Down and Out in Paris and London (Anglais) Relié – 10 novembre 2010
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Orwell was the great moral force of his age (Spectator) --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Poche .
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Mais pas de souci, la lecture est facile et l'on se passe aisément d'un dictionnaire ;o)
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"The current London adjective, now tacked on to every noun is ..."
The second half of the book follows the narrator back to his native England, where he must find a way to get by in London while awaiting a permanent job. Here we are introduced to the tramp's way of life - vagrancy, begging, and sleeping in the cheapest (and filthiest) accomodations available. But we also get to know some of the narrator's fellow tramps, and to feel for them. They are not all the worthless, lazy scum that the higher classes of the time would paint them as. Orwell concludes the book with a brief treatise on the vagrant's plight and ways in which it can be eased, as well as making the tramp a usefull part of society.
Obviously Orwell's closing call-to-action is not entirely relevant anymore, as the workings of society have changed somewhat over the last century, but the book is nevertheless fascinating. A reader may at first be a little thrown off by the lack of a central plot, but once past this it is easy to get sucked into the world Orwell has illustrated here. His imagery is so striking that you actually feel as if you are sharing the narrator's experiences. You can feel the intense heat of the hotel kitchens, feel the weakness and weariness that comes with malnutrition, smell the grease and the sweat and the dirt.
And yet, as bleak as all this sounds, the book is not depressing. The narrator never lapses into dejection or self-pity, and the reader is left with a sense of hope throughout the novel. Being poor is not presented as a dead end - there are always ways to get by, some of them quite ingenious. And the narrator is even able to find humor in some of the truly absurd situations he finds himself in.
Any fan of Orwell's works will not be disappointed with this book. Or even if you've read nothing by Orwell (in which case you absolutely must pick up "1984" at some point), and merely want a glimpse into the life of the poor and jobless at this point in history, this is the book for you. And the fact that the narrator is anonymous (although the story is largely based on Orwell's life, the narrator is not, as some reviewers have claimed, Orwell himself) helps us imagine that he could be anyone, and that even we could be living this life. It's fairly short and easy to read, but opens up a whole world - one that is rarely contemplated in much detail - with it's rich descriptions. Definitely a recommended read.
We know the gist of the book: Orwell sets up shop amongst the �common people,� first washing dishes in various Paris restaurants and then tramping around London and environs. Proceeding via introductions and anecdotes--some hilariously funny, others downright heart-rending--�Down and Out in Paris and London� offers a detailed tour of a side of life that most of us will only ever read about. From the painstaking descriptions of exactly what kind of muck is to be found on the floor of a restaurant�s kitchen in 1920s and 1930s Paris (you don�t want to know, but he tells you) to elaborations on how to skirt begging laws in London and the dangers associated with such living, Orwell makes his points, one after the other. To his credit, though, there is little dogmatic moralizing; when, at the end of the book, he tells you what he�s learned, he doesn�t seem to feel the need to shove down the reader�s throat what is clearly stuck in his own. The feeling is strong, though, that you�d have to be blind, crazy or both, not to reach the same conclusions.
The greatest strength of �Down and Out,� though, is the manner in which Orwell never attempts to pass himself off as one of the people he is pretending to be. The English band Pulp has a song about rich kids slumming with the common people, but the song points out that, if the going ever really got tough, the rich kids can always call Daddy and have him bail them out. Orwell has to realize that he is in that same privileged situation; his tramping in London, for example, is simply to kill time until he can take up a legitimate position, and, along the way, he is able to borrow money several times from a friend in order to make ends meet. This distance that he subtly maintains between himself and those who have little choice in their fate only adds punch to the lessons he learns, and Orwell�s probably privileged reader (at least privileged enough to spend money on books) is permitted to learn alongside him.
There are picky complaints that could be lodged here--the untranslated French passages, for example, which will leave at a loss those without high school French--but, overall, �Down and Out in Paris and London� is a great read, one of those few books that manages to be both entertaining and properly disturbing. It has all the wit and scoop of later efforts like Bourdain�s recent best-seller, �Kitchen Confidential,� or Ehrenreich�s �Nickel and Dimed,� but �Down and Out,� after bigger game than Bourdain and less unforgivably preachy than Ehrenreich, manages to dig deeper under your skin and stay there longer. And that, as Orwell concludes, is a beginning.
I only want to add that I am working on several restaurants in NYC as an architect, and I have brought this book along to meetings and given several copies to clients to show them other ways of looking at their business. It is easy to talk about being in someone else's shoes when that other person is "down and out," but Orwell manages to sympathetically explore aspects of extreme conditions with incredible empathy. And little pandering or sentimentality. It is not quit poverty he is describing as much as the driving oppression of a job -- especially in the restaurants (and hotel restaurants.)
This is why I've discussed the book with those clients. The business has hardly changed in eighty odd years, especially in any way that means anything to the people that are working washing dishes or cleaning hotel silverware. Reading some passages and have them shocked with recognition even now is remarkable.