Monday, January 26, 2015

Back to the Classics Challenge: Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh

It's been a bit quiet here on the blog, mainly because of a busy work schedule and also because of a winter reading slump. But I'm trying to get out of my reading slump, and Evelyn Waugh has given me a lot of laughs, earlier this month with Vile Bodies and now with his first novel, Decline and Fall (1928). This satire has a little something for everyone. Waugh lampoons the British class system, education, religion, prison, and marriage, just to name a few.

Paul Pennyfeather is the hapless and penniless soul who takes part in a prank at his school, Scone College, and happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He is "sent down," another way of saying "expelled." He then spends the rest of the book continually being a victim of circumstance. 

Although Paul has no experience teaching, he gets hired as a teacher at a boys school called Llanabba in Wales. He's thrown in with a group of misfit and eccentric teachers and wayward pupils. Paul is given the task of organizing an athletic day (even though he's not athletic himself), and he meets the glamorous and wealthy socialite, Margo Beste-Chetwynde. She is the mother of one of his students. Soon, Paul and Margo fall in love and become engaged. 

Paul can't believe his luck. Unfortunately, Margo's money comes from her shady business dealings, and Paul only discovers this when she asks him to go to France to take care of something related to her "business." Paul then finds himself arrested (on the morning of his wedding!). The stoic Paul takes the fall for Margo and is sent to prison for running a prostitution ring.

Prison agrees with Paul. He finds solitary confinement a pleasurable experience and a relief since he has no responsibilities to anyone. Paul also meets up with one of his old friends from his teaching days who is a fellow inmate. 

After a time, Paul begins to get special favors and learns these favors are courtesy of Margo who pays him a visit. She has married a man who has money, and she's now known as Lady Metroland. Her new husband hatches a plot to help Paul escape through a plan to fake Paul's death. Paul then returns to Scone College where he takes up his studies again using his own name; he is able to convince everyone that he is a long lost cousin of Paul Pennyfeather. 

All this happens around Waugh's funny characters, absurd situations, and Waugh's humor which reminds me a bit of P.G. Wodehouse. I love the writing and highly recommend Decline and Fall. Also, a couple of the characters from Decline and Fall were familiar to me because they made an appearance in Vile Bodies

There are so many wonderful quotes in Decline and Fall. Here are a few:

"Oh, I shouldn't try to teach them anything, not just yet, anyway. Just keep them quiet."

"Why did no one warn me?" cried Grimes in agony. "I should have been told. They should have told me in so many words. They should have warned me about Flossie, not about the fires of hell. I've risked them, and I don't mind risking them again, but they should have told me about marriage. They should have told me that at the end of that gay journey and flower-strewn path were the hideous lights of home and the voices of children."

"I'm one of the blind alleys off the main road of procreation."

"Chokey thinks religion is just divine."

I read this novel for the  Humorous or Satirical Classic category of the Back to the Classics Challengehosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate 

Have you read Decline and Fall or any of Evelyn Waugh's novels?


  1. I LOVED this book! It's so unlike Brideshead Revisited, but I found it utterly delightful. I really should read it again. I think it's my favorite of all the Waugh books I've read. So glad you liked it, and thanks for linking it to the Back to the Classics Challenge.

  2. Yea, so this sounds SO UNLIKE the WAUGH I know! Because I've only read Brideshead?! :D

  3. I haven't read any of his books, but based on your review I must start.