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Decline and Fall (1928)

by Evelyn Waugh

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,087533,027 (3.86)223
(Book Jacket Status: Jacketed) Decline and Fall (1928) was Evelyn Waugh's immensely successful first novel, and it displays not only all of its author's customary satiric genius and flair for unearthing the ridiculous in human nature, but also a youthful willingness to train those weapons on any and every thing in his path. In this fractured picaresque comedy of the hapless Paul Pennyfeather stumbling from one disaster to another, Waugh manages the delicious task of skewering every aspect of the society in which he lived. With an Introduction by Frank Kermode… (more)
  1. 30
    Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh (Nickelini)
    Nickelini: If you like one of these Evelyn Waugh novels, chances are you'll like the second.
  2. 00
    Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis (hazzabamboo)
    hazzabamboo: These are two of the only books that make me laugh out loud. Also, both are entertaining (and very English) accounts of young men coming of age with more than a little truth to them.
  3. 00
    A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh (John_Vaughan)
  4. 00
    Put Out More Flags by Evelyn Waugh (John_Vaughan)
  5. 00
    Scoop by Evelyn Waugh (John_Vaughan)
  6. 01
    Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley (John_Vaughan)

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» See also 223 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 53 (next | show all)
The misadventures of Paul Pennyfeather.

It did have some genuine LOL moments but I didn't take to this. I think the time has come to admit I don't actually like Waugh very much despite the lush romanticism of the TV adaptation of "Brideshead Revisted". ( )
  Robertgreaves | Mar 31, 2019 |
After walking into to a prank by some good ol' boys, Paul Pennyfeather is sent down from Scone College for 'indecent behavior', a blow that he takes without too much fuss. His guardian denies him his allowance and he is sent off to teach at a public school far enough down the ladder to not inquire too closely into his background.

'Decline and Fall' is Paul's coast through the tribulations of public school, high society, bribery, prison, and faith. Very little appears to touch him. He likes his friends and some of the students, but there is little genuine enthusiasm from him except for the occasional trip out to the tavern.

The joy in the novel comes from the grubby self-interest of the upper classes and the blatant disregard they have for the conventional rules of decency and fair play. They're absolutely terrible and modern popular culture is about little else but terrible people. Waugh doesn't try to sell them as anything else. I liked it as much as 'Brideshead Revisited', but its a very different kind of book. ( )
  ManWithAnAgenda | Feb 18, 2019 |
“...any one who has been to an English public school will always feel comparatively at home in prison.”

Decline and Fall was the first novel written by Evelyn Waugh and was published in 1928 when he was just 24. Personally I cannot help but feel that this is a young man's book in that it was written by a young man for young men. Many of the jokes would certainly seem to appeal to a younger male audiences. (I am in excess of 50). It is a novel full of silly named characters who come out with outrageous comments.

Equally I cannot help but feel that this is a book of its time. Many of the author's 'jokes' would be considered offensive if written today covering some pretty distasteful subjects. There are gags about child abuse, white slavery, mental and physical disabilities to name but a few but perhaps most distasteful are those on racism.

When a mother of one of the prep school boys arrives at her son's school's sports day accompanied by a black man called Chokey, the vicar states that “the mistake was ever giving them their freedom. They were much happier and better looked after before”. The Welsh don't fair much better, they are branded “an unclean people” lacking in culture, “They just sing”. The hero, such as he is, is similarly not a particularly likeable character either.

The novel is best described as a social satire and certainly no social class totally escapes criticism but most of it is aimed at the progeny of the upper classes. Their time at school and college in particular seeming categorized by a time of drinking binges and generally squandering their time there rather than studying. Reading Waugh's other pieces of work it is obvious that his time at college was not a very happy one where he felt excluded from the 'smart set'. Instead he took out his frustrations in literary cynicism.

That all said and done that doesn't mean that I particularly disliked this book, I did smile rather than laugh out loud at some of the absurdities within. However, I feel that this is not one of author's stronger pieces of work which I've read meaning that I found it an OK read rather than a great one. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Jan 16, 2019 |
May have been cutting social satire in its time, but the time is past and the humor has IMO faded. Only read a few chapters before concluding that I could not care about the characters.
  ritaer | Oct 10, 2018 |
Excerpts from my original GR review (Mar 2009):
- Sharp little novel. Well drawn characters. The wryly humorous story held my interest with Paul's ever-altering fortunes. This was my first E. Waugh and I'll read more. ( )
  ThoughtPolice | Sep 3, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 53 (next | show all)
No novel is a statement, and we should try to fight against making inferences about the author's state of mind. Nevertheless I will succumb to temptation by suggesting that the twenty-five-year-old Waugh, rather than go mad or commit suicide, was in real need of something that offered an explanation of or an excuse for the horrors of existence. We all know what Evelyn Waugh found —to his artistic detriment: what had been an enlivening bitterness sank to defiance and jeering, a struggle against the unalterable and inevitable on the secular and social plane...

Waugh's one great book is the outcome not, as Edmund Wilson put it, of regarding cruel things as funny because he didn't understand them. One way or the other, what Decline and Fall is the outcome of is trying to make cruel things as funny as possible, because that is one of the very few ways of making them a little less intolerable.
added by SnootyBaronet | editNew Statesman, Kingsley Amis (Sep 22, 1978)
In Decline and Fall Mr. Waugh did what hardly any modern author has done in his first book; he reated a character that simply and naturally takes its place among the great characters of fiction that are larger than life-size, and more significant than a single child of man can be. Grimes is one of the world's great rogues, one of those whose serenity and bloomy sense of inner rightness almost persuade honest men that there is a strong moral case for roguery; and he has a subtle value, too, as a vehicle for criticism of our English life. For in him the generation that has spent its youth overshadowed by Dr. Arnold and Rudyard Kipling joyously recognized an embodiment of all the exceedingly queer forms that nature, driven out with a fork from the public school, assumes in order that it may effect a reëntrance.
added by SnootyBaronet | editThe Bookman, Rebecca West
The great thing about Decline and Fall, written when the author was twenty-five, was its breath-taking spontaneity. The latter part of the book leans a little too heavily on Voltaire’s Candide, but the early part, that hair-raising harlequinade in a brazenly bad boys’ school, has an audacity that is altogether Waugh’s and that was to prove the great principle of his art. This audacity is personified here by an hilarious character, called Grimes. Though a schoolmaster and a ‘ public-school man,” Grimes is frankly and even exultantly everything that is most contrary to the British code of good behavior: he is a bounder, a rotter, a scoundrel, but he never has a moment of compunction.
added by SnootyBaronet | editThe New Yorker, Edmund Wilson
Decline And Fall stands alone in the canon. The constant flow of comic invention, and the absurdist logic ordering the characters' actions, makes it memorable. The book's logic is that of Lewis Carroll, its spirit allied to the genial anarchy of early Marx Brothers films. When Grimes escapes from prison, as earlier he has escaped from marriage to Dr Fagan's awful daughter, he is thought to have perished in the quicksand of Egdon Mire a joke related to the Great Grimpen Mire in The Hound Of The Baskervilles. Like Paul, however, we know that Grimes is not dead but a life force, immortal. That's the right word also for Evelyn Waugh's comic creation.
added by SnootyBaronet | editLondon Times, Julian Symons

» Add other authors (36 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Evelyn Waughprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bentley/Farrell/Burn…Cover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bradshaw, DavidIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Evans, HenriTraductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Harris, DerrickCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Maloney, MichaelNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ott, AndreaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Harold Acton
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Mr. Sniggs, the Junior Dean, and Mr. Postlethwaite, the Domestic Bursar, sat alone in Mr. Sniggs's room overlooking the garden quad at Scone College.
Chapter One:
"Sent down for indecent behaviour, eh?" said Paul Pennyfeather's guardian.
I have been in the scholastic profession long enough to know that nobody enters it unless he has some very good reason which he is anxious to conceal.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141187484, 0141193425

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