Let George Orwell guide you through 1920s Paris



Cover for the first American edition of Down and Out in Paris and London, published by Harper & Brothers in 1933. (Credit: Facsimile Dust Jackets, LLC)

George Orwell: journalist, writer… Paris city guide? Well, not quite. Or at least not in person. The author of Farm animal and 1984 spent the early days of his literary career in Paris, and much of his stay can be reconstructed from his work, most notably his first complete book, Down and Out in Paris and London (1933).

In June 1928, Orwell – then still known as Eric Arthur Blair – moved from London to Paris, with the aim of learning French, living cheaply and writing novels. It didn’t quite work: although he had some success writing short-lived journalism, he was forced to take menial jobs to survive. However, you might call it a providential (if not intentional) slum. This provided the material for what would become the Parisian half of Down and Out. In December 1929, after a year and a half in Paris, Orwell returned to England.

Orwell’s Parisian days have now been pinned on a Google Map by Duncan Roberts and Darcy Moore. Duncan roberts is a Paris-based “writer and literary detective”. His next book Orwell and the Russian Captain focuses on the real people and places in Orwell’s first book – much obscured, often for fear of defamation. Darcy moore has written extensively on Orwell and is currently preparing a book tentatively titled Orwell in Paris: The Making of a Writer.

If anyone is qualified to show us around Orwell’s Paris, it’s these two. Their map is a handy guide to exploring the city through the eyes of a budding writer, whether you can do it in person or via Street View. The numbered pins allow you to retrace the writer’s footsteps as he made his way through the shallows of the City of Light. Below is a brief overview. For more, check out the map itself, the two writers’ websites, and their upcoming books.

1. Gare Saint Lazare

About five months after his days as a police officer in Burma ended, it was here that Orwell arrived in Paris, and he had to register with the French police. His first destination in town would have been his aunt, who lived at 12e borough.

2. 14 avenue de Corbera

The address was shared by her aunt Nellie Limouzin and her future husband Eugène Adam, who shared a passion for socialism and Esperanto. Orwell stayed here until he found accommodation in the Latin Quarter.

3. 6 Rue du Pot de Fer

Orwell’s home port for most of his stay was the Hôtel des Bons Amis in the narrow rue du Pot de Fer. In the book, it is renamed the Hôtel des Trois Moineaux and moved to the non-existent rue du Coq. These days the hotel has disappeared. The ground floor is occupied by the Café Planet-chicha, a hookah bar.

4. Montparnasse

What Greenwich Village was to New York and Soho to London, Montparnasse was to Paris: the glamorous cultural epicenter, attracting artistic hopes from everywhere. Although Hemingway and most of the “Lost Generation” were gone by the time Orwell arrived, famous cafes like Le Dome and Le Select were still doing good business.

The famous literary hotspot Les Deux Magots, photographed in September 2019. (Credit: Cheng-en Cheng / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0)

5. Les Halles

From the middle of the 19e century until its demolition in 1970, the Marché des Halles served as a fresh market in central Paris. After losing his only English speaking student, Orwell came here at dawn, hoping to find work as a porter. His job interview consisted of lifting a large basket. He failed.

6. The Two Magots

It was one of the places have you seen me (ie “places to see”) for the literary crowd. Orwell saw James Joyce having lunch there but did not dare to disturb him. In 1945, back in Paris as a war correspondent, Orwell arranged to meet Albert Camus here. Unfortunately, Camus was ill and did not show up.

7. The Seine

Orwell borrowed a fishing rod and used bluebottles as bait, but he did not catch any fish from the Seine, claiming that they had all become “cunning during the siege of Paris” (in 1870-1871). He later claimed he crossed the Seine 11 times in one day, while looking for work.

8. Cochin Hospital

Orwell was admitted to this charity hospital for the poor in April 1929 suffering from the flu. Although he left his stay here by Down and Out, he formed the basis of a separate essay titled “How the Poor Die”.

9. Les Invalides

A few days after his release from the hospital, Orwell attends the funeral of Marshal Foch, supreme commander of the Allied forces during the First World War. Foch is granted the honor of a complete carriage procession from the Arc de Triomphe to the Invalides.

March 26, 1929: departure of the funeral procession of Marshal Foch in Notre-Dame cathedral. (Credit: Public domain)

10. White Coats

Orwell goes to the Marais, a predominantly Jewish district of Paris, in search of Boris, the Russian captain whom he met a few months earlier at the Cochin hospital. He hopes Boris will help him find a job: “I even squandered two francs fifty on a bundle of Gauloises Bleues… In the morning, I went down to rue du Marché des Blancs Manteaux.

11. The Mont-de-Piété

Then as now, this is the location of a state-run pawnshop, where Orwell pledged his few possessions in exchange for a few francs for food. Yesterday as today, “We passed through large stone portals marked, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. Pawnshop, French for “pawnbroker”, literally means “mountain of piety”. This is a bad translation from Italian monte di pietà, which means “charity amount”.

12. Rue de la Grande Chaumière

It was the address of Ruth Graves, an American artist who had lived in Paris since 1924. Orwell was friends with her and discussed the first sketches of Down and Out with her. Decades later, upon learning that Orwell had tuberculosis, she offered to send him experimental drugs, which were banned in England.

13. Hotel scribe

Boris had worked at the Scribe, a five-star hotel next to the Opéra Garnier. He and Orwell waited out front, for a job that never came to fruition: “We went to the Scribe Hotel and waited an hour on the sidewalk, hoping the manager would come out, but he never did. do.” This is where Orwell stayed in 1945 and may have met Hemingway.

14. The Hermitage

Yet another restaurant, the one on rue Boissy d’Anglas, where Boris and Orwell sought and failed to find work. It was one of the most famous of the hundreds of Russian establishments in Paris, fueled by the wave of Russians fleeing Bolshevism. Picasso, Satie and Cocteau were among his many famous guests.

15. The Medrano

“We once responded to an ad calling for hands in a circus. You had to move the benches, clean up the trash, and during the show, stand on two tubs and let a lion jump between your legs. Although the latter is hard to believe, it must have been the Medrano, in the ninth arrondissement, demolished in 1971.

orwell paris
Orwell’s lairs in Paris in 1928 and 1929. The name and exact location of the latter (marked with a star) are still a little mysterious. (Credit: Google Maps / Duncan Roberts and Darcy Moore)

16. Humanity

“… The Parisian police are very hard on the Communists, especially if they are foreigners, and I was already suspected. A few months earlier, a detective had seen me come out of the office of a Communist weekly, and I had had a lot of trouble with the police. It must have been Humanity, the newspaper that, according to recently published Secret Service reports, Orwell read regularly. At the time, it was located at 142 rue Montmartre, now occupied by a locksmith.

17. “Laundry service”

In an unknown location south of the Seine, near the Chamber of Deputies, Boris and Orwell encountered a Russian secret society. Orwell hoped to write paid articles for a Moscow newspaper. The company is run by a laundry service. “Why did you come here without a bundle of laundry?” Bring a big fat bundle next time. We don’t want the police on our trail.

18. 3 Rue Berthollet

The address of Drum, a bilingual (English-French) modernist journal edited and published by the American Harold J. Salemson. Drum had a circulation of approximately 1,500 copies and its subscribers included James Joyce and Jean Cocteau. Salemson translated Orwell’s first professional writing, “The Censorship in England”, publishing it in the October 6, 1928 edition of Drum.

19. Jardin des Plantes

Being broke in Paris offers excellent opportunities to take advantage of the many excellent public gardens. Orwell hung out in the Jardin du Luxembourg, the Tuileries and the Jardin des Plantes. About the latter, he later wrote in a letter: “I liked it, although there was really nothing of interest except the rats, which at one point invaded it and were. so tame they would almost eat from your hand. »(See also # 914)

20. The Lotti

Orwell eventually got a job as diver (dishwasher) at the Lotti, a luxury hotel in the 8th arrondissement, disguised as “Hotel X” in Down and Out. He is still there, at 7 rue de Castiglione.

21. The Fourcy

“Sometimes half a dozen divers partied and went to an abominable brothel in the rue de Siéyes … we nicknamed him the fixed price. “The name of the street is invented. It was probably Le Fourcy, a brothel at 10, rue de Fourcy, a half-hour walk from Lotti.

Place d’Italie metro station as it is today. (Credit: Frédéric Soltan / Corbis via Getty Images)

22. Place d’Italie

“Every morning at six, I warmed myself in bed, didn’t shave, sometimes washed myself, rushed to Place d’Italie and fought for a seat on the metro.” This tube station was a 20 minute walk from the Orwell hotel. The journey on line 6 would take another 20 minutes. Orwell would get off at Cambronne, boulevard Garibaldi. From there it was a short walk to L’Auberge du Jehan Cottard.

23. The Auberge du Jehan Cottard

Another place in disguise, not yet identified. Orwell was certain the restaurant would fail. Despite his reluctance, he leaves the Lotti and follows Boris, appointed butler. “And, strange to say, despite all this filth and incompetence, the Auberge de Jehan Cottard was in fact a success.”

To learn more about Orwell in Paris, visit the websites of Duncan roberts and Darcy moore. Discover their card in more detail here.

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