Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell was the book I had to read for the May meeting of my reading group. I did not enjoy it. It describes poverty in Paris and then in London. I don’t like reading about poor people, especially when they spend most of their earnings on alcohol.
While reading the book, I did have all sorts of thoughts about Protestant countries (like England) versus Catholic countries (like France). Have you noticed that Protestant countries tend to do better economically? That they have a bigger middle class than Catholic countries? That the contrast between the very rich and the very poor is not as striking?
Religion has a lot to do with life – more so than we realize. Religion influences one’s take on work, for instance. There was an atheist in the book who hated the bourgeoisie and stole from every employer he ever had simply because he hated anybody with a business. Of course, he was also a Communist.
Some of the characters described in the book are interesting, but not that much. Luxury restaurants in Paris apparently served cheap food at exorbitant prices (we are talking the beginning of the last century) and employing staff for next to nothing. In addition to that, the food was dirty, the kitchens were filthy, and nobody washed their hands in the back. Think about that next time you visit ANY restaurant. Which is why I am always nice to our waiter, by the way. They are in charge of your food after all.
I also had thoughts about communism or socialism versus capitalism. Some of the characters in the part about Parist wanted a communist regime. In a recent French movie I watched, an Englishman calls a Frenchman Communist and says, “You the French are all Communists.” The Frenchman agrees.
This book may have actually broken the spell the French culture held over me ever since I grew up in Romania, where we pretty much admire anything that comes out of France. I saw France with new eyes: the drinking, I think, is what got to me.
I grew up with an alcoholic father and no, I am not amused when people are portrayed as having a drinking problem in books or movies. I know first hand about the sad end of an alcholic and about the sad life of alcoholics in general. Alcohol is such a horrible vice. It is worse than illegal drugs in statistics relating to domestic violence, suicides, and fatal car crashes. And yet, it is perfectly legal.
The writer draws some conclusions after each section and I cannot agree with him on everything he concludes. But I do agree with him on a solution for poverty: agriculture. If all the paupers were brought out of the cities into the countryside, on farms, they would be getting work, a sense of decency, a much better diet than tea and bread, or wine and bread, and a bit of money.
Anyway, not a great book, unless you like to read about filth and drunk paupers.