The first book by the acclaimed author of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm is a moving reportage document on the deprivations of poverty.
'It is the peculiar lowness of poverty that you discover first; the shifts that it puts you to, the complicated meanness, the crust-wiping.'
George Orwell’s memoir, written when he was a young man in his twenties and published in 1933, is a revealing and often disturbing account of his time living in the slums of Paris and on the streets of London. As his determination to understand poverty takes him from one desperate situation to another, Orwell’s compassion and curiosity shine through: with each shared cigarette, with each unexpected conversation, a previously hidden world is revealed.
Opening with the author living in a lodging house in Paris, Orwell swiftly sketches a picture of the squalor and debauchery he witnessed daily. Unlikely characters leap off the pages, such as the Rougiers, a diminutive couple who make their meagre money by selling postcards under wrappers, convincing their customers that they are purchasing pornography; and the vile rapist Charlie, who boasts of having experienced ‘the supreme moment of love’. When an Italian lodger steals what is left of his money, Orwell finds himself making a living as a dishwasher (or plongeur), surviving on scraps of food and very little sleep.
On returning to London, Orwell finds that the job he’d been expecting to walk into has vanished. He takes to the streets, experiencing a life of dosshouses, scrounged tobacco, and bread and margarine for every meal. Yet for all the misery and humiliation, Orwell finds a camaraderie among the ‘down and outs’; men share their last cigarette ends, taking a pride in their ‘travelling’ lifestyle, and he writes about their despairs and modest joys with a clear-eyed respect. Shambling figures are revealed to be men with complex histories and firmly held philosophies, such as Paddy Jaques, the Irish tramp who takes great care over his appearance and has an aversion to books; or Bozo the ‘screever’ (or pavement artist), who insists that staying abreast of current events is the key to his trade: ‘Once a child got its head stuck in the railings of Chelsea Bridge. Well, I heard about it, and my cartoon was on the pavement before they’d got the child’s head out of the railings. Prompt, I am.’
‘Orwell was the great moral force of his age’
Orwell also includes a list of street slang, from which we learn that a ‘clodhopper’ is a street dancer; that ‘hard-up’ is tobacco made from cigarette ends; and ‘funkum’ is perfume sold in envelopes. This edition features seven newly researched images of Paris and London, capturing the underbelly of the urban sprawl. The soft-cover binding, in series with the Folio Collectables, is blocked with the poignant image of a tramp resting on a bench.
Please note Folio Collectables are not slipcased.
Courtesy of BBD&P Awards
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