Decline and fall, Evelyn Waugh

Because of the actions of other people, Paul Pennyfeather is thrown out of Oxford for indecent behavior. His guardian seizes the opportunity to deny Paul his inheritance and Paul has no other option than to find a job.

He becomes a schoolteacher at a public school in Wales, although he has not qualifications. Then again, not one of the teachers there has any qualifications of any kind and is completely unfit for the jobs they have. The master lies about his academic titles, the butler Phillbrick has a new story about his real identity every day, Pendergast is a clergyman who had doubts and captain Grimes finds himself in the soup all the time.

Paul has to organize the Sports-day, because the Master wants to impress the parents. Paul meets Margot Beste-Chetwynde here, the mother of one of his students. She liked Paul and asks him to tutor her son during the holidays. The end result is that Paul and Margot get engaged and luck seems to change for Paul. But soon he finds the wheel of fortune is spinning again and Paul finds himself, and some old friends, in prison.

In the hands of a lesser writer this amount of misery would be a too depressing or a too farcical.

Decline and fall is Evelyn Waugh’s first book and already the hand of the master shows in the perfect balance and tone. Yes, it is comical and witty and at times so funny I was laughing outloud on the bus. Waugh writes about a bunch of idiotic misfits and outrageous events, but at the same time this is more than just a witty story.
Everybody is tackled, the authorities who do not do their job, the airheads in the upper classes, the cultural snobs and everyone who has a job he is completely incompetent at (schoolteachers, judges, prisons governors, doctors etc)

This light bitterness in the undercurrent never surfaces too much, but at the same time it gives Decline and fall a dept that makes sure this story is not just fluff that leaves no impression, but it stays with you because it gives you an interesting afterthought.

As far as I am concerned, Decline and fall proves again that Evelyn Waugh is a wonderful writer.

Published in 1928