George Orwell: The Critical Heritage

By Jeffrey Meyers | Go to book overview

2.

Unsigned notice, Times Literary Supplement

12 January 1933, p. 22

Real life experiences are always more gripping than fiction, and it is not uncommon for real life to be as surprising as the most fantastic novel. Mr Orwell does not get his effects by emphasizing the fantastic, although many of the characters he met on his adventures are as odd as any in Dickens—which is probably responsible for their uncomfortable lives. Living in a Paris slum, starving much of the time, he found work as washer-up in a famous restaurant, gaining there experiences which, he alleges, have made him vow never to eat a meal in a Paris restaurant as long as he lives. Life below stairs in such a place, and in the even worse little ‘inn’ to which he went afterwards—a place that was all décor and possessed no capital, he says, to buy reasonably good food—is a strained and greasy business; in the cramped quarters of the kitchen, melting with heat, slipping on discarded food flung to the floor, the workers found their tempers frayed, their nerves irritated and life became merely a matter of work, bed and drink. One interesting thing the author learnt from his Paris experiences, and that is the pride in their work felt by the most over-worked and ill-paid servants of the restaurant, a pride and honour that surely deserved better opportunity.

His later experiences in England, tramping about from one casual ward to another while waiting for a promised job, make tragic reading. He has great sympathy with the man on the road, since he has discovered, as many observers have, that many of them are not natural tramps at all, but good workmen lacking work and tools and the clothes that would be their passport to a job. He is very critical of the system which spends £1 a week a head on keeping workless men moving from ‘spike’ to ‘spike, ’ clad in rags, fed on the most meagre food, sleeping in great discomfort and never given the opportunity to work even for the food they are consuming at the cost of the working community. He is critical, too, of some charitable institutions where either a man has to pay as much as he would in a commercially run lodging-house and is subjected to many more rules and regulations

-41-

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