Down and Out: a grim tour among the destitute people of Paris and London

It was by the end of October that I came to know about a serialization promoted by The Orwell Foundation of Down and Out in Paris and London. The idea is to read a bit a day from excerpts dropped daily conveniently to your email inbox. As the challenge addict that I am (at least I considered it a challenge), I decided to participate in it at once.

It is so refreshing to know that there is more (so much more) to the likes of George Orwell than Nineteen Eight-Four or Animal Farm. It gives you the tranquility of knowing that if you ever run out of good material, you can explore some obscure titles that you haven’t read yet from that particular author.

One thing that I was curious about was the meaning of the expression “down and out”. For me, that I am not a native English speaker, sometimes otherwise mundane expressions have only the literal meaning. And it is always rewarding when you casually stumble over the elucidation of that enigma. It happened to me when I read this paragraph:

And there is another feeling that is a great consolation in poverty. I believe everyone who has been hard up has experienced it. It is a feeling of relief, almost of pleasure, at knowing yourself at last genuinely down and out. You have talked so often of going to the dogs — and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them, and you can stand it. It takes off a lot of anxiety.

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell, chapter 3

When you think of it, it also exemplifies why people such as him are great authors. They have life experience. They are talking about something that they know about firsthand. As I later came to know, the book is autobiographical and describes not only his own hardships, but of a great number of other people with whom he had contact with: waiters, former soldiers, prostitutes, immigrants and refugees, street artists, all of them plagued by the same condition: poverty in a big and prosperous city. Would that be relevant for our own days?

I am on track to finish the reading by Christmas, when the serialization ends, one of the last books I will be reading this year. I feel lucky that this was it.