George Orwell’s first book Down and Out in Paris and London is supposed to be a novel but it feels like an autobiography (bildungsroman, as first novels usually are). Orwell had moved to Paris to become a writer, but he managed to sell only a few articles and his short stories and novels were all rejected (he threw them away). Then he was robbed of his savings and he descended deeper and deeper into poverty. Down and Out is a fictionalized account of that period.
We’ve read a few warnings on the net—Do not read this book if you are unemployed, etc—but we take the opposite view. Read this book if you are unemployed, it might make you feel better. (Granted, if you are unemployed in the Philippines and you would think to read Orwell then you are not that down and out.) We found it oddly cheerful, harrowing but often funny, and always honest. Consolata and I agree that from Orwell’s description it was more fun to be destitute in Paris than in London.
Henry Miller has written several books (Tropic of Cancer, which Orwell praised, Black Spring, Quiet Days in Clichy) about being down and out in Paris. Tropic of Cancer has style while Down and Out is so matter of fact as to be anti-style, and plenty of sex where Orwell maintains primness and propriety. But Down and Out is still worth reading for Orwell’s clear, unsentimental, no bullshit writing. You can tell from this book that George Orwell—Eric Blair was an outstanding human being.
In the Philippines where the majority of the population is poor it is almost impossible to discuss poverty without sentimentality. Is it guilt you think? Trying too hard to show that you care? Looking forward to the next election (the poor by their numbers decide the vote)? Catholic notions about suffering and the promise of eternal reward? We have turned poverty into the stuff of telenovelas, as if to say “Yes you have nothing, but glamorous actresses will play you on TV and movies about you will screen at Cannes etc”.