Down and Out in Paris and London: An Introduction
Orwell's first book combines memoir with a study of poverty in two European capitals
Around 5pm this afternoon (UK time) the first extract of our serialization of Down and Out in Paris and London will hit inboxes. From then until the end of December, subscribers will receive the book in bite-size chunks every day. You’ll be able to subscribe at any time in the project - and there’ll be a chance to catch up if you fall behind. We’ll also be sharing suggestions for further reading here on our newsletter.
First published in 1933, Down and Out in Paris and London was Orwell's first full-length book. Orwell (whose real name was Eric Blair) had moved to Paris in 1928 hoping to become a writer, having recently returned from Burma, where he had spent five years as an officer in the Indian Imperial Police, an experience which would inspire his first novel Burmese Days, and loom large over all his work.
Paris in the 1920s was at its cultural ‘interwar zenith’, but Orwell was fascinated by life underneath the glamour. Professor John Sutherland delves further into the book’s historical context in this useful introduction for the British Library.
Down and Out in Paris and London set the tone for Orwell’s own work - but it also helped changed the conversation around homelessness, as Greg Hurst wrote when he introduced our new prize for reporting homelessness,
His first-hand account of poverty, hunger, squalid doss houses and day-to-day survival by residents of the slums of both cities challenged contemporary attitudes to social problems. His vivid reportage elevated the evidence of what we know about the root causes of homelessness and poverty, and their impact on people who experience them, psychological as well as physical. The individuals he describes, daily enduring hunger, humiliation and, perhaps most vividly, abject boredom, are invariably treated with respect and a certain dignity.
As we approach the ninetieth anniversary of Down and Out in Paris and London, we are very proud to be sharing this unique book with readers everywhere - and to be supporting the new stories and approaches we need today.