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Youthful outrage

Down and Out in Paris and London - George Orwell

Orwell's first published work, giving a slightly fictionalised account of his experiences of poverty in Paris and London.

His time in London is made into an extraordinary and vital social document, preserving and bearing witness to the painful and shocking history of the tramps. I never realised that these men and women were so called because they were forced by the law that prevented them from staying in one place for more than one night to walk from town to town every day, with the reward of a meagre meal of buttered bread and tea and a comfortless dorm if they were lucky. Orwell derides this senseless expenditure of effort, suggesting work that tramps could do instead.

The young man's horror at the waste, boredom and uselessness of poverty is captivatingly illustrated by this tense, sparely written account of his struggles for food and shelter in two of the great cities of the world, celebrated elsewhere for their cultural wealth, beauty, style and romantic ambience. I was astonished by the weird, inhuman travails to which the poor of both cities were put, and by the extremities of filth and degradation that so disgusted Orwell.