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Peter Davison

A Note on the text

Down and Out in Paris and London was first published by Gollancz on 9 January 1933 and by Harper & Brothers in New York on 30 June of that year. A French translation — of considerable importance in the establishment of the text of this edition — was made by R. N. Raimbault and Gwen Gilbert, entitled La Vache enragée, and published by Gallimard, 8 May 1935. Unmarked page proofs (the Proof) of the first London edition came to light some forty years later. They carry the date, 1932, on the title-page, the title is given as Confessions of a Down and Out in London and Paris, and the author simply as ‘X’. Eric Blair's choice of the name ‘George Orwell’ stems from his letter of 19 November 1932 to his agent, Leonard Moore. This edition is based on the first London edition amended in the light of La Vache enragée, a translation which Orwell greatly admired, in contrast to that of Burmese Days, which he described as ‘VERY BAD’. (There is a second translation into French, Dans la dèche à Paris et à Londres, by Michel Petris, 1982, which sticks much more closely to the English-language edition.)

Victor Gollancz, who encouraged Orwell as a writer and published his first books, was very cautious of running up against the law, a danger even more prevalent for publishers at that time than it is today. It was not so very long before the publication of Down and Out in Paris and London that Henry Vizetelly had been jailed for publishing the novels of Emile Zola, an experience that ruined his health. On i July 1932 Orwell told his agent what Gollancz required:

Names are to be changed, swearwords etc. cut out, and there is one passage which is to be either changed or cut out. It's a pity, as it is about the only good bit of writing in the book, but he says the circulation libraries would not stand for it.

That ‘good bit of writing’ (Charlie's story, chapter II) was not, in the event, lost, though it was evidently modified. On 6 July 1932 Orwell told Leonard Moore, ‘I have crossed out or altered the phrases that seemed to show too definitely what was happening & perhaps like this it might pass inspection.’ Evidently it did, though no details have survived. (Leonard Moore's last surviving letter to Orwell, written a couple of month's before Orwell's death, requested the cutting of 140 lines from the Spanish translation of Nineteen Eighty-Four which, it was feared, would strike the Argentinian authorities as immoral.) The Proof shows that there was a further glossing-over of swearwords and a couple of interesting passages of rewriting. On page 68, line 11, ‘he farted loudly, a favourite Italian insult’ was changed to ‘delivered a final insult in the same manner as Squire Western in Tom Jones’. On page 82, lines 23-4, ‘Hôtel ——, after some famous prostitute who was born in the quarter, I expect’ had to be changed to ‘Hôtel Suzanne May, after some famous prostitute of the time of the Empire’. The Proof also shows that Orwell added three more footnotes.

The publishers of La Vache enragée (the title is idiomatic French for being destitute and was used for a short-lived humorous journal published in Paris in 1896) were less inhibited than Gollancz was forced to be. The English edition, the translators explained, had had to resort to dashes for many swearwords (some quite mild) but they had restored these words in full in the light of the author's indications. Orwell's French was good, but where he used French in his English text the translators sometimes made this more colloquial. In addition, Orwell added explanatory footnotes for the French readers, evidently in answer to questions posed by the translators, and they themselves added footnotes (explaining, for example, the meanings of public houses and public schools and that traffic in England drove on the left and not, as in France, on the right).

This variety of material enables something of the original tone of Orwell's book to be recovered, but it is not always possible to make clear-cut decisions as to what to include and what to leave out. It is not always plain which are Orwell's additional footnotes to the French translation (moreover, for this edition, they have to be translated back into English)(1), and the filling in of blanks presents a number of problems. Thus, on page 143, line 23, the English edition has a dash, the French has ‘sacrées’, but the Proof has ‘f ——’. The French here, and elsewhere, is not an equivalent of what is suggested by the Proof — e.g., page 146, line 29, where the Proof again has ‘f ——’, while the French has ‘sale’ (‘filthy’). Blanks in the English text may be replaced in French by obscenities, remarkably mild expressions, or by nothing at all. Among words introduced into the French text are: sale, dingo, chier, foutre, sacré cochon, couillons-là, sacr ..., salauds-là, vache.

This edition is circumspect in completing blanks, not out of prurience, but on grounds of textual uncertainty; only those footnotes are added which can reasonably be assigned to Orwell; and the more colloquial French of La Vache enragée has been adopted in the light of Orwell's approval of the French translation and bearing in mind his wish that Spanish names in Homage to Catalonia should be regularised in any later editions. A full explanation of what has been done will be found in the Textual Note to the Complete Works edition, I, pages 217-30 (Secker and Warburg, 1986). That edition also gives footnotes found in the French edition that are not included here.

Peter Davison, 1989
Albany, London


1) Footnotes from the French translation and any editorial comments are indicated by an asterisk in the text. [back]


Peter Davison: “A Note on the text”
Published: Penguin Books, GB, London. — 1989.

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Last modified on: 2019-12-29

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