George Orwell´s Documentary Work - Focusing on "Down and Out in Paris and London" and "The Road to Wigan Pier" as examples
Seminar Paper 2003 24 Pages
2. Autobiographical notes on George Orwell, focusing on his social background
3. Orwell´s first piece of documentary work: Down and Out in Paris and London
3.1 Foregoing happenings and circumstances
3.2 Summary of the contents
3.3 Stylistic and literary devices
3.4 Orwell´s politics in Down and Out in Paris and London
4. Down among the oppressed: The Road to Wigan Pier
4.1 Economic and political situation in the 1930´s
4.2 The Left Book Club and its relation to the book
4.3 Summary of the contents
4.4 Stylistic and literary devices
4.5 Orwell´s politics in The Road to Wigan Pier
4.6 Reactions to and opinions on The Road to Wigan Pier
Abbreviations: DOPL = Down and Out in Paris and London
RWP = The Road to Wigan Pier
LBC = Left Book Club
In this term paper I want to focus on two of the most popular documentaries by George Orwell: Down and Out in Paris and London and The Road to Wigan Pier. While most people, when hearing the name George Orwell, think of the novel 1984 and the fable Animal Farm, only a few know that his first literary successes were books of a very different genre. The documentaries DOPL and RWP influenced his career as a political writer and coined him as an ambivalent left-wing intellectual. The term paper is structured chronologically, first dealing with DOPL and then focusing on RWP. In order to understand Orwell´s curiosity regarding the English working-class and the poor in general, I found it important to give a brief overview on his social background (chapter 2). I will then continue with explaining the circumstances in which Orwell found himself before going to London and Paris and describing his motives for living among the oppressed (chapter 3.1). In order to give an impression of the contents of the book, chapter 3.2 summarizes the most interesting and important passages and quotations. Chapter. 3.3 focuses on the style and the literary means. The last chapter on DOPL (chapter 3.4) refers to Orwell´s political standpoint when writing the book, including opinions and reactions to the latter. Chapter 4.1 begins with a description of the political and economic situation in the 1930´s. In my mind, it is important to get an impression of the problems and circumstances of the historical background when Orwell gathered the material for RWP because the time is closely connected with the content of the book. In the next chapter, I again will give an answer to the question why Orwell wrote this book which in this case is a little different because it was commissioned. Furthermore I will discuss the meaning and the function of the Left Book Club which played an important role in respect of RWP. Chapter 4.3 summarizes the two parts of the book while chapter 4.4. again focuses on stylistic and literary means. The importance of the political substance of RWP is mirrored in chapter 4.5, including Orwell´s aims, analysis, definition of socialism and his attacks on middle-class socialists. The last chapter of the term paper deals with the controversial opinions RWP called forth and especially with its opponents of the left-wing intelligentsia.
2. Autobiographical notes on George Orwell, focusing on his social background
George Orwell – whose real name was Eric Arthur Blair - was born in 1903 in Motihari, Bengal as the second of three children. His first five years he spent in India before he was sent back to school in England. Both sides of his family had been connected with the East. His paternal grandfather was an Anglican Priest in Australia and India and his maternal grandfather, a French, was a teak merchant in Burma. His father, Richard Blair, was a sub-deputy agent in the Opium Department of the Indian Civil Service, which supervised the legalized Opium trade with China. As Orwell writes in “Such, Such Were the Joys” (1947), his childhood was not entirely happy. His fifty year-old father, after sending his family back to England in 1907, stayed in India until 1912, one year after Orwell went away to preparatory school. About his mother, who was eighteen years younger than his father, Orwell later wrote: “I never felt love for any mature person, except my mother, and even her I could not trust….” When Orwell was a child he was not allowed to play with the plumber´s children because his parents feared that they would ruin his accent. Growing up with the wrong accent could mean loosing the advantages and privileges of his class. After Orwell had finished the local primary school at Henley-on-Thames he won a scholarship to a mediocre preparatory school called St. Cyprian´s. Although Orwell had a middle class background (lower-upper-middle-class, as he calls it), his family was poorer than most of his public school mates who later often became the leading intellectuals of his generation. In school Orwell always felt guilty because he did not have enough money, and also because he wanted to have it.
After his time at St. Cyprian´s, Orwell won a scholarship for Eton where Aldous Huxley, who taught English and French, was one of Orwell´s teachers. Orwell always rejected Eton´s aristocratic values and once called his time there “five years in a lukewarm bath of snobbery”. After finishing Eton he failed to win a University scholarship and his father suggested the Burmese police instead because of the personal connections the family had. After five years of service in Burma, Orwell decided to leave in August 1927 because of his bitter hatred of imperialism.
3. Orwell´s first piece of documentary Work: Down and Out in Paris and London
3.1 Foregoing happenings and circumstances
When Orwell came back to England, he was consumed with guilt for his time as a colonial policeman. The fact that Orwell had spent five years in Burma had a big influence on the development of his personality, and his opposition to imperialism had led him to associate and identify himself with the underdog and victims of society. Orwell wanted to get away not only from imperialism but from “every form of man´s dominion over man” As Fernando Galván argues, “He is primarily a man of action, not of thought; he is cleary no philosopher; no politician; he follows no particular ideology. That is to say, thinking and talking are not enough for him. He needs action, to do things”. He is one of those people who can “forget the cold reasonings and act with their hearts, guided by their ideals”. Orwell wanted to get in touch with the English working class and he wanted to get away from the respectable world. According to Richard J. Voorhees another reason for Orwell might have been a sort of Robinson Crusoe side of him which preferred to see how far his own resources would carry him when his possessions were reduced to a minimum. The biggest influence on DOPL was Jack London´s The People of the Abyss (1903). “In the Preface, London likened himself to an explorer of the underworld and wrote ‘What I wish to do, is to go down into the East End and see things for myself. I wish to know how these people are living there, and why they are living there, and what they are living for. In short, I am going to live there myself. While London saught the same direct and documentary experience as Orwell did, he lacked Orwell´s emotional involvement and explored the strange slums of the East End as if they were the Arctic tundra”.
In autumn of 1927 Orwell bought tramp´s clothing in a pawnshop and made the first of his many expeditions among the poor and outcast of London. Later in the spring of 1928 he went to Paris and rented a shabby room in a working class district in order to become a writer. During his stay in Paris he wrote two unknown novels and published some articles in French and English. The original articles in English language are unfortunately lost, so one has to keep up with retranslations from the French. The first of Orwell´s articles was on censorship in England and was published in the French paper Monde edited by the communist Henri Barbusse. Orwell also wrote an article about the unemployed, the tramps and beggars of London which was published in Le Progrès Critique  .
Truly spoken Orwell was two years late when he went to Paris in 1928 because in 1926 when the franc had dropped to 187 to the pound the city was full of artists, writers and students. But when he lived in Paris the franc still was at 120 and life was far from expensive. Tom Hopkins argued in his British Council pamphlet on Orwell that Orwell really went to Paris in order to experience failure in its most painful form, to experience mankind at its lowest and dirtiest, to protest against the money-values of the present-day world and those wealthier than himself like those he was surrounded by at school. According to Hopkinson further motives were “identification with the underdog, the relief of no longer struggling to avoid rock-bottom poverty, and the latent desire to record a new experince”.
In autumn 1929 Orwell was robbed of some 200 francs that he had saved up from writing and giving English lessons. With only forty-seven francs in his pocket his experience of real poverty began. DOPL was published in 1933, launching his literary career as “George Orwell”.
3.2 Summary of the contents
The book is divided into two parts. The first part, consisting of twenty-three sections, describes the poverty, the jobs, the people which the narrator gets to know in Paris, the second part which consists of 15 sections deals with his experiences as a tramp in London.
At the very beginning of DOPL Orwell lives in a small room in the “Rue du Coq d’Or” situated in a Paris slum. After being robbed he is forced into a few weeks of solitary gutgrindling poverty and meets Boris, a penniless Russian refugee. After having almost starved they find a job as plongeurs in a luxurious Paris hotel, the “Hotel X”. Later they take jobs in a new restaurant called “Auberge de Jehan Cottard” but working there seemed unendurable. At the end of the Paris section the narrator appeals to an English friend to find him a job at home where he has to supervise a mentally retarded boy. When Orwell arrives in London his prospective employer has gone abroad so he is without any money and any job again. Determined that no one can starve to death in London he changes his clothes and begins to live the life of a tramp.
Being without any job in Paris, he has only six francs a day, less than most people in the slum had to live on. At this time he is three days without food which he later describes as “an ugly experience….Hunger reduces one to an utterly spineless, brainless condition…as though one had been turned into a jellyfish”. Although he finds himself poorer than he has planned to be, he does not complain about his hunger and discomfort. Nor does he whine when he does not only become one of the poorest people in Paris, but also one of the hardest working of the Paris poor. One of the most impressive and also most amusing paragraphs is the description of his work as a plongeur in a Paris Grand Hotel. During an average day a plongeur has to walk about fifteen miles in a heat that might rise as high as 130 degrees. According to Orwell the only connection between the worlds of the splendid customer and the kitchen worker is the food prepared by one for the other which often contains the cook´s spit and the waiter´s hair grease. In this connection Orwell alludes to an economic law: “The more one pays for food, the more sweat and spittle one is obliged to eat with”. After working at the Hotel X Orwell has to realize that the work in the small restaurant is even more exhausting and working days are even longer (over fifteen hours a day).
Living among the London tramps his Eton accent stamps him as an inexperienced newcomer and so he has to learn the jargon of the streets, the techniques of begging, and the hierarchies of vagrant life. Moreover he always takes a name different from his own. He has to sleep in shabby and cheap lodging houses which according to Orwell exploit the old people who live on small government pensions. He considers them to be “profitable concerns…owned by rich men”. He also learns that tramps who receive charity handouts of meal tickets are always given less food than the full value of their ticket would bring. By doing this the proprietor can betray them “to the tune of seven shillings or more a week. This kind of victimisation is a regular part of a tramps life”. The most insidious form of exploitation of the poor for Orwell is done by the charitable and religious institutions. The poor seeking shelter in the casual wards are “herded” about like “cattle” and are given food “which is probably not even meant to be sufficient”. Furthermore the men have to visit religious “slumming-parties” who deliver sermons. As Orwell points out “it is curious how people take it for granted that they have a right to preach at you and pray over you as soon as your income falls below a certain level”.
However bad the life of a Paris plongeur is, he at least has enough to eat and a minimal kind of pride in his work whereas the English system denies even these little concessions to its poor.
 Jeffrey Meyers, A Reader´s Guide to George Orwell, London: THAMES AND HUDSON 1984, 18ff.
 Richard J. Voorhees, The Paradox of George Orwell, Lafayette, Ind.: Perdue University Studies 1971, 99
 John Rodden, “On the Political Sociology of Intellectuals: George Orwell and the London Left Intelligentsia”, in: Graham Holderness, Bryan Loughrey and Nahem Yousaf (eds.), George Orwell. Comtemoporary Critical Essays, Basingstoke [et. al.]: MACMILLAN PRESS LTD 1998, 164
 Meyers, (1984), 21f.
 Meyers, (1984), 31f.
 John Newsinger, Orwell´s Politics, Houndmills [a.o.]: PALGRAVE 2001, 20
 Alok Rai, Orwell And The Politics Of Despair. A critical study of the writings of Gerorge Orwell, Cambridge [et. al.]: Cambridge University Press 1988, 28
 Edward M. Thomas, Orwell, Edinburgh and London: OLIVER AND BOYD LTD 1968, 20
 Richard J. Voorhees, The Paradox of George Orwell, Lafayette, Ind.: Perdue University Studies 1971, 38
 Fernando Galván, “The Road to Utopia, or Orwell´s Idealism”, in: Alberto Lázaro (ed.), The Road from George Orwell: His Achievement and Legacy, Bern [et. al.]: Peter Lang AG 2001, 18
 Voorhees, (1971), 41
 Jack London, The People of the Abyss, New York: 1903, 1
 Meyers, (1984), 76
 Meyers, (1984), 38
 Raymond Williams, Orwell, Fontana: Collins & Co Ltd 1971, 10
 Rai, (1988), 28f.
 Richard Mayne, “A note on Orwell´s Paris”, in : Miriam Gross (ed.), The World of George Orwell, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson 1972, 40ff.
 Mitzi M Brunsdale, Student Companion to George Orwell, London [et. al.]: Greenwood Press 2000, 38
 Brunsdale, (2000), 39
 Voorhees, (1971), 39
 George Orwell, Down And Out In Paris And London, London: Secker & Warburg 1980, 38
 Voorhees, (1971), 38
 Lutz Büthe, Auf den Spuren George Orwells. Eine soziale Biographie, Hamburg: Junius Verlag GmbH 1984, 125
 Brunsdale, (2000), 61ff.
 Meyers, (1984), 77
 Voorhees, (1971), 40
 Brunsdale, (2000), 47
 Orwell, DOPL,133
 Orwell, DOPL, 185
 Orwell, DOPL, 203
 Orwell, DOPL,181
 Frazee, (1987), 40