A bit of Evelyn Whoa today. Sorry, Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966), an English writer famous for novels and travel books. This effort from 1928 was his first published work.
It’s a social satire piece, with a great deal of hostility aimed at many topics Waugh disliked in 1920s England. And, yes, this is a work of humour! So, let’s have a gander.
Decline and Fall
Meet Paul Pennyfeather (most English name ever?), a young theology student. He’s our protagonist for the piece. Jolly good show!
The antagonists? Those drunken louts at the Bollinger Club! They get him expelled from Oxford after a touch of drunken blarney. Fiddlesticks!
Pennyfeather is somewhat to blame, though, due to running across the grounds of Scone College without his trousers. The rotter!
That means he also defaults on his inheritance. Blast! So he has to take up a job teaching in a public school with the *gasp*… normal people. Beastly!
The school is in Llanabba of Wales, where Pennyfeather settles down to standard life. But soon has his eye on the Honourable Mrs. Margot Beste-Chetwynde. I say!
She’s wealthy and, to wangle his way into her life, he offers private tutoring to her boy. Rather!
However, it turns out she’s rich due to less than upstanding means—she runs brothels in South America. Crikey!
Ultimately, the work plays out in farcical fashion to ensure Pennyfeather takes the fall for the human female of his dreams. Bagging himself seven years in the slammer for his troubles. Drat!
Ultimately, the novel develops towards an ending in increasingly farcical fashion. Big spoilers ahead, look away if you don’t want to know, old bean!
Right, Pennyfeather fakes his own death and is able to escape jail. He then convinces Scone College he’s a relative of Paul Pennyfeather, so is able to take up his former course. Thusly, the novel ends as it began. Splendid!
Okay, so Decline and Fall reminds us of Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm in many respects. Golly! Both are quintessentially English, reveling in the certain poshness of it all.
Evelyn Waugh grew up in pretty privileged circumstances and was famous for his bullying personality. He went to Lancing College (an independent boarding school) and then off to Oxford University.
His experiences there will certainly have fuelled his desire to write Decline and Fall, which is very big on farce—the writer was also eager to lampoon the pomp and ceremony of the day.
The work is thought of as a British classic, capturing the eccentricities of the upper classes.
Perhaps we tried to read this at the wrong time, but with the Tories in control here we couldn’t quite revel in our time spent in this literary world.
However, Waugh did write with much wit and is able to capture a certain set of famous English eccentricities rather splendidly. The posh accents breathe out of the bloody book. Marvellous!
So, one to read if you think you fancy a bit of the old social mobility. It’ll teach you a thing or two. Indeed.
Whoa… It’s Waugh
Yes! There was a TV show adaptation in 2017 starring Jack Whitehall. Actually the first TV adaptation of the work. Super!
And it does look like a bit of good fun. Kind of like Howard’s End. So distinctly English!
There was a 1969 adaptation feature film, too, called Decline and Fall… of a Birdwatcher. For which we couldn’t find any footage at all.
Anyway, fear yee not! That 2017 series isn’t going anywhere if you’d rather watch the visual stuff. As opposed to doing a spot of reading.