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Decline and Fall (1928)

by Evelyn Waugh

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,643593,491 (3.87)255
Evelyn Waugh's "irresistible" first novel (New York Times) is a brilliant and hilarious satire of English school life in the 1920s. Sent down from Oxford after a wild, drunken party, Paul Pennyfeather is oddly surprised to find himself qualifying for the position of schoolmaster at a boys' private school in Wales. His colleagues are an assortment of misfits, rascals and fools, including Prendy (plagued by doubts) and Captain Grimes, who is always in the soup (or just plain drunk). Then Sports Day arrives, and with it the delectable Margot Beste-Chetwynde, floating on a scented breeze. As the farce unfolds in Evelyn Waugh's dazzling debut as a novelist, the young run riot and no one is safe, least of all Paul.… (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
    Scoop by Evelyn Waugh (John_Vaughan)
  3. 00
    Put Out More Flags by Evelyn Waugh (John_Vaughan)
  4. 00
    A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh (John_Vaughan)
  5. 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.
  6. 00
    The Longest Journey by E. M. Forster (Cecrow)
  7. 01
    Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley (John_Vaughan)
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» See also 255 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 59 (next | show all)
I know he was a pig, but this is brilliant ( )
  mrsnickleby | Jan 18, 2024 |
Reason read: TBR takedown, Reading 1001
This is the first published, therefore debut novel for Evelyn Waugh and is based on the author’s own experience with academia. The main character Paul Pennyfeather is expelled after running through campus without his trousers. He loses his guardian’s support and is forced to find employment. Employment leads to North Wales which then leads to falling in love and a proposal to marry. The marriage is halted by the arrest, conviction, and incarceration of Paul. In the end, all things end where they started. The author wanted that the reader should know “IT IS MEANT TO BE FUNNY”. Themes include cultural confusion, moral disorientation, and social bedlam. ( )
  Kristelh | Mar 11, 2023 |
Quite fun till you get to the anti-Welsh and anti-Black racism. ( )
  nhhoward | Jan 19, 2023 |
You have to work to remember it's a comedy. I pity the main character that get's pushed around by circumstance and doesn't seem to have any will to stop events from happening to him due to his place in society. ( )
  LoriWise | Nov 1, 2022 |
Evelyn Waugh’s social satire that makes buffoons of the English upper-class system, particularly hard on the education sector. I wish we could say none of this rings true, but alas beneath the farcical facade is an element of truth--as indeed there must be if satire is to work at all.

About midway of this novel, there is a scene set at a boy’s school sports day. I could picture this event perfectly...the children of the wealthy and prestigious, not an athlete among them, taking all the honors and awards in races that make no sense whatsoever.

This is Waugh’s first novel and it achieves what he set out to do, I’m sure. Being a huge fan of his Brideshead Revisited, a more straightforward look at the English privileged, I found this not able to compete. On the other hand, this is where the groundwork was laid for the great writing to come, and as satire goes, this one works.
( )
  mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 59 (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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Epigraph
Dedication
To Harold Acton
In Homage and Affection
First words
Prelude:
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.
Quotations
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.
It is not accurate to call [the Bollinger Club dinner] an annual event, because quite often the Club is suspended for some years after each meeting. There is tradition behind the Bollinger; it numbers reigning kings among its past members. At the last dinner, three years ago, a fox had been brought in in a cage and stoned to death with champagne bottles. What an evening that had been! This was the first meeting since then, and from all over Europe old members had rallied for the occasion. For two days they had been pouring into Oxford: epileptic royalty from their villas of exile; uncouth peers from crumbling country seats; smooth young men of uncertain tastes from embassies and legations; illiterate lairds from wet granite hovels in the Highlands; ambitious young barristers and Conservative candidates torn from the London season and the indelicate advances of debutantes; all that was most sonorous of name and title was there for the beano.
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Evelyn Waugh's "irresistible" first novel (New York Times) is a brilliant and hilarious satire of English school life in the 1920s. Sent down from Oxford after a wild, drunken party, Paul Pennyfeather is oddly surprised to find himself qualifying for the position of schoolmaster at a boys' private school in Wales. His colleagues are an assortment of misfits, rascals and fools, including Prendy (plagued by doubts) and Captain Grimes, who is always in the soup (or just plain drunk). Then Sports Day arrives, and with it the delectable Margot Beste-Chetwynde, floating on a scented breeze. As the farce unfolds in Evelyn Waugh's dazzling debut as a novelist, the young run riot and no one is safe, least of all Paul.

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