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Decline and Fall (Penguin Modern Classics) (original 1928; edition 2010)

by Evelyn Waugh

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,562422,345 (3.86)191
Member:JDEllevsen
Title:Decline and Fall (Penguin Modern Classics)
Authors:Evelyn Waugh
Info:Penguin Books, Limited (UK) (2010), Paperback, 224 pages
Collections:Your library, Lost, Oxford
Rating:
Tags:literary fiction, fiction set in Oxford, Oxford

Work details

Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh (1928)

  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 191 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
A picaresque novel in the tradition of Lazarillo de Tormes, etc, only in 20th century England. Completely absurd, and funny, and even more absurd.

**spoilers below!**

Paul Pennyfeather is expelled from his college (I think--this novel would be much more enjoyable for someone who understands the English school system and old money/new money/titled social expectations) for "indecency" for accidentally crossing paths with a rich student's drunken mob.

He then becomes a school master at a boarding school in Wales. A sloppily run boarding school--so how does it attract wealthy students? That is not answered. Or maybe they are all like this?

He quits and gets engaged to one of his students' mothers. All is going swimmingly until he is arrested for white slavery while doing a business favor for his fiance. He is sent to prison. His fiance marries someone else. They arrange for him to get out of prison and fake his death. He goes along with it all, and ends up back in school to be a clergyman.

Meanwhile, he meets the same people over and over--he ends up in prison with another employee of the boarding school, while the school's chaplain is now the prison chaplain and so on and so forth. There is a lot of sarcasm and wit regarding British society and culture, but I definitely do not have the background needed to find it as funny as it probably is.

All in less than 200 pages. ( )
  Dreesie | Apr 12, 2016 |
Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh is his first novel, published in 1928. It is a fictional work in the social satire genre set in England and Wales in the 1920s. It explores the societal conventions of the time surrounding education, values, marriage, the divisions in social classes, honor, racism, human behavior, and the helplessness of man before the uncontrollable and often inevitable aspects of life.

The plot follows the life and times of the hapless Paul Pennyfeather, a student at Oxford University. He gets caught in the shenanigans of the Bollinger Club and is unable to escape the repercussions of his inadvertent “misdemeanors.” He ends up getting “sent down” –bringing his academic career to a summary halt.

His guardian withdraws his allowance, and denies him shelter under his roof, forcing Paul to accept employment as a schoolteacher at the Llanabba Castle School in North Wales. He settles in with his colleagues, the school routine, and his students, until Dr. Fagan, the headmaster, puts him in charge of a school sports event, causing him some stress and trouble.

During this time he also meets the Honorable Mrs. Margot Beste-Chetwynde, who becomes the object of his affections. Paul accepts an offer to tutor her son, Peter Beste-Chetwynde, over the holidays. Due to his affection for Margot, he refuses an offer of marriage to Dr. Fagan’s eldest daughter. Part 1 ends with the supposed death of Captain Grimes, a fellow teacher, and Paul’s departure from Llanabba Castle.

Paul arrives at King’s Thursday, Mrs. Beste-Chetwynde’s home. In this surreal surrounding, Paul falls hopelessly in love with his hostess. She tempts him to stay by offering him a job helping her with her business interests in South America. He proposes marriage, and they gain the approval of her son, Peter, to move forward with their wedding plans.

Next, the character of Grimes is resurrected and, through a circuitous route, ends up at King’s Thursday looking for a job. In the meantime, Paul gets even more enamored of his future wife by watching Margot, the businesswoman, in action. Three days before their wedding Margot informs him that he needs to travel to Marseilles to sort out some business matters. He goes, and after negotiations with bureaucratic offices and an exchange of money, Paul returns to London on the morning of his wedding. After proposing a toast to “Fortune, a much-maligned lady,” Paul is accosted by officials from Scotland Yard with a warrant for his arrest. Part 2 comes to a close.

Part 3 is an account of Paul’s arrest, trial, and conviction leading to his incarceration in Blackstone Gaol. He receives a visit from Peter who tells him of Margot’s distress at his predicament, assuring him that, short of going to prison herself, she will do all she can to help him—even marrying Maltravers, who has offered Paul’s release if she does so. Paul tells Peter that he would prefer that she wait for him until he is released. He finds solitary confinement refreshing, free from the tumult of daily life, able to mindlessly follow directions. He asks for an extension in solitary, but instead, the prison governor embarks on an experiment for his rehabilitation. The most significant result of these reforms is the murder of Mr. Prendergast by a fellow prisoner.

Paul’s transfer to Egdon Heath, a long-term prison, results in his catching up with Grimes again. He starts receiving inexplicable luxuries while confined to the prison. A letter from Margot is followed by her visit, in which she reveals her sinking optimism, her ostracism from society, having to wind down her business, and her sudden decision to marry Maltravers.

Prison life is enlivened by the escape of Grimes, who rides off into the fog on the warder’s horse, never to be found, presumed dead in the bog. Paul’s release from Egdon Heath comes in the form of instructions from Maltravers to send him to a nursing home for an appendectomy. He ends up at Cliff Place, a nursing home run by Dr. Fagan. He is made to sign a will and meets Dr. Fagan, Alastair Trumpington, and an inebriated surgeon who falsifies Paul’s death certificate. A celebratory dinner later, Paul is seen off to Corfu on Margot’s yacht, “to decide on things.”

A chance meeting with Otto Silenus leads to a discussion on life and the nature of people.

Paul decides to head back to Oxford to study theology in disguise. Back at Scone College, Paul reverts to his previous routine, recognized by no one, pretending to be a distant cousin to his old notorious namesake. The book ends where it began, on a night of a meeting of the Bollinger Club. There, Peter Beste-Chetwynde, now Earl of Pastmaster, is a student at Scone and a member of the Club. He drinks himself to death, telling Paul that he should never have gotten caught up with his family ( )
  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
Frank Kermode's introduction to the 1993 Everyman's Library edition does an excellent job of connecting Decline and Fall to Waugh's development as a novelist and as a human being generally. His perception of the roots of Waugh's later religious convictions struck me as subtle. Great value-added to a novel which seemed easier to laugh at when I first read it in heartless early youth, when scorn for human folly was untinged with compassion.
1 vote booksaplenty1949 | Sep 19, 2015 |
WAUGH'S VERY FIRST NOVEL. AN AMUSING YARN ABOUT ECCENTRIC CHARACTERS WHO ARE BUFFETTED ABOUT BY "THE SLINGS AND ARROWS OF OUTRAGEOUS FORUNE". ROLLICKING FUN! ( )
  Betty.Ann.Beam | Feb 13, 2014 |
"'Prendy's not so bad in his way,' said Grimes, 'but he can't keep order. Of course, you know he wears a wig. Very hard for a man with a wig to keep order. I've got a false leg, but that's different. Boys respect that. Think I lost it in the war. Actually,' said the Captain, 'and strictly between ourselves, mind, I was run over by a tram in Stoke-on-Trent when I was one-over-the-eight. Still, it doesn't do to let that out to everyone. Funny thing, but I feel I can trust you. I think we're going to be pals.'"

Evelyn Waugh was a master of satire. He had that wonderful way of mocking the stereotypical attitudes of people that rings so true and is laugh-out-loud hilarious.

"One way and another, I have been consistently unfortunate in my efforts at festivity. And yet I look forward to each new fiasco with the utmost relish."

Paul Pennyfeather has his life flipped upside down and inside out by an odd twist of wrong place-wrong time, and is joined in his pursuits by a most amusing and eclectic cast of characters. Don't try to make any predictions about what's going to happen here, because it's a complete roller coaster and you cannot possibly anticipate the loops and drops it'll take!

"'[...] Shall I tell you about life?'
'Yes, do,' said Paul politely.
'Well, it's like the big wheel at Luna Park. Have you seen the big wheel?'
'No, I'm afraid not.'
'You pay five francs and go into a room with tiers of seats all around, and in the center the floor is made of a great disc of polished wood that revolves quickly. At first you sit down and watch the others. They are all trying to sit in the wheel, and they keep getting flung off, and that makes them laugh, and you laugh too. It's great fun.'
'I don't think that sounds very much like life,' said Paul rather sadly.
'Oh, but it is, though. You see, [...]'"


Sadly I must cut off there, because the passage that follows is a longer paragraph, and really continues for the next two successive paragraphs as well, and in a way it would give a certain kind of a spoiler. But, it's rather an adept and poignant view of life, and you must read the book for yourself to see what it is. It comes about rather unexpectedly (like most things in Waugh's satire, which is all completely unpredictable) and it just made me sit back and go "Well huh. How apt!" Waugh is always good for an interesting surprise.

Absolutely loved this, recommended to all who enjoy humorous intellectual looks at the world around them. ( )
1 vote .Monkey. | Feb 4, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Evelyn Waughprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bentley/Farrell/Burn…Cover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Maloney, MichaelNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ott, AndreaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Harold Acton
In Homage and Affection
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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.
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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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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0316926078, Paperback)

Subtitled "A Novel of Many Manners, " Evelyn Waugh's notorious first novel lays waste the "heathen idol" of British sportsmanship, the cultured perfection of Oxford, and the inviolable honor codes of the English gentleman.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:01:22 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Sent down in outrageous circumstances, Paul Pennyfeather is the new schoolmaster at Llanabba Castle. His colleagues are an assortment of misfits, rascals & fools. Sports day arrives, & as the farce unfolds & the young run riot, no one is safe.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 6 descriptions

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2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141187484, 0141193425

 

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