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Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell

(2013 Penguin edition)

Down and Out in Paris and London by Orwell, George (1933)

Orwell's first work—a sensitive and insightful description of the life of the working poor in Paris and the homeless in London. It is still very relevant today, and while aimed at the casual reader, it is of interest to students and progressive thinkers.

Note to Readers: Please carefully check to see what edition and format you will receive. There are many editions available since this book was first published in 1933. There may be some used book editions with collectible covers, but you may wish to buy a new edition like the 2013 Penguin cover shown here.

Not a Novel, but a Memoir. Down and Out in Paris and London was the first book by the great 20th Century English author George Orwell, who is probably best remembered for his darkly prophetic novel 1984 (which he wrote in 1948, and simply transposed the last two digits) before its publication in 1949. He also wrote Animal Farm, which has never gone out of print. He tragically died from TB in 1950 at age 46 in a London hospital.

His First Book (age 30). This is one of the more unforgettable books I read as an undergraduate English major at the University of Connecticut. Orwell was impoverished but awaiting a modest inheritance. During his year of poverty, he slummed in Paris and London, as the title indicates. This is the journal or memoir of that amazing year. What I remember best about the book is his description of working in the bowels of a Parisian restaurant as a flunkie, and describing how, when snooty customers sent back the soup because it was cold or tasted funny, the chef would spit in it and hand it back to the waiter saying try it now. Orwell's true life memoir catches the nitty gritty side of life in Paris and London in the 1930s. It's well worth a read, from one of the 20th Century's great authors.

More Info. Here are the Wikipedia pages on George Orwell and Down & Out. The Wikipedia page for the book shows the street in the 5th Arrondissement where Orwell hung out. The Wiki pages have lots of interesting info, including how he (real name: Eric Arthur Blair) took his universally known pen name from the River Orwell in County Suffolk, England.

Under the Influence, a Brief Diversion into Deep Background. No artist or author works in a vacuum. Scholars cite Jack London's 1903 People of the Abyss as a strong influence on Orwell. You may read more about Jack London (born John Griffith Chaney in San Francisco, lived a tempestuous life 1876-1916, and died age 40). He was a contemporary of another social activist writer, Sinclair Lewis (whose anti-fascist novel It Can't Happen Here came out in a well-received new edition after the 2016 U.S. November situation). For those who are interested in literature and connections, there's a lot of nitty-gritty to pursue as we hop from one name to another. According to Biography.com, the pen name London came from his stepfather, a Civil War veteran his mother married after Jack's putative father disavowed the boy. Jack London lived in London as a starving artist and vagrant for several months before writing the 1903 memoir that influenced George Orwell's own youthful memoir.

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