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England (as if) through the Eyes of a Foreigner: George Orwell’s Masquerade among the Poor of London

L’Angleterre (comme) à travers les yeux d’un étranger : la mascarade d’Orwell parmi les pauvres de Londres
Corina Stan


Déçu par « le sale travail de l’Empire » et dégoûté par son service dans l’administration coloniale, pendant une visite en Angleterre Eric Blair décida de ne plus retourner en Birmanie et s’attacha à comprendre de manière directe l’expérience de l’oppression. L’essai qui suit offre une brève analyse de Down and Out in Paris and London (1933), récit de son expérience volontaire de la pauvreté parmi les vagabonds de Londres et les plongeurs de Paris, livre relativement peu connu qui constitue le début de l’écrivain George Orwell. Pourquoi Orwell a-t-il choisi d’évoquer ses expériences en ordre inverse, en commençant par les épisodes parisiens, amusants et exotiques, pour continuer avec les épisodes anglais, qui donnent à réfléchir ? Quelle image de l’Angleterre s’esquisse à travers le mélange de reportage journalistique, d’autobiographie fictive, et de critique du système social britannique ? Et pourquoi, des années plus tard, Orwell a-t-il dénoncé ses expériences parmi les pauvres comme une mascarade ?

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1When Eric Blair returned from Burma in 1927, tired of his five-year involvement in ‘the dirty work of the Empire,’ he decided to ‘submerge [him]self, to get right down among the oppressed, to be one of them and on their side against their tyrants’ (Orwell 1958, 148). His life would henceforth be marked by the embarrassment of belonging to an oppressive middle-class and by the impossibility of looking the oppressed in the face: hence the choice to put on the garb of a tramp and join the homeless roaming around London; then, entertaining the project of becoming a writer, to leave off for Paris and work as a dishwasher. Down and Out in Paris and London, the book that emerged out of these experiences of voluntary destitution, reverses the order of his experiences: first the narrator sets out to map various Parisian locales, in particular the hellish underworld of plongeurs in the insalubrious kitchens of luxurious hotels, then he returns home to England, which he rediscovers from the unusual perspective of a tramp.

2Compared to the first part of the book, Stephen Ingle says in a recent reassessment of Orwell’s work, the second half is ‘rather dull’ (Ingle 50). While I have to grant, most likely as any reader would, that the first, Parisian half of the book is a more exciting read—there is a touch of exoticism about the marginal types Orwell evokes—, in this essay I would like to show that the ‘English half’ had different stakes, and that it was more challenging to write. One way of anchoring the contrast would be to note that, whereas in France a poor man on the street might pass for a bohemian (Orwell himself calls the lodgers in his hotel ‘eccentric’), in England, as his narrator becomes aware, he is called ‘scum.’ That is, socially, morally, even humanly unintelligible to the middle-class. How then to write a book that addresses itself to the very class that Orwell takes his distance from? That the English half of the book is ‘rather dull’—which I take to mean: lacking the humour and exotic colouring of the first half—has to be interrogated beyond the implicit complaint about its failure to reward the reader: while the Parisian beginning bespeaks a clear commitment to the working classes in general, it is only the prelude, I would suggest, to the English episodes, in which Orwell has to navigate the contradictory situation in which he has placed himself. A succinct formulation of this challenge could enlist the two paradigms proposed by Lionel Trilling in Sincerity and Authenticity: sincerity is the attitude of an individual who accepts to perform within the social arrangements of the community, without questioning the position and duties assigned to him or her; authenticity, by contrast, affirms the singularity of one’s being, rejecting all established social arrangements as a construct perpetuated through histrionics. In rejecting his social class, Orwell seems to distance himself from the sincerity paradigm, yet as a writer on a mission, he still performs within it. In what follows, I will dwell on some of Orwell’s efforts to submerge himself as compellingly as possible: both in the sense of becoming a tramp, and in the sense of convincing his readers to change their perspective and reform their ways. As we shall see, in spite of recurring gestures of shifting perspective, undressing and stripping, thus of getting closer to the condition of a tramp, in the end Orwell will have to admit defeat, but his defeat is paradoxically a measure of success, or at least of realism. It is the realism of Down and Out in Paris and London that commends this text for inclusion in a discussion about the state of the nation in the early 1930s, both in its intimate rapport with Orwell’s deep unease with Britain’s colonial project, and with the social landscape he confronted directly upon his return home.

3The fragment that connects the two halves of Down and Out in Paris and London, in which the narrator crosses the Channel anticipating the joy of being at home again, gestures towards the symbolic act of shifting perspective, of looking at things from an unfamiliar point of view on which Orwell gambles, I think, the value of his book. The question how an unprejudiced foreigner might see England leads to the heart of his effort to demystify a certain idea of England, that of the rich, and unveil another England, to which respectable people prefer to remain oblivious. The fragment reads:

  • 1 The fictional explanation for his tramping in London is that his arrangement to take care of a disa (...)

On the journey I fell in with a couple of Roumanians, mere children, who were going to England on their honeymoon trip. They asked innumerable questions about England, and I told them some startling lies. I was so pleased to be getting home, after being hard up for months in a foreign city, that England seemed to me a sort of Paradise. There are, indeed, many things in England that make you glad to get home; bathrooms, armchairs, mint sauce, new potatoes properly cooked, brown bread, marmalade, beer made with veritable hops—they are all splendid, if you can pay for them. England is a very good country when you are not poor; and, of course, with a tame imbecile to look after, I was not going to be poor.1 The thought of not being poor made me very patriotic. The more questions the Roumanians asked, the more I praised England; the climate, the scenery, the art, the literature, the laws—everything in England was perfect. (Orwell 1933, 126)

  • 2 Near the beginning of ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’ (1940) and The English People (1944), for instance (...)
  • 3 The parallel is hinted at in Road to Wigan Pier: ‘I now realized that there was no need to go as fa (...)

4This journey-fragment reads like the beginning of a meditation on a question that Orwell returned to more than once in his life: what is it like to see England for the first time?2 Not just as a foreigner, as the fragment implies, but also, I would submit, as a British middle-class citizen, whose experience abroad—in colonial Burma, in the social underworld of Paris—puts his own country in perspective, disrupting the self-complacency obliterating unpleasant realities. It seems plausible that Orwell structured Down and Out in Paris and London in such a way as to create this de-familiarization effect for the reader; that is, to have his narrator—and implicitly, the reader—re-enact his own return home from Burma, and stage the shock experienced at the discovery, while tramping, of an England that looked so different from what he remembered: after experiencing the double foreignness—social and cultural—of poverty in Paris, the narrator has the uncanny revelation that home can feel even more alienating when looked at from a particular vantage point; and like Orwell’s narrator, the reader is invited to equate middle- and upper-class patriotism with oblivion and self-complacency.3 The emphasis, in the way the journey-fragment continues, seems to be on the idea that, in order to really see things, one has to cast on them an estranged look, see them through the eyes of a foreigner. After the narrator praises the London statues to the two honeymooners, he reminisces:

Then the boat drew alongside Tilbury pier. The first building we saw on the waterside was one of those huge hotels, all stucco and pinnacles, which stare from the English coast like idiots over an asylum wall. I saw the Roumanians, too polite to say anything, cocking their eyes at the hotel. “Built by French architects,” I assured them; and even later, when the train was crawling into London through the eastern slums, I still kept it up about the beauties of English architecture. (Orwell 1933, 126–127)

  • 4 This is a theme that post-war II novels like Brideshead Revisited, The Remains of the Day, Waterlan (...)

5Significantly, the foreigners say nothing; but their presence is sufficient for the narrator to begin to see England through their eyes: the admirable statues might silently voice the suspicion that perhaps pride in the ‘greatness’ of England is in fact the celebration of an ‘old England’ that tends to recede into an ever more distant, auraticized past, while the striking comparison with ‘idiots over an asylum wall’ might suggest a present showing signs of degeneration.4

6In French, plonger—the verb related to plongeur, which Orwell prefers to dishwasher in Down and Out…—has the quality of suddenness, of shock, preserved by the English verb to plunge (as in to immerse in a liquid). It can also be used about a tree, to say that it plunges its roots into the soil, which adds a dimension of temporal unfolding, sedimentation and self-transformation. Orwell’s process of identification could be described along similar lines. For him, nothing less than the body can be, in the words of Margery Sabin, ‘the absolute measure of truth’ (Sabin 45). His direct immersion in the world of tramps has therefore both the impact of a shock, and the incomplete duration of a becoming. (I am reminded here of Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of becoming—becoming-animal, becoming-woman, becoming-inhuman, etc, where the absence of the indefinite article, since one does not really become an animal or inhuman, only strives to learn more about that condition, suggests the necessary incompletion of the process.) A scene close to the beginning of the second half speaks to both of these aspects. After the reader follows the narrator into a pawnshop, where he trades his decent clothes for a tramp’s rags and a little change, a recognition scene strikingly inaugurates the difficult process of relinquishing his social identity:

It gives one a very strange feeling to be wearing such clothes. I had worn bad enough things before, but nothing at all like these; they were not merely dirty and shapeless, they had – how is one to express it? – a gracelessness, a patina of antique filth, quite different from mere shabbiness. They were the sort of clothes you see on a bootlace seller, or a tramp. An hour later, in Lambeth, I saw a hang-dog man, obviously a tramp, coming towards me, and when I looked again it was myself, reflected in a shop window. (Orwell 1933, 128–129, emphasis added)

  • 5 I am using here, ironically, Paul Morand’s aristocratic term in A Frenchman’s London, also publishe (...)

7In this suggestive scene, that one is tempted to call a mirror-stage in the life of Orwell-the-tramp, the garb that makes him look like a hang-dog man has a stronger impact on his immediate perception than his familiar facial features and bodily characteristics; the shop-window reflects back his social prejudices, but then he realizes it is himself who has crossed the divide and stepped behind the mirror. If initially he cannot look behind the garb of the tramp he sees in the window, most likely no respectable person will: he is no-body with immediately identifiable features, only, and obviously, a tramp. When another tramp addresses him as ‘mate’ right away, which makes him acknowledge that he had never been called mate before, it becomes clear that he has joined a new, unacknowledged community: the down-and-out club.5

  • 6 Orwell explained that he was born into the ‘lower-upper-middle class,’ an impoverished layer of the (...)
  • 7 In The Road to Wigan Pier, the dismissal of lower-class individuals appears as a childhood memory: (...)
  • 8 The term anthropodenial, that Martha Nussbaum borrows in her recent work from Frans de Waal, could (...)

8He continues: ‘Dressed as I was, I was half afraid that the police might arrest me as a vagabond, and I dared not speak to anyone, imagining that they must notice a disparity between my accent and my clothes. (Later I discovered that this never happened)’ (Orwell 1933, 129), and this was because in England, it became obvious, anyone could go down in life, including old public-school boys like himself.6 The world of tramps was one in which everyone was levelled out into a democratic equality, although some—as the staged encounter with the former Etonian in a Salvation Army suggests—have trouble acknowledging it. The man who recognizes the narrator’s accent as cultivated proposes that the two of them ‘should hang out together a bit’ (Orwell 1933, 159), and holds in very low esteem the rest of the men in the dormitory, dismissing them as ‘very low types […] who couldn’t come down if they tried.’ This encounter serves to confirm another aspect that becomes salient in Orwell’s experience, and on which he dwells at length: ‘why are beggars despised?’ (Orwell 1933, 174), he asks repeatedly; why is ‘tramp’ such a dreadful name (Orwell 1933, 192)?7 Not only are they denied respectability (he analyses the equation poverty = immorality, as the necessary negation of the prevalent money = virtue); but they are also denied humanity, usually compared to, and treated like, animals, or referred to by names evoking disposable residue: it is, he discovers, as if the middle- and upper-classes were grounding their claims to distinction in the denial of the tramps’ humanity.8

9The long process of giving up ‘distinction’—putting up with homelessness, hunger, dirt, dubious company, and the disdain of respectable people—unfolds, for the narrator, in stages. Moreover, besides the story of his own becoming-tramp, proximity with the poor affords the narrator glimpses into some of their lives. Passages like the following seem underwritten by the realization that the body itself, in the case of the poor especially, can be a site of inscription of social ills: ‘a tramp’s clothes are bad, but they conceal far worse things; to see him as he really is, unmitigated, you must see him naked’ (Orwell 1933, 147); that beyond a certain point, even the imagination, hence narrative, has to show restraint, remain at a respectful remove from what could only be tactless, inadequate speculation.

Flat feet, pot bellies, hollow chests, sagging muscles–every kind of physical rottenness was there. Nearly everyone was under-nourished, and some clearly diseased; two men were wearing trusses, and as for the old mummy-like creature of seventy-five, one wondered how he could possibly make his daily march. Looking at our faces, unshaven and creased from the sleepless night, you would have thought that all of us were recovering from a week on the drink. (Orwell 1933, 147–148, emphasis added)

10I emphasized you in the last sentence to suggest what I read as Orwell’s enjoinment to his reader to acknowledge that there are extremes of poverty that one cannot begin to fathom; in such moments, the narrator recedes into the background to allow these narratives of scars and diseases to assert themselves as signifying. In this sense, Adorno’s words have a poignant adequacy: ‘the somatic stratum of life, bereft of meaning, is the theater of suffering’ (Adorno xxiv). It is precisely a theater-stage that comes to mind when reading the following episode, one that Orwell refrains from commenting on:

In front of the fire a fully dressed man and a stark-naked man were bargaining. They were newspaper-sellers. The dressed man was selling his clothes to the naked man. [They bargain and agree on the price, five and a tanner.] The clothed man stripped, and in three minutes their positions were reversed; the naked man dressed, and the other kilted with a sheet of the Daily Mail. (Orwell 1933, 158–159)

  • 9 The kind that pushed Beckett to turn his work for the stage into ‘an experiment in diminution’: sho (...)

11Bereft of meaning: this naked man wrapped in a newspaper might well be imagined on a stage in a Beckett play; even there, it would be not a symbol, but, as Peter Brook might say, a ‘theater machine.’ Like the parents in the trashcans in Endgame, it issues a ban on interpretation, since it is meant to remain a social hieroglyphic, a self-reflexive fait divers, gesturing to its mere being. Bare life, in fact, nobody. To say nothing more is not a question of morality: one might say it has become a question of tact.9

12In this spirit, Orwell refrains from feeling for the poor. Closer to the tramps than Paul Morand, sharing night-shelters, food and cigarettes, he is paradoxically also—one should probably say therefore—more detached, more realistic: when experienced, Orwell suggests, poverty does not inspire pathos; it is trivial, sordid, boring, degrading, and infinitely complicated, especially for someone who was born into a different condition. There is, in other words, nothing metaphysical about it, quite the contrary: a hungry man, Orwell quips, is nothing more than ‘a belly with a few accessory organs’ (Orwell 1933, 17). He also refrains from generalizing—for him, it is not ‘always the same setting and almost always the same story,’ as Morand puts it (Morand 83); the second part of Down and Out in Paris and London is populated by a gallery of characters whose lives do not come together in the intimation of a few types. And although he writes for the middle-classes, Orwell certainly does not attempt to bring the tramps back into the sphere of bourgeois morality. About the first tramp he got to know more closely, for instance, he concludes: Paddy Jaques ‘had the regular character of a tramp – abject, envious, a jackal’s character’ (Orwell 1933, 153), while Bozo, the pavement artist, was unlike most tramps and their ‘ordinary abject worm-like gratitude’ with which they accept charity: he had ‘the decency of being ungrateful’ (Orwell 1933, 167). This is, superfluous to say, no longer the morality of ‘sincerity,’ but one directed, rather, against it. The shifting use of pronouns suggests the same transformation: if in the early stages of his social un-selfing, in the recounting of his misfortunes as a newly down-and-out the I often slips into a generic you, thus surreptitiously suggesting the possibility of anyone losing the privilege of class (and the narrator’s identification as a middle-class), later in the book instances where the narrator clearly identifies with the tramps (we, us), against the respectable people who humiliate them, are more and more frequent. Importantly, however, Orwell arrives at the conclusion of his travelogue through the tramps’s suburbs with the awareness that he has only known ‘the fringe of poverty,’ and that his self-transformation is by no means complete:

I shall never again think that all tramps are drunken scoundrels, nor expect a beggar to be grateful when I give him a penny, nor be surprised if men out of work lack energy, nor subscribe to the Salvation Army, nor pawn my clothes, nor refuse a handbill, nor enjoy a meal at a smart restaurant. (Orwell 1933, 213)

  • 10 In a passage evoking, then dismissing, his earlier ‘sentimentalism’, the ideas of the younger Orwel (...)

13Finally speaking in his own name—the I of the narrator-character as writer emerges here—and enumerating the hard-won truths in a series of personal pledges that run against impercipient bourgeois moralism, Orwell concludes Down and Out in Paris and London with a gesture of anticipation: ‘That is a beginning’ (Orwell 1933, 213). The career in the pursuit of truth that followed is well known, so it might come as a surprise that only four years later, in The Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell ironically dismissed the tramping expeditions evoked in his first published book as ‘masquerade’. The tramp’s garb he had put on in Down and Out… seemed in retrospect a naïve way of tackling the problem of poverty: by 1937, the earlier struggle for authenticity acquired in Orwell’s eyes a Quixotic quality.10 Raymond Williams suggests, however, that such a disavowal of an early work was typical of Orwell’s persistent conviction, throughout his life, that he had failed when in fact he had succeeded so much. It also matters, I should add, that his dismissal appears in a book commissioned by the Left Book Club, at a time when Orwell was fashioning his own, idiosyncratic brand of democratic Socialism: ‘unfortunately,’ he begins chapter X of this later book, ‘you do not solve the class problem by making friends with tramps. At most you get rid of some of your own class-prejudice by doing so’ (Orwell 1958, 154, emphasis added). You again—now potentially as a reader interpellated into taking action, into solving a social problem; at most—as if getting rid of even some class-prejudice were a small thing. Chapter ten sets out to show the magnitude of this task, only confirming the value of what Down and Out…had aimed to achieve:

But unfortunately you get no further by merely wishing class-distinctions away. More exactly, it is necessary to wish them away, but your wish has no efficacy unless you grasp what it involves. The fact that has got to be faced is that to abolish class-distinctions means abolishing a part of yourself. Here am I, a typical member of the middle class. It is easy for me to say that I want to get rid of class-distinctions, but nearly everything I think and do is a result of class-distinctions. All my notions—notions of good and evil, of pleasant and unpleasant, of funny and serious, of ugly and beautiful—are essentially middle-class notions; my taste in books and food and clothes, my sense of honour, my table manners, my turns of speech, my accent, even the characteristic movements of my body, are the products of a special kind of upbringing and a special niche about half-way up the social hierarchy. When I grasp this I grasp that it is no use clapping a proletarian on the back and telling him that he is as good a man as I am; if I want real contact with him, I have got to make an effort for which very likely I am unprepared. For to get outside the class-racket I have got to suppress not merely my private snobbishness, but most of my other tastes and prejudices as well. I have got to alter myself so completely that at the end I should hardly be recognizable as the same person. What is involved is not merely the amelioration of working-class conditions, nor an avoidance of the more stupid forms of snobbery, but a complete abandonment of the upper-class and middle-class attitude to life. And whether I say Yes or No probably depends upon the extent to which I grasp what is demanded of me. (Orwell 1958, 161–162, emphasis added)

  • 11 ‘What I profoundly wanted, at that time, was to find some way of getting out of the respectable wor (...)

14Trilling could not have wished for a more perceptive analysis of the discontents of the sincerity paradigm, nor Bourdieu for a more eloquent reflection on the effects of social distinction. To recapitulate the trajectory of Orwell’s sincerity: it begins, upon his return from Burma, with the denunciation of the insincerity at the very core of the civilizing project of the British empire; in contrast to Kurz, the anti-hero of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, (who on Trilling’s account represents the paragon of authenticity for pushing the darkest impulses of civilized modernity to its extremes of horror), Blair returned to England and decided to deprive himself even of the meagre social capital his ‘lower-upper-middle class’ position could provide: a radical rejection of the doubtful privilege of respectability.11 Down and Out in Paris and London might be characterized as the quest for a more authentic self, a pursuit against society and its attendant principle of sincerity through voluntary downward mobility, which shows, through the unmaking of social identity (in his case similar to the decay of the middle-class his own family had experienced directly) that it is based on claims to distinction, mystification and snobbery, and with respect to the tramps, on the denial of their humanity. Through close acquaintance with the poor, Orwell insists on the authenticity of suffering, taking the body—his own, theirs—as a measure of truth. Yet, writing is a social act, and commitment, as Trilling does not fail to show, is inherent to the paradigm of sincerity; hence the conflict between Orwell’s project of unmasking society and writing for it, with the purpose of triggering change. Differently put, not taking society on its own terms by cultivating an outsider stance (associated with authenticity), but challenging it to change: this is where Trilling’s paradigms begin to lose foothold. Further along in Orwell’s trajectory, in The Road to Wigan Pier, he points to inauthenticity (‘at the end I should hardly be recognizable as the same person’) as the outcome of the effort to give up distinction, and warns against it, commending, rather, sincerity without the pretence, hence being authentic because sincere.

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Adorno, Theodor W, Can One Live after Auschwitz?: A Philosophical Reader, Stanford: Stanford UP, 2003.

Bourdieu, Pierre, La distinction : critique sociale du jugement, Paris: Minuit, 1979.

Brook, Peter, The Empty Space, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1968.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari, Mille Plateaux, Capitalisme et schizophrénie vol. 2, Paris: Minuit, 1980.

Ingle, Stephen, The Social and Political Thought of George Orwell: A Reassessment, London: Routledge, 2005.

Morand, Paul, Londres, Paris: Plon, 1933.

nussbaum, Martha, Political Emotions: Why Love Matters for Justice, Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2013.

Orwell, George, The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters of George Orwell 4 vols, New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968.

———, A Collection of Essays, New York: Harcourt, 1981.

———, Down and Out in Paris and London, New York: Harcourt, 1933.

———, The Road to Wigan Pier, New York: Harcourt Brace, 1958.

Sabin, Margery, ‘The Truths of Experience: Orwell's Nonfiction of the 1930s,’ The Cambridge Companion to George Orwell, ed. John Rodden, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007, 43–58.

Trilling, Lionel, Sincerity and Authenticity, Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1972.

Williams, Raymond, George Orwell, New York: Columbia UP, 1971.

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1 The fictional explanation for his tramping in London is that his arrangement to take care of a disabled person fell through, so he found himself penniless and without any job prospects.

2 Near the beginning of ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’ (1940) and The English People (1944), for instance, Orwell introduces the viewpoint of someone arriving in England. ‘When you come back to England from any foreign country, you have immediately the sensation of breathing a different air.’ ‘It is worth trying for a moment to put oneself in the position of a foreign observer, new to England, but unprejudiced, and able because of his work to keep in touch with ordinary, useful, unspectacular people’ (Orwell 1968, 57).

3 The parallel is hinted at in Road to Wigan Pier: ‘I now realized that there was no need to go as far as Burma to find tyranny and exploitation. Here in England, down under one’s feet, were the submerged working class, suffering miseries which in their different way were as bad as any an oriental ever knows’ (Orwell 1958, 148–149).

4 This is a theme that post-war II novels like Brideshead Revisited, The Remains of the Day, Waterland explore at some length.

5 I am using here, ironically, Paul Morand’s aristocratic term in A Frenchman’s London, also published in 1933, a travelogue in which the French diplomat also wrote about the English poor.

6 Orwell explained that he was born into the ‘lower-upper-middle class,’ an impoverished layer of the middle class whose ‘gentility was almost purely theoretical’: while they struggled financially, they spent a lot of time and money on keeping up appearances. Much of this is similar to what he describes in the first part of Down and Out…; in more ways than one, this book is a fictionalized autobiography.

7 In The Road to Wigan Pier, the dismissal of lower-class individuals appears as a childhood memory: ‘To me in my early boyhood, to nearly all children of families like mine, “common” people seemed almost sub-human. They had coarse faces, hideous accents and gross manners, they hated everyone who was not like themselves, and if they got half a chance they would insult you in brutal ways. That was our view of them’ (Orwell 1958, 126). Years later, he was still sharing the same views: ‘at the age of seventeen or eighteen, I was both a snob and a revolutionary. . . . I had not much grasp of what Socialism meant, and no notion that the working class were human beings. At a distance, and through the medium of books–Jack London’s People of the Abyss, for instance—I could agonise over their sufferings, but I still hated them and despised them when I came anywhere near them. I was still revolted by their accents and infuriated by their habitual rudeness’ (Orwell 1958, 140).

8 The term anthropodenial, that Martha Nussbaum borrows in her recent work from Frans de Waal, could be useful here as a way to include the practice Orwell alludes to into a larger class of complex sociological and historical phenomena which all share the negation of another individual or group’s humanity, thus justifying to themselves and to the world aggressive treatment that is otherwise deemed unacceptable.

9 The kind that pushed Beckett to turn his work for the stage into ‘an experiment in diminution’: shorter and shorter play—dramaticules. The scene described by Orwell might well be such a playlet (in fact, it was originally a short dramatic poem, now published in The Collected Essays, volume I).

10 In a passage evoking, then dismissing, his earlier ‘sentimentalism’, the ideas of the younger Orwell come close to those expressed by Henry Miller, with whom Orwell was personally acquainted: ‘In the end [he speaks here of the end of his experience ‘in the East’] I worked out an anarchistic theory that all government is evil, that the punishment always does more harm than the crime and that people can be trusted to behave decently if only you will let them alone. This of course was sentimental nonsense. I see now as I did not see then, that it is always necessary to protect peaceful people from violence’ (Orwell 1958, 146–47).

11 ‘What I profoundly wanted, at that time, was to find some way of getting out of the respectable world altogether’ (Orwell 1958, 149).

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Corina Stan, « England (as if) through the Eyes of a Foreigner: George Orwell’s Masquerade among the Poor of London »Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 49 | 2015, mis en ligne le 01 décembre 2015, consulté le 20 février 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Corina Stan

Corina Stan is currently a visiting scholar at the Center for Philosophy, Arts and Literature (PAL), Duke University and has also taught for three years at Leiden University College the Hague, where she has aldo been in charge of the Brill-Nijhoff Writing Institute. Her first book manuscript, The Art of Distances, or A Morality for the Everyday: Living with Others in the Twentieth Century, under review, studies the ways European writers and thinkers of the past century—Adorno, Barthes, Orwell, Canetti, Murdoch, Ernaux, Grass and others—tried to imagine forms of community in an age lacking shared moral norms. She has published or forthcoming work in Arcadia, Modern Language Notes, The European Journal of English Studies, Echinox, Poesis, and several volumes of collected essays, and is a co-editor of the academic blog Ordinary Language Philosophy and Literary Studies Online.

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