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The Road to Wigan Pier/Down and Out in Paris and London


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Grammath 26th January 2006 04:44 PM




Road to Wigan Pier/Down & Out in Paris & London


I'm reading "The Road to Wigan Pier" at the moment and am finding it one of the best things I've read for a while. I also read "Down and Out in Paris and London" a couple of years ago and am coming to the conclusion that Orwell was as good, it not better, a non-fiction writer as he was a novelist.


"Down and Out...", published in 1933, recounts Orwell's experience of poverty in both cities. Part One covers Paris where he worked in conditions he describes as nearly equivalent to slavery, first in a hotel and then a restaurant whose financial difficulties mean he isn't even paid the pittance which passes as his wages. The only relief comes from drinking.


Back in England, Orwell becomes what would generally be regarded as a tramp, living in shelters on bread and tea, and constantly being moved on.


The main thing that stayed with me was the relentless monotony and drudgery of the life Orwell described and how difficult it was to break the cycle.


"The Road to Wigan Pier" came 4 years later. This is a book of two halves too, the first being observations of slum life in Lancashire and Yorkshire, particularly focussing on the working conditions of coal miners and the lives of the unemployed. This, remember, was at the height of the Depression, so life was pretty unpleasant for a lot of people.


Orwell then moves into an autobiographical mode, explaining how he arrived at his Socialist beliefs but at the same time attacking those who are overly doctrinaire and ideological in their beliefs.


One could, I suppose, argue that the lack of statistics and empirical data mean that overall these are very subjective works and simply the point of view of one left-wing journalist from quite a privileged background (Orwell went to Eton). Personally, I found both books full of astute insights, passionate and sometimes contentious arguments and making many points that are still relevant 70 years after they were first published in a concise (both are around 200 pages), clear and straightforward way.


Lady Lazarus 10th December 2006 07:47 PM




I've just finished Down & Out and really enjoyed it. As I work with homeless people in one of the parts of London Orwell describes, I found it fascinating to see his portrayal of them and what he made of it all. The stories about the characters he meets in London and Paris are often amusing but poignant at the same time. I found Orwell's experience quite different to my own perceptions of the homeless in London, but perhaps because I am a nurse I only see the drunk ones!


The best part for me was the last few pages, where Orwell gives his insights into what might be done to help 'tramps' living in hostels, and why there are so few women on the streets. Also enjoyed Orwell's stories about his Russian friend Boris in Paris. I wonder what all his 'tramp' friends would make of him putting them in the book?


For some reason I never realised until I read it in this thread that The Road To Wigan Pier was a non-fiction work :o, so I will definitely add it to the TBR pile.

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  • 5 months later...

I have just started to read The Road to Wigan Pier and have to agree with you Grammath, Orwell is a very good writer. And how surprising too, but why I should think that I don't know. I have never read any of Orwell before, but somehow I didn't expect it to be so accessible. I hope to come back when I've finsihed the book and comment again.

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It's some years since I read this and I remember how vividly he conveys the conditions he found in the north during that time. I found particularly interesting the passages in which he describes the typical diets of the workers and the unemployed. The fitness and stature of many of those called-up in the Second World War must have appalled the authorities (or am I getting mixed up with the First World War?).

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  • 8 months later...

I found that link interesting, Grammath. I wonder if Orwell would have been surprised that his book was going to be mined for an article on the U.S presidential election seventy years afterwards and in the U.S. itself.

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  • 11 years later...

I am currently struggling with Down and Out... I will confess I hadn’t realised it was autobiographical until I googled it at 50pages in. I am enjoying the quality of Orwell’s writing, but haven’t warmed to him as a person, so am feeling really ambivalent about his situation. 

It does feel like it could have been written much more recently than 1933 though - the vocabulary, writing style and descriptions and sense of place feel like they could have applied right through to the end of the century. 

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