Constructive Writing: Down and Out in Paris and London, by George Orwell

Down and out coverThe opening sentence “The Rue du Coq d’or…” outlines location. The second paragraph outlines characters. The third gives you the “voice” of the piece. The fifth begins with, “I sketch this scene, just to convey something of the spirit of the Rue du Coq d’or”.

Here, Orwell has admits that he has begun his book by establishing the scene, time and style. Then he concludes by outlining of problems he must overcome. Eventually including…

“In Paris, if you had no money and could not find a public bench, you would sit on the pavement. Heaven knows what sitting on the pavement would lead to in London – prison, probably.” (p. 156)

There are many problems the unemployed, or tramp as Orwell becomes, must face. How he deals with them is a mix of personal considered competence, and observational learning.

“Words failing him, he turned to the door; and as he opened it he farted loudly, a favourite Italian insult.” P.68

This book is not humorous, but it is funny. Still, as it is reality, reality interjects.

There was a girl in a bistro near my hotel who worked from seven in the morning till midnight for a whole year, only sitting down for her meals. I remember once asking her to come to a dance, and she laughed and said that she had not been further than the street corner for several months. She was consumptive, and died about the time I left Paris. (p.113)

With its humour and honesty, it is concisely written and masterful. One of the most pleasant reads, and highly recommended for those interested in the craft of writing with clarity and assurance.

Changing Status: From low to high as George Orwell chronicles the accent of being “broke” in Paris, France, to being “broke”, but improving, in London. He also has the worst job on earth, and wants a better job.

The Worst: To obtain great highs, one must endure horrible lows. Orwell describes his poverty with the humour of someone who looks back on dour days with the knowledge that they are endurable. He also begins the story in Paris, France – truly horrible.

Believable Characters: Specific, and small, detail in character and events is frequent. Without over use of words, he identifies why and how individuals wear moustaches (as one example). The personality of each character he interests is quickly outlined by the amount they talk, what history he knows of them, their dress, their occupation, their shoulders, any detail giving rise to knowledge of their personality. Like a film structures a frame, the writer has underlines the important parts of that frame.

Time pressure: Each paragraph is short. Five pages. The story is not filled with the pressure of time (though the time between food and sleep is often referred to). However we know the story will not take long to give the reader something.

Educate: Learn how to deal with aspects of hunger and homelessness.

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