Decline and Fall Book reviews


Author(s): Evelyn WaughDownload  


Expelled from Oxford for indecent behaviour, Paul Pennyfeather is oddly unsurprised to find himself qualifying for the position of schoolmaster at Llanabba Castle. His colleagues are an assortment of misfits, 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 and the young run riot, no one is safe, least of all Paul. Taking its title from Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Evelyn Waugh’s first, funniest novel immediately caught the ear of the public with his account of an ingénu abroad in the decadent confusion of 1920s high society.

Some Reviews: 832 in


Fabian rated it     

Oh, silly, silly Brits! So eager to defend “honour”, “custom”, “decency”. As if these concepts actually even existed! They did not exist then, just as they sure as hell don’t exist now. (Instead, we mingle with the complex & the pseudo-complex.)

Like Jude (of “The Obscure” fame), our main man struggles to live within a system (in the novel, prep schools and jails are synonymous) which rules his existence. But this awful society is prettied up so, and the irony (and comedy) derives from the fact that all characters are o-so ignorant. Of the roles they play, of their important or negligible lives, of the upstairs/downstairs never ending bullshit… The masterful touches of a true novelist like Waugh (one of the quintessential writers of British lit.) though, lie in the factual certainty that the real world of today and tomorrow is pretty much the same as 1920’s-30’s England, with all its citizens perpetually cast in chicken-minus-head roles roaming about on a fickle pyramid. But who wouldn’t be stupid enough to fall for dreams of love, glory or riches?


Trevor rated it      

I’ve just finished this book and look, read it. It is a delight from start to finish. In an odd way it reminds me of O Lucky Man – the Lindsay Anderson film. It also reminded me of Monty Python at their best, no, at their very best. Ok, so perhaps some of the social stereotypes don’t really exist anymore, but that would be like not reading Wodehouse because no one has a man servant anymore. The architect is comic genius in its purest form – I may have even laughed out loud (though never lol) when he decided that he would have to put a staircase into the building but complains something along the lines of, what is the matter with people that they have to move around so much? Why can’t they just sit still and work? And his saying that we should divide people into dynamic and static rather than male and female is just inspired.

By reading this book you will learn, among much else, that a course of action is worse than criminal behaviour (I think this may be becoming my favourite quote of all time), why people from public schools have an easier time in prison than those from slums, why it is best not to announce too loudly that you no longer have your appendix and how doubting Ministers of religion should not loose their heads over prison reform.

All delivered in straight-faced English deadpan. It doesn’t get any better than this.

A romp, a riot – read it.

Connie G

Connie G rated it     

“Decline and Fall” is an entertaining satire of British society in the 1920s. A quiet Oxford Divinity student, Paul Pennyfeather, is set upon by some alcohol-fueled members of the Bollinger Club and loses his trousers. Pennyfeather is expelled for indecent conduct. As he is leaving the university the porter says to him, “I expect you’ll be becoming a schoolmaster, sir. That’s what most of the gentlemen does, sir, that gets sent down for indecent behaviour.”

Evelyn Waugh satirizes the public schools and the good old boy network of helping each other out of “the soup”. Humorous situations poke fun at the lifestyles of the rich and titled, inept government officials, modern architecture, and more. I enjoyed Waugh’s deadpan black humor as we see Pennyfeather involved in a year of improbable situations to come full circle in his life.


Brian rated it     

“Decline and Fall” has served as my introduction to Evelyn Waugh, and I am satisfied. This biting satire has deadpan dark humor, a protagonist whose detached observations serve the plot well, and an ending that is depressingly stark in its view of our human nature.
This novel reminds me greatly of Voltaire’s “Candide” in its themes, plotting, and characterization. The novel zips along and sweeps the reader into a plethora of events, each more outrageous than the last, until it dumps you at the end with a sad realization about this “ship of fools” we call life on earth. Don’t get me wrong, the novel won’t depress you, but it will leave you with a lot to mull over once you close it. However, Waugh makes the journey bearable through some of the most outrageously funny lines I have encountered in literature. I laughed out loud often while reading this text.
This is a book that can easily be misread. One could read it on the surface level and get a funny story with a dope of a lead character. You would enjoy it, put it down, and move on. And that is fine. However, this novel is such a text and much more. Waugh has an innate ability to combine biting and relevant observations about society into the most ridiculous conversations between his characters. Read this text for the humor, but stay alert to the nuggets just beneath the surface and you will get a fuller experience.
Some readers may have trouble with the British colloquialisms that Waugh uses, but most can be figured out from context.
I will be exploring more of this writer. I can pay him no higher compliment that that.


Cphe rated it     

The hapless Paul Pennyfeather whose life comes full circle in a relatively short period of time. Paul has the ability to just go with the flow. Not PC by any means but humorous in places. Enjoyed the period and setting no end. Class distinctions, public schooling versus the “top drawer”.


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