Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London

“But, for many, even modest success has to be worked for throughout long bleak years littered with rejection slips. In our day this fact is often obscured, to an extent that would have appalled Orwell, by the ease with which semi-literaate but efficiently-hyped authors can become famous-and rich.” (Introduction by Dervla Murphy, Down and Out in Paris and London)

“At that time failure seemed to me to be the only virtue. Every suspicion of self-advancement, even to ‘succeed’ in life to the extent of making a few hundred a year, seemed to me spiritually ugly, a species of bullying.” (Dervla quoting Orwell, Road to Wigan Pier*)

“a ravine of tall leprous houses, lurching towards one another in queer attitudes, as though they had all been frozen in the act of collapse.” (DOPL, 1)

“given up trying to be normal or decent. Poverty frees them from ordinary standards of behaviour…” (DOPL, 3)

(too much pride: exaggerates): “You go to the greengrocer’s to spend a franc on a kilogram of potatoes. But one of the pieces that make up the franc is a Belgium piece, and the shopman refuses it. You slink out of the shop, and can never go there again.” (DOPL, 14)

“…a man who has gone even a week on bread and margarine is not a man any longer, only a belly with a few accessory organs.” (DOPL, 15)

“I believe everyone who has been hard up has experienced it. It is a feeling of relief, almost of pleasure at knowing yourself at last genuinely down and out. You have talked so often of going to the dogs-and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them, and you can stand it. It takes off a lot of anxiety.” (DOPL, 17)

“The clerks are French, and, like most French people, are in a bad temper till they have eaten their lunch.” (DOPL, 19)

“His wife was there too, a horrid fat Frenchwoman with a dead-white face and scarlet lips, reminding me of cold veal and tomatoes.” (DOPL, 50)

“Will she be dark or fair, I wonder? I don’t mind, so long as she is not too thin.” (DOPL, 51)

“I calculated that one had to walk and run about fifteen miles during the day, and yet the strain of the work was more mental than physical.” (DOPL, 61)

“…he allowed us two litres of wine a day each, knowing that if a plongeur is not given two litres he will steal three.” (DOPL, 64)

“Words failing him, he turned to the door; and as he opened it he farted loudly, a favourite Italian insult.” (DOPL, 68)

“…waiters in good hotels do not wear moustaches, and to show their superiority they decree that plongeurs shall not wear them either; and the cooks wear their moustaches to show their contempt for the waiters.” (DOPL, 69)

“Indeed the quarrels are a necessary part of the process, for the pace would never be kept up if everyone did not accuse everyone else of idling.” (DOPL, 74)

“The customer pays, as he sees it, for good service; the employee is paid, as he sees it, for the boulot- meaning, as a rule, an imitation of good service. The result is that, though hotels are miracles of punctuality, they are worse than the worst private houses in the things that matter.” (DOPL, 78)

“…went clattering down the stairs like a herd of elephants.” (DOPL, 85)

“There was-it is hard to express it- a sort of heavy contentment, the contentment a well-fed beast might feel, in a life which had become so simple. For nothing could be simpler than the life of a plongeur. He lives in a rhythm between work and sleep, without time to think, hardly conscious of the exterior world; his Paris has shrunk to the hotel, the Metro, a few bistros and his bed.” (DOPL, 90)

“Sharp knives, of course, are the secret of a successful restaurant.” (DOPL, 116)

“Essentially, a ‘smart’ hotel is a place where a hundred people toil like devils in order that two hundred may pay through the nose for things they do not really want.” (DOPL, 119)

“I believe that this instinct to perpetuate useless work is, at bottom, simply fear of the mob. The mob (the thought runs) are such low animals that they would be dangerous if they had leisure; it is safe to keep them too busy to think. A rich man who happens to be intellectually honest, if he is questioned about the improvement of working conditions, usually says something like this:
‘We know that poverty is unpleasant; in fact, since it is so remote, we rather enjoy harrowing ourselves with the though of its unpleasantness. But don’t expect us to do anything about it. We are sorry for you lower classes, just as we are sorry for a cat with the mange, but we will fight like devils against any improvement of your condition. We feel that you are much safer as you are. The present state of affairs suits us, and we are not going to take the risk of setting you free, even by an extra hour a day. So, dear brothers, since evidently you must sweat to pay for our trips to Italy, sweat and be damned to you.” (DOPL, 120)

“Fear of the mob is a superstitious fear. It is based on the idea that there is some mysterious, fundamental difference between rich and poor, as though they were two different races, like negroes and white men. But in reality there is no such difference. The mass of the rich and the poor are differentiated by their incomes and nothing else, and the average millionaire is only the average dishwasher dressed in a new suit.” (DOPL, 121)

“The mob is in fact loose now, and-in the shape of rich men- is using its power to set up enormous treadmills of boredom, such as ‘smart’ hotels.” (DOPL, 122)

“His ignorance was limitless and appalling. He once asked me, for instance, whether Napoleon live before Jesus Christ or after.” (DOPL, 153)

“He pined for work as an artist pines to be famous.” (DOPL, 153)

“I have slept in a number of Salvation Army shelters, and found that, though the different houses vary a little, this semi-military discipline is the same in all of them. They are certainly cheap, but they are too like workhouses for my taste. In some of them there is even a compulsory religious service once or twice a week, which the lodgers must attend or leave the house. The fact is that the Salvation Army are so in the habit of thinking themselves a charitable body that they cannot even run a lodging-housing without making it stink of charity.” (DOPL, 159)

“There was horrible hot reek of urine, so beastly that at first one tried to breathe in small shallow puffs, not filling one’s lungs to the bottom.” (DOPL, 160)

“a screever- that is, a pavement artist.” (DOPL, 163)

‘Now and again I go out at night and watch for meteors. The stars are a free show; it don’t cost anything to use your eyes.’
‘What a good idea! I should never have thought of it.’
‘Well, you got to take an interest in something. It don’t follow that because a man’s on the road he can’t think of anything but tea-and-two-slices.’
‘But isn’t it very hard to take an interest in things-things like stars-living this life?’
‘Screeving, you mean? Not necessarily. It don’t need turn you into a bloody rabbit-that is, not if you set your mind to it.’
‘It seems to have that effect on most people.’
‘Of course. Look at Paddy-a tea-swilling old moocher, only fit to scrounge for fag-ends. That’s the way most of them go. I despise them. But you don’t need get like that. If you’ve got any education, it don’t matter to you if you’re on the road for the rest of your life.’
‘Well, I’ve found just the contrary’, said I. ‘It seems to me, that when you take a man’s money away he’s fit for nothing from that moment.’
‘No, not necessarily. If you set yourself to it, you can live the same life, rich or poor. You can still keep on with your brooks and your ideas. You just got to say to yourself, ‘I’m a free man in here!’-he tapped his forehead-‘and you’re all right.’ (DOPL, 167)

“He had faced his position, and made a philosophy for himself. Being a beggar, he said, was not his fault, and he refused either to have any compunction about it or let it trouble him. He was the enemy of society, and quiet ready to take to crime if he saw a good opportunity. He refused on principle to be thrifty. In the summer he saved nothing, spending his surplus earning on drink, as he did not care about women. If he was penniless when winter came on, then society must look after him. He was ready to extract every penny he could from charity, provided that he was not expected to say thank you for it. He avoided religious charities, however, for he said that it stuck in his throat to sing hymns for buns. He had various other points of honour; for instance, it was his boast that never in his life, even when starving, had he picked up a cigarette end. He 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.” (DOPL, 168)

“so long as he could read, think and watch for meteors, he was, as he said, free in his own mind.” (DOPL, 169)

“Sometimes, he said, when sleeping on the Embankment, it had consoled him to look up at Mars or Jupiter and think that there were probably Enbankment sleepers them. He had a curious theory about this. Life on earth, he said, is harsh because the planetis poor in the necessities of existence. Mars, with its cold climate and scanty water, must be far poorer, and life correspondingly harsher. Whereas on earth you are merely imprisoned for stealing sixpence, on Mars you are probably boiled alive. This thought cheered Bozo, I do not know why. He was a very exceptional man.” (DOPL, 169)

“Shorty’s procedure was to stop outside a pub and play one tune, after which his mate, who had a wooden leg and could excite compassion, when in and passed round the hat.” (DOPL, 172)

“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 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. Not profitable crimes, however, there is not a singer or match-seller in London who can be sure of 50 pounds a year- a poor return for standing eighty-four hours a week on the kerb, with the cars grazing your backside.” (DOPL, 174)

(DOPL, 166)

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