Comparing ‘Down And Out In Paris and London’

The comparison of Paris and London sections of George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London. Both reality and fiction play an important role in George Orwell’s literary sociography, Down and Out in Paris and London.1 However, instead of analysing these elements, I would rather compare the two metropolis, Paris and London, through the author’s personal experiences. I would like to highlight the differences that already occur in the title and the two sections, the introductory descriptions of the cities and observe how he managed to make a living, how he became penniless and his friends in the two cities.

First and foremost, I feel that it is inevitable to mention some relevant data about the author’s life that contribute to the easier understanding of his work. He worked for the royal police in the 1920s when he was sent to Burma where he woke up to the injustice of society that he thought rooted in the existence of social classes. As days turned into weeks, his inner features were changed in Burma; he became lazy, since he was accompanied by servants all the time who helped him even dressing. As he returned to his family, after leaving this job, declared that he wanted to earn a living from being a writer. However, his family strongly disapproved the idea, so he made up his mind to leave them and stand on his on feet. Therefore, he decided to discover the world of the lower classes of society and join them in expiation for his previous shallow lifestyle. He determined to write about the poor, that is why dressed up as a homeless, he spent most of his time in the company of tramps and beggars in London.2 Nevertheless, perhaps Orwell felt the deepest penury when his savings was stolen in Burma. He might have died of hunger, if he had not been able to get a job as a plongeur in the cellar of a hotel, but becoming tired of it, he returned to the stable- job offering England. One can read about the foregoing poverty, in which he had first-hand experience, in Down and Out in Paris and London, as well. Since 1933,the publication of this book, has he used his pseudonym George Orwell, otherwise his birth name was Eric Arthur Blair.3

I would like to examine the title and structure of the work. The pinpoint accurately described picture of the two metropolis appears as early as in the title, emphasising that only these cities are illustrated in the book. Now, one can only guess that the tramp is the implied author itself and the question arises in which town the fate of the homeless is more unfortunate. As for the structure, the first version the book only contained the Paris section (Chapter I-XXIII.) and the London section (Chapter XXIV-XXXVIII.) was written later.4 The relationship between the two sections is created by his friend called B, who appears only in Chapter XXI, still, although not continuously, but till the end of the book, he is present in a way that he procures job for the protagonist and lends him money, consequently, saves his life.

I intend to go on with the introductory pictures of Paris and London. At the beginning of the work, the narrator gives a thorough description of his living quarters in Paris, the Hotel des Trois Moineaux in Rue du Coq d’ Or. On the one hand, one can become familiar with the building itself which ‘was a dark, rickety warren of five storeys, cut up by wooden partitions into forty rooms. The rooms were small and inveterately dirty’5 and full of ‘innumerable bugs.’ On the other hand, one can get to know the lodgers, too, who ‘were of every trade- cobblers, bricklayers, stonemasons, navvies, students, prostitutes, rag-pickers.’6 Furthermore, the implied author throws light on the life of the slum the centre of which is a bistro, ‘a tiny brick-floored room, half underground, with wine-sodden tables’ where ‘red-sashed workmen carving sausage with big jack-knives’ and Madame F. ‘drinking Malaga all day.’ 7 In spite of the fact that the surroundings radiates poverty and neediness, he does not render it to be monochrome or grey, but everything is in motion, as ‘variegated chorus of yells’, ‘cries of street hawkers’ and ‘the shouts of children chasing orange-peel over the cobbles’8 can be heard as early as seven in the morning. Additionally, everything is colourful as well as the worker’s red scarves or Charlie’s ‘lips excessively red and wet, like cherries’ and later on almost everything is red in his description such as ‘red globes flooded the cellar with a red light’, ‘red paper on the walls, red plush on the chairs, even the ceiling red, everywhere red’ and the girl ‘dressed in frock of red velvet.’9 Besides, everybody is able to find their own happiness as it is stated in the book ‘I wish one could find a pub in London a quarter as cherry’ and ‘Ah, mais la vie est belle- you must not be sad. Be more gay, I beseech you! Ah, que la vie est belle!’10 As opposed to this, London as a job-provider turns up already while the protagonist is in Paris and the idea of travelling there comes true only when he writes a letter to his friend, B. asking him to try and help him search a job in London. Two more chapters are played in Paris after the implied author receives a positive answer, when he takes the plunge and leave for London. On his journey to his homeland, he is full of hopes, as it seems to him ‘a sort of Paradise’ and ‘the climate, the scenery, the art, the literature, the laws- everything in England is perfect.’11 Furthermore, he clearly claims that ‘Paris is vulgar- half grandiosity and half slums. But London…’ 12 However, as soon as he arrives, his fabulous image lapses into obscurity, since the hotel along Tilbury pier ‘stares from the English coast like idiot staring over an asylum wall’13 and he catches sight of the eastern slums that later on serve him as a living quarter. In comparison with the meticulously detailed long description of Paris, here he superficially portrays the surroundings which is understandable for some reasons. On the one hand, he does not know London as well as Paris, on the other hand he spends his nights in different places. The reader knows little about his first lodgings that it was ‘a family hotel, where the charge was seven and sixpence.’14 One might sense the changes of colours, as well, since now the red scarf becomes colourless and worn by the narrator itself whose coat is dark brown, trousers are black and he never ever wore such shoddy clothes. Even his face is pale and filthy, too. The hustle and bustle of Rue du Coq d’ Or is vanished and the shabby protagonist experiences that women try to keep away from tramps.

Countless differences between the pictures of the cities can be traced upon already in the introduction. For example, in Paris the reader can bump into people from several nations, as the lodgings are scattered with Arab, Polish and Italian people, a Bulgarian student, a Russian woman with her son, an Englishman called R. and the ‘Roumanian’ Monsieur Jules. These cultures imply multi-colourness and diversity. But one can discover that nationalities are present in the whole Paris section along with the Italian young boy moving into the hotel; Russian Boris, his friends and the director of Hotel ‘Auberge de Jehan Cottard’; American guests; the Italian waiter, Valenti and his plongeur, Mario and the Hungarian plongeur coming from Transylvania; Armenian doorman who claimed himself to be Greek; a Serbian plongeur; Arab workers who work all day and drink themselves to death at night; Marinette, the girl from Corsica; the Spanish Manuel Jules and the Hungarian waiter of the Hotel. Besides, the German nation is mentioned and cheered Vive I’ Allemange! Although there are people from various cultures in London, as well, it bears no comparison with the amount shown in Paris. The reader may get to know the Romanian couple during the journey to London; meet the busy people from the East in the quarter of Limehouse or some Irish like Paddy, the tramp with whom the implied author became firm friends. In addition, the world outside Europe first appears here, since the narrator not only mentions it, but also meets Indian people. This is not accidental, for he was born in India. Consequently, one can conclude from the listing that London society is much more homogeneous and free from swarming and divergences caused by the coincidence of numerous culture.

I would like to carry on analysing how life was in both Paris and London. The features of both cities mentioned earlier have an imprint on city life till the end of the book.

Firstly, let us examine London! As I mentioned it above, the protagonist had far-fetched image of London before his arrival there, but as soon as he realises that there is not any job for him in London, neither, this beautiful ‘created’ image fades away. Until he gets a job, he has nothing else to do to survive than to borrow money from his friend, B. and visit pawnshops and sell his clothes even at very low price. The pauper and unemployed Orwell starts pondering and finally, discovers that an illiterate man needs more a job than money. Yet, London is the world of law and order which might be a drawback for the homeless, since ‘under the Vagrancy Act tramps can be prosecuted for smoking in the spike.’ 15 What is more, the worst thing about this city is that one is obliged to pay if he wants to sit down on public places, unlike in Paris where ‘if you had no money and could not find a public bench, you would sit on the pavement. Heaven knows what sitting on the pavement would lead to in London- prison, probably.’16 There is no such rule in Paris where people are allowed to sleep even under the bridges of the Seine. Furthermore, after having lived in the loud, noisy and ‘wild’ Paris, the narrator observed that everything is much clearer, calmer and more tedious in London. As he stated ‘One missed the scream of the trams, and the noisy, festering life of the back streets, and the armed men clattering through the squares. The crowds were better dressed and the faces comelier and milder and more alike, without that fierce individuality and malice of the French. There was less drunkenness, and less dirt, and less quarrelling, and more idling. Knots of men stood at all the corners, slightly underfed, but kept going by the tea-and-two-slices which the Londoner swallows every two hours. One seemed to breathe a less feverish air than in Paris. It was the land of the tea urn and the Labour Exchange, as Paris is the land of the bistro and the sweatshop.’17

So, let us continue with the analyses of life in Paris. In this city after seeking job for a long time, the implied author and his friend, Boris had to work hard (especially when working at Hotel X., they were very often on their last legs or when working at Auberge, they hardly found time to have their hair cut)so that they could make ends meet. Consequently, one might see that the author had an extremely exhausting, durable and even soul-scarping job in Paris, unlike in London where he only helped at poorhouses and in return he was given food which was not so tiring. The offered job in London at the end of the book is considered to be a prospective ‘rest’ by the author, in spite of the fact that it was again a plongeur ‘post’ in Lower Binfield, so he could not get rid of this kind of lifestyle. One more thing that one can observe in Paris is that men tend to use four-letter words in the company of women, which phenomenon never occurs in London.

More to the point, there are similarities between the two cities, as well. For instance, there are people who endeavour to cheat the homeless. Firstly, the plongeur Orwell was given less pay by the doorman in Hotel X. in Paris, secondly, he got a six penny worth food voucher from a priest under the Charing Cross bridge in London, but later, he was served only four penny worth food in a restaurant. ‘Large tea and two slices’ in London equals ‘the eternal coup de rouge’18 in Paris. Another example of similarities is, that he has to use money sparingly in both cities. In my view, life in Paris with all of its difficulties appealed more to the author, than that in London. Perhaps it is due to the fact that everything is colourful and manifold in the previous town and thus, he is able to be cheerful, while in London one without money is only ‘fit for nothing’19

I feel that it is interesting to detect how he became pauper and what kind of friendships he had. The narrator firstly becomes penniless in the Paris section when one day he wakes up to the fact that he has just four hundred and fifty francs left and he can only expect thirty-six per week by giving English lessons. And what makes matters worse, later he is robbed of his money by the Italian fellow-resident in the lodgings. This robbery took place in reality, too, but in this case it was a harlot from a cafeteria .20 So, he gets even closer to poverty and suggests that ‘from the start it tangles you in a net of lies, and even with the lies you can hardly manage it.’21 When all of a sudden his English lessons cease, he claims that ‘this put an end to all pretence of being in funds.’22 As opposed to this, he arrives in London already being a tramp and here pretence is out of the question. This is the city that helps him stand on his feet, stops his challenges and the job offered in London helps him get out of penury. As for his friendships, we get to know lots of things concerning his friends’ present and past in both Paris and London. He had only Boris as a supporter in Paris, but in London he was in relationship with an anonymous old Irish man, the Irish Paddy, James and Bozo. Taking the number of his friends into account, one might conclude that in the previous city he was not lost, but in the latter he was much more reliant.

In the end, I would like to examine the two sections on general terms. Without previously reading the book or knowing anything about the circumstances of the emergence of it, the differences between the two sections catch the eye; as if the reader read totally different works. Therefore, one might as well analyse them separately and the differences and the comparability of the two cities might derive from this. He arrives in London as an unemployed man, so the ‘Down and Out’ expression from the title gains content in this section. On the contrary, Paris is about accommodation and job seeking. As for the language and style of the book, I did not make a distinction between the two sections.

To sum up, I endeavoured to show that Orwell’s work especially its structure encourages the reader to comparison. Through the differences of both Paris and London sections, the author’s social sensitivity and his useful tips about how to cope with poverty can be discovered. Lastly, let me grasp the gist of the work with Dervla Murphy’s sentences according to whom ‘It is the white-hot reaction of a sensitive, observant, compassionate young man to poverty, injustice and the callousness of the rich. It offers insights, rather than solutions; but always insights have to precede solutions.’23