than even the ‘spike’ lays down, or else a hypocritical conformity with religious observances is the price to be paid for a meal. It is a vivid picture of an apparently mad world that Mr Orwell paints in his book, a world where unfortunate men are preyed upon by parasites, both insect and human, where a straight line of demarcation is drawn above which no man can hope to rise once he has fallen below its level. One lays down his book wondering why men living in such conditions do not commit suicide; but Mr Orwell conveys the impression that they are too depressed and hopeless for such a final and definite effort as self-inflicted death.
C. Day Lewis, Adelphi
February 1933, p. 382
Cecil Day Lewis (1904-72), English Poet Laureate 1968-72.
Orwell’s book is a tour of the under-world, conducted without hysteria or prejudice, and if the discovery of facts made any real impression on the individual conscience, the body of active informers in this country would be inevitably increased by the number of readers of this book. The writer found himself in Paris without money or work. He becomes acquainted with all the squalid shifts of poverty, the extremities of dirt and hunger. Finally, he obtains a job as a ‘plongeur’ or scullion in a big hotel; ‘plongeurs’ in Paris work anything from fourteen to seventeen hours a day and, at the three rush hours, behind-the-scenes is a simple mediaeval hell of heat, filth and demoniac activity. Incidentally, if you wish to eat a meal in a big hotel without acute nausea, you had better skip pp. 107-109. Orwell’s study of the relations between the different branches of the personnel—head waiters, waiters, cooks, plongeurs, etc., is a model of clarity and good sense. And, as he says, the plongeur’s work ‘is more or less useless…. For, after all, where is the real need of big hotels and smart restaurants?