Saturday, October 2, 2010

Evelyn Waugh's Decline and Fall

Decline and Fall is Evelyn Waugh's first novel published in 1928. Before the publication of his great Catholic novel Brideshead Revisited, Waugh was best known as a satirist. Decline and Fall is a comic novel which makes fun of English upper class and middle class society.

The protagonist, Paul Pennyfeather, is "sent down" (expelled) from Oxford University for "indecent behavior" when a group of rowdy students steal his pants. Like Waugh and many other university educated young men in the twenties, the only job Paul can find is teaching at a third rate school.

The school, Llnabba, is located in Wales, and Waugh spares no opportunity to make fun of the Welsh. At Llnabba, Paul encounters a group of eccentrics who have landed there after failing at other jobs. There is Captain Grimes, who was sentenced to be shot for cowardice in World War I, but got re-assigned to Ireland because it was bad form to shoot another public school man. Mr. Prendergast is a former clergyman in the Church of England who left the ministry because he stopped believing in God. However, his bishop didn't think it was a problem because it didn't affect his day to day duties as a parish priest.

Evelyn Waugh at age 26

Eventually, Paul leaves the school and becomes engaged to marry a rich widow, Mrs. Beste-Chetwynde. Mrs. Beste-Chetwynde doesn't like her medieval English country house and hires a German architect who hates art to tear it down and rebuild it as a modern building.

Unfortunately for Paul, Mrs. Beste-Chetwynde makes her money by running an international prostitution ring. On his wedding day, Paul is arrested for "white slavery" and sent to prison. Paul actually likes prison, since it provides the most rest that he's gotten since he was sent down from Oxford. If you want to find out what else happens to Paul and the gang, Gentle Reader, then you're going to have to read the book.

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