laborer. If the wisdom you reach from this, and to explain it in simple terms, “don’t hate poor people,” that simple analysis doesn’t do the book justice. The book, Down and out, gives some inspiring lessons on what a life is when you are poor.

           It’s concerning that right now, in American history, in 2021, poverty has reached an all time high. 

            In a less dangerous time, people can’t understand poverty and the words written in Orwell’s memoir, provides more insight than you like to imagine. He goes into money and how important it was to his time as it is now.

            After being robbed one day, and left with “just 47  francs—that is seven and ten pence” he had” to live at six francs a day, and from the start it was too difficult to leave much thought for anything else. It was now my experience od poverty began—for six francs a day, if not actual poverty, is on the fringe of it. Six francs is a shilling, and you can live on a shilling a day in Paris if you know how. It is  altogether curious, your first contact with poverty. You have so much thought about poverty—it is the thing you have feared all your life, the think you knew would happen sooner or later; and it is all so utterly and prosaically different. You thought it would be quite simple; it is extraordinarily complicated. You thought it would be terrible; it is merely squalid and boring. It is the peculiar lowness of poverty that you discover first; the shift that it puts you to, the complicated meanness, the crust-wiping.” 

            That passage alone is just the beginning of a life no one should ever have to endure, but reading the book gives me such hope. As I have learned, you don’t have to work if you are royalty, but in America, you can make your own royalty with your own hard work.

            As a Russian duke is trying to get out of paying for a meal, the police would want to see him if he didn’t have any money, but allowed his royalty to get away with not paying. “A duke is still a duke even in exile.” 

            What the horrors of poverty teach others is that it’s predestined, in Europe, if you aren’t of noble blood. An unshaven man tells him, “We never argue. Controversy is a bourgeois pastime. Deeds are our arguments.” 

            Deeds, in down and out, are managed by the jobs that the poor and lower class are responsible for. One job required physical work to “walk and run about fifteen miles during the day, and yet the strain was of the work was more than mental than physical.” But “one has to leap to and fro between a multitude of jobs –it is like sorting a pack of cards against the clock.” 

            “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 enough to keep him alive; his only holiday is the sack. He is cut off from marriage, or if he marries, his wife must work too.  Except by lucky chance, he has no escape from this life, save into prison. At this moment there are men with university degrees scrubbing dishes in Paris for ten or fifteen hours a day. One cannot say that it is mere idleness of their part, for an idle man cannot be a plongeur; they have simply been trapped by a routine which makes thought impossible. If plongeurs thought at all, they would long ago have formed a union and gone on strike for better treatment. But they do not think because they have no leisure for it; their life has made slave of them. The question is, why does this slavery continue?” 

            It’s a question that is complicated as the book progresses, and Orwell has made it through the fire. But this is answered with “Some people must feed in restaurants, and so other people must swab dishes for eighty hours a week. It is the work of civilisaiton, therefore unquestionable.”  

            But he considers this too. “Is a plongeur’s work really necessary to civilization? We have a feeling that it must be “honest” work, because it is hard and disagreeable, and we hav made a sort of fetish of manual work. We see a man cutting down a tree, and we make sure that he is filling a social need, just because he uses his muscles; it does not occur to us that he may only be cutting down a beautiful tree to make room for a hideous statue. I believe it is the same with a plongeur. He earns his bread in the sweat of his brow, but it does not follow that he is doing anything useful; he may be only supplying a luxury which, very often is not a luxury.”

            The pay is not worth the time spent, especially for a “bahinchut” and they earn “thirty or forty rupees a month, and cough their lungs out after a few years.” 

            But beds, for the poor, Orwell experiences is beyond distraught. “We slept fifteen or twenty in a dormitory; the beds were again cold and hard, but the sheets were not more than a week from the wash, which was an improvement. The charge was nine-pence or a shilling (in the shilling dormitory the beds were six feet apart instead of four)  and the terms were cash down by seven in the evening or out you went.” 

            The poor, Orwell claims, “are despicable” but Orwell points out “people are wrong when they think that an unemployed man only worries about losing his wages; on the contrary, an illiterate man, with the work habit in his bones, needs work even more than he needs money. An educated man can put up with enforced idleness, which is one of the worst evils of poverty” and through his thought process comes up with the idea and states, “the man who really merits pity is the man who has been down from the start, and faces poverty with a blank, resourceless mind.”

            The experiences and thought Orwell has, provides such keen insights that only someone who lived through poverty can experience. Sometimes, it takes an extraordinary mind to learn how to make due with what he has, but I think that many people need to have shit jobs in order to know how to escape the poverty of terrible jobs, too.

            “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 lunatic. No humiliation could do more damage to a man’s self-respect.”

            What is impossible is to know is that mental illness at that time was not discussed at the time Orwell had written this, but sometimes, the deception is that work is not bad, but Orwell does have his own thoughts and words. Orwell, after all this, finally comes to the conclusion, “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.”

            What I saw in Orwells words is that poverty must be experienced sometimes in order to find something better, but being poor should always teach you humility, and if you really don’t parse anything from these words, as I saw much of Orwell in these words as a man who had no other choice. But to blame a statue for the death of nature, as it might be a teaching moment, statues show the wealth and strength of a nation. Statues are there to remind us of the evils that used to exist. I think hard work does help teach you to be strong, and teach you how to be tough, but if you aren’t progressing past the point of a dishwasher, something is wrong with society.

            It seems that poverty, in Europe, is a curse, because if poverty is a curse that does destroy a physical body, it can kill you emotionally. If suffering is not only mental, it must take a stronger person to live it and get out alive. Poverty in America can be curtailed with hard work, but if people don’t have jobs, then the problem might not just be social, but a mental endemic to solve too. 

            But if more people read Down and out in London and Paris, poverty might just be remedied with compassion and love, but also understanding how society can not help everyone.

            Final Rating: 4/5

-Louis Bruno is the author of more than 15 books, including, The Michael Project, The Michael Project: Book 2: The Lost Children of Eve, Thy Kingdom Come, The Disintegrating Bloodline, Apocalypse Soldier, Hierarchy of Dwindling Sheep. His books can be found on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Lulu. He can be found on Gab, https://gab.com/thereallouistbruno, Minds https://www.minds.com/lbruno8063/, and Parlerhttps://parler.com/profile/therealLouistbruno/posts. Instagram @lbrruno8063 and @louisbrunoofficialbook. He has written for the Intellectual Conservative and Ephemere. His latest, Come Home, Young One, a dark fantasy novel is out now at Lulu.com. Link is here: https://www.lulu.com/en/us/shop/louis-bruno/come-home-young-one/hardcover/product-pw8q7z.html?page=1&pageSize=4

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