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George Orwell - Down and Out in Paris and London

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By the same author











" O scathful harm, condition of poverte ! "





Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd. 7 John Street, Bloomsbury, London, W.C.

First published (Gollancz), January

1933 New edition, reset, 1949




THE Rue du Coq d'Or, Paris, seven in the morning.

A succession of furious, choking yells from the street.

Madame Monce, who kept the little hotel opposite mine,

had come out on to the pavement to address a lodger on

the third floor. Her bare feet were stuck into sabots and

her grey hair was streaming down.

   Madame Monce: « Salope! Salope!

How many times

have I told you not to squash bugs on the wallpaper? Do

you think you've bought the hotel, eh? Why can't you

throw them out of the window like everyone else?


Salope! »

   The woman on the third floor: « Vache

! »

   Thereupon a whole variegated chorus of yells, as

windows were flung open on every side and half the

street joined in the quarrel. They shut up abruptly ten

minutes later, when a squadron of cavalry rode past and

people stopped shouting to look at them.

   I sketch this scene, just to convey something of the

spirit of the Rue du Coq d'Or. Not that quarrels were the

only thing that happened there-but still, we seldom got

through the morning without at least one outburst of

this description. Quarrels, and the desolate cries of

street hawkers, and the shouts of children chasing

orange-peel over the cobbles, and at night loud singing

and the sour reek of the refuse-carts, made up the

atmosphere of the street.

   It was a very narrow street-a ravine of tall, leprous

houses, lurching towards one another in queer atti-

tudes, as though they had all been frozen in the act of

collapse. All the houses were hotels and packed to the

tiles with lodgers, mostly Poles, Arabs and Italians. At 5

the foot of the hotels were tiny bistros, where you could be

drunk for the equivalent of a shilling. On Saturday nights

about a third of the male population of the quarter was

drunk. There was fighting over women, and the Arab

navvies who lived in the cheapest hotels used to conduct

mysterious feuds, and fight them out with chairs and

occasionally revolvers. At night the policemen would

only come through the street two together. It was a fairly

rackety place. And yet amid the noise and dirt lived the

usual respectable French shopkeepers, bakers and

laundresses and the like, keeping themselves to

themselves and quietly piling up small fortunes. It'was

quite a representative Paris slum.

   My hotel was called the Hôtel des Trois Moineaux. It

was a dark, rickety warren of five storeys, cut up by

wooden partitions into forty rooms. The rooms were

small and inveterately dirty, for there was no maid,

and Madame F., the patronne, had no time to do any

sweeping. The walls were as thin as matchwood, and

to hide the cracks they had been covered with layer

after layer of pink paper, which had come loose and

housed innumerable bugs. Near the ceiling long lines

of bugs marched all day like columns of soldiers,

and at night came down ravenously hungry, so that

one had to get up every few hours and kill them in

hecatombs. Sometimes when the bugs got too bad

one used to burn sulphur and drive them into the

next room; whereupon the lodger next door would

retort by having his room sulphured, and drive the

bugs back. It was a dirty place, but homelike, for

Madame F. and her husband were good sorts. The

rent of the rooms varied between thirty and fifty

francs a week.

   The lodgers were a floating population, largely

foreigners, who used to turn up without luggage, stay

a week and then disappear again. They were of every

trade-cobblers, bricklayers, stonemasons, navvies,

students, prostitutes, rag-pickers. Some of them were

fantastically poor. In one of the attics there was a

Bulgarian student who made fancy shoes for the Ameri-

can market. From six to twelve he sat on his bed, making

a dozen pairs of shoes and earning thirty-five francs; the

rest of the day he attended lectures at the Sorbonne. He

was studying for the Church, and books of theology lay

face-down on his leather-strewn floor. In another room

lived a Russian woman and her son, who called himself

an artist. The mother worked sixteen hours a day,

darning socks at twenty-five centimes a sock, while the

son, decently dressed, loafed in the Montparnasse cafés.

One room was let to two different lodgers, one a day

worker and the other a night worker. In another room a

widower shared the same bed with his two grown-up

daughters, both consumptive.

   There were eccentric characters in the hotel. The Paris

slums are a gathering-place for eccentric people -people

who have fallen into solitary, half-mad grooves of life and

given up trying to be normal or decent. Poverty frees them

from ordinary standards of behaviour, just as money frees

people from work. Some of the lodgers in our hotel lived

lives that were curious beyond words.

   There were the Rougiers, for instance, an old, ragged,

dwarfish couple who plied an extraordinary trade. They

used to sell post cards on the Boulevard St. Michel. The

curious thing was that the post cards were sold in sealed

packets as pornographic ones, but were actually photo-

graphs of chateaux on the Loire; the buyers did not discover

this till too late, and of course never complained. The

Rougiers earned about a hundred francs a week, and by

strict economy managed to be always half

starved and half drunk. The filth of their room was

such that one could smell it on the floor below. Accord-

ing to Madame F., neither of the Rougiers had taken off

their clothes for four years.

   Or there was Henri, who worked in the sewers. He

was a tall, melancholy man with curly hair, rather

romantic-looking in his long, sewer-man's boots.

Henri's peculiarity was that he did not speak, except for

the purposes of work, literally for days together. Only a

year before he had been a chauffeur in good employ and

saving money. One day he fell in love, and when the girl

refused him he lost his temper and kicked her. On being

kicked the girl fell desperately in love with Henri, and

for a fortnight they lived together and spent a thousand

francs of Henri's money. Then the girl was unfaithful;

Henri planted a knife in her upper arm and was sent to

prison for six months. As soon as she had been stabbed

the girl fell more in love with Henri than ever, and the

two made up their quarrel and agreed that when Henri

came out of jail he should buy a taxi and they would

marry and settle down. But a fortnight later the girl was

unfaithful again, and when Henri came out she was with

child. Henri did not stab her again. He drew out all his

savings and went on a drinking-bout that ended in

another month's imprisonment; after that he went to

work in the sewers. Nothing would induce Henri to talk.

If you asked him why he worked in the sewers he never

answered, but simply crossed his wrists to signify

handcuffs, and jerked his head southward, towards the

prison. Bad luck seemed to have turned him half-witted

in a single day.

   Or there was R., an Englishman, who lived six

months of the year in Putney with his parents and six

months in France. During his time in France he drank

four litres of wine a day, and six litres on Saturdays;

he had once travelled as far as the Azores, because the

wine there is cheaper than anywhere in Europe. He was a

gentle, domesticated creature, never rowdy or

quarrelsome, and never sober. He would lie in bed till

midday, and from then till midnight he was in his corner

of the bistro, quietly and methodically soaking. While he

soaked he talked, in a refined, womanish voice, about

antique furniture. Except myself, R. was the only

Englishman in the quarter.

   There were plenty of other people who lived lives just

as eccentric as these: Monsieur Jules, the Roumanian,

who had a glass eye and would not admit it, Furex the

Limousin stonemason, Roucolle the miser -he died before

my time, though-old Laurent the rag-merchant, who used

to copy his signature from a slip of paper he carried in his

pocket. It would be fun to write some of their

biographies, if one had time. I am trying to describe the

people in our quarter, not for the mere curiosity, but

because they are all part of the story. Poverty is what I

am writing about, and I had my first contact with poverty

in this slum. The slum, with its dirt and its queer lives,

was first an object-lesson in poverty, and then the

background of my own experiences. It is for that reason

that I try to give some idea of what life was like there.


L I F E in the quarter. Our

bistro, for instance, at the

foot of the Hôtel des Trois Moineaux. A tiny brick-

floored room, half underground, with wine-sodden

tables, and a photograph of a funeral inscribed « Crédit

est mort »; and red-sashed workmen carving sausage

with big jack-knives; and Madame F., a splendid

Auvergnat peasant woman with the face of a strong-

minded cow, drinking Malaga all day " for her

stomach"; and games of dice for apéritifs; and songs

about «

Les Fraises et Les Framboises, » and about

Madelon, who said, "

Comment épouser un soldat, moi qui

aime tout le régiment?

»; and extraordinarily public love-

making. Half the hotel used to meet in the bistro in the

evenings. I wish one could find a pub in London a

quarter as cheery.

  One heard queer conversations in the

bistro. As a

sample I give you Charlie, one of the local curiosities,


   Charlie was a youth of family and education who

had run away from home and lived on occasional

remittances. Picture him very pink and young, with

the fresh cheeks and soft brown hair of a nice little

boy, and lips excessively red and wet, like cherries. His

feet are tiny, his arms abnormally short, his hands

dimpled like a baby's. He has a way of dancing and

capering while he talks, as though he were too happy

and too full of life to keep still for an instant. It is

three in the afternoon, and there is no one in the bistro

except Madame F. and one or two men who are out of

work; but it is all the same to Charlie whom he talks

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