Down and Out in Paris and London

It’s hard to believe that the acclaimed George Orwell was once a tramp, but before Eric Blair adopted that pre-eminent pen name he was ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’. His debut novel vividly recounts his time spent living among the destitute, going days on end without a meal, pawning all his clothes just to cover rent, and working seventeen hour days in the sweaty, dirt ridden kitchens of fancy French restaurants. Through this experience however, Orwell provides us with some astonishing insights into what was once a societal taboo, whilst consecutively both finding his voice as a writer and developing his mind into one of the 21st century’s greatest thinkers:

 “In practice nobody cares whether work is useful or useless, productive or parasitic; the sole thing demanded is that it shall be profitable. In all the modern talk about energy, efficiency, social service and the rest of it, what meaning is there except ‘Get money, get it legally, and get a lot of it’? Money has become the grand test of virtue…..A beggar, looked at realistically, is simply a businessman, getting his living, like other businessmen, in the way that comes to hand. He has not, more than most modern people, sold his honour; he has merely made the mistake of choosing a trade at which it is impossible to grow rich.”

This excerpt is as true today as when it was published in 1933. People have fallen into the mind-set of ‘work to consume’, failing to take a step back to think about whether they are actually dedicating their time to something of real value. Wealth has become the primary means of determining an individual’s success in life, happiness and virtue being hidden by the figures on one’s bank balance. Orwell didn’t go through these torturous years as a struggling writer in the hope of becoming rich. If that was the case I have no doubt he would have failed. Orwell did it because he has a passion burning inside of him that wouldn’t die out; something that unfortunately most people alive today have no comprehension of.

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