by George Orwell
This is the second or third time I\’ve read this book; you can read my earlier post of it here. I found that my memories of it had gotten quite mixed up with Jack London\’s People of the Abyss. Orwell\’s book is much narrower in scope than I had recalled; it details mainly his fruitless searches for work in Paris and finally landing a few jobs- first scrubbing dishes in the basement of a \”nice\” hotel, then working in a poorly-run restaurant (the source of my revulsion, it was much worse conditions than the hotel, which I had remembered incorrectly). In between jobs he scrapes pennies, pawns his clothes, follows up useless leads, and often just lies around bereft of energy due to hunger. The second half is about his time spent as a tramp in London, when he showed up for a job that did not materialize for several weeks. Having nowhere to go and no money he slept in various charity wards, other homeless men showing him the ropes. He analyses the system of public assistance (such as it was in his day) from the perspective of the recipients, makes suggestions for its improvement and most of all, lays bare how insulting and demeaning the offers of aid can actually feel to men in dire straits.
I had forgotten completely that the book opened with an unsavory scene where a friend of his pays a nun for the privilege of raping a girl- or so it seemed to me; the scene was more suggestive than than explicit. I think if I had been a bit more of an astute reader the first time around, this would have put me off the entire book! More interesting to me than the narrative itself this time around, what what I gleaned from the introduction. I did not realize before, for instance, that Orwell used a pen name. His real name is Eric Blair, and he assumed a pen name because his parents were appalled that he wanted to be a writer. I also found interesting the descriptions of how much he had to edit out swearwords from the original text, and the variations between the French translation and the English version. Orwell\’s own little list of local slang terms he encountered on the streets and their various meanings intrigued me as well.
Rating: 4/5 …….. 230 pages, 1933