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Decline and Fall Paperback – September, 1999

4.4 out of 5 stars 86 customer reviews

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"* 'Waugh's comic universe has an aspect of vigorous bleak chaos which both outrages and delights' - Malcolm Bradbury" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; Later Printing edition (September 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316926078
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316926072
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.8 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #693,711 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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By Glenn Becker on March 4, 2006
Format: Paperback
It's not uncommon that the books we're assigned in high school or even college sail by the larger portions of our young brains. Not only are, ahem, "other things" clamoring for our attention when we are that age but for a great number of us, it isn't the ideal time to be turned on to subtlety. We're too raw. For example, even though I enjoyed the poetry of Wordsworth in undergraduate school, I was told by my professors that I would only truly come to appreciate him once I'd gotten a little older.

Which brings me to Evelyn Waugh, and the novel Decline and Fall. I can certainly remember ... well, not /hating/ the book when I read it for a class in the Comic Novel, but now that I return to it a few decades later, well, sheesh, the thing has me in stitches!

Waugh is definitely a "deadpan" humorist. It may seem strange to claim that "deadpan" actually covers a wide range of styles, but it does. There's the literal (!) deadpan of Buster Keaton. There's the deadpan camera of Jim Jarmusch. There's the kinda-stoned but hysterical deadpan of MST3K's Joel Hodgson. And then there's the deadpan of Evelyn Waugh:

"My boy has been injured in the foot," said Lady Circumference coldly.

"Dear me! Not badly, I hope? Did he twist his ankle in the jumping?"

"No," said Lady Circumference, "he was shot at by one of the assistant masters. But it is kind of you to inquire."

I can still recall my professor's joy when she read this passage to us. I doubt most of us "got it" past the point of a distracted snicker or two. Wow, though, do I get it now. It's subtle, but it's also like a cannon disguised as a lemonade stand.
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Format: Paperback
Evelyn Waugh's first novel "Decline and Fall" pops like a cork from a bottle of champagne. While many authors take years and volumes to find just the right tone, the 25-year-old Waugh, who had just published a biography of Dante Rossetti, seems to have had his literary concept perfectly in mind from the start and hit the ground running with this raucously funny yet astonishingly mature debut.

The hero (although Waugh would disagree with the term) is Paul Pennyfeather, a divinity student at Scone College, Oxford, who as the book begins is expelled for "indecent behavior" of which he is actually innocent, and is promptly disowned by his guardian over the shame educed by this incident. Now, in need of money, he searches for a job, and the only one he can get is a teaching position at a small boys' school located in a Welsh castle called Llanabba.

Llanabba, while not quite rivaling Dotheboys Hall of "Nicholas Nickleby," is a woefully undignified educational facility, an institution of incompetence. The headmaster is a crafty curmudgeon named Dr. Fagan, the butler Philbrick is a criminal who prospers by constantly falsifying his identity, and the boys are an undisciplined and ungifted lot. The other instructors seem to have been deposited there for having failed elsewhere: Mr. Prendergast, a clergyman who has left the Church because of "Doubts," and Captain Grimes, a maimed ex-soldier ("Think I lost it in the war," he tells Pennyfeather about his missing leg) who is continually "in the soup" but always manages to extricate himself.

Romance, or rather that badinage between the sexes that passes for romance in Waugh's world, turns out to be Pennyfeather's bane, initiating his misadventures in the second half of the novel. His engagement to marry the voluptuous Mrs.
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Format: Paperback
Waugh's gift, so apparent in this novelette, is to fill his books with incident, but to do it in such a way that it never seems gratuitous. Who else could have a drunk misfire the starting pistol at a boy's school's games, have the bullet hit a poor kid's foot, cause the kind of damage that necessitates the removal of the foot, and still have us smiling at the audaciousness of it all? So don't worry, this slim little volume is a full meal, and a very satisfying one. Waugh is also economical - characters regularly return for yet another go at having an effect upon the fate of the main character (reminiscent of "Tom Jones"). T.S. Eliot lovers will also have a pleasant surprise waiting for them: Toward the end of the book, Waugh has a character explaining the meaning of life that sounds suspiciously like a passage from Eliot's "Four Quartets." But you don't have to know that, or anything else really, to get great pleasure from reading "Decline and Fall." Make it your next book.
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Format: Paperback
In this story of Paul Pennyfather's disaster of a life Waugh takes his first satirical shots at just about every establishment and class in England at the time. Pennyfather suffers almost every possible misfortune though his life, from being sent down from university for indecent behaviour to imprisonment for white slave trading. Despite being innocent of all crime Paul allows misfortune and punishment to visit him almost unprotesting. It is as though Waugh punishes him for his insignificance and his lack of substance and that is his true crime. I am a huge fan of Waugh and find the satire and cutting wit outrageously funny, but beyond the humor there are more relevant messages for the society of his time and it's establishment figures. I cannot recommend any of Waugh's novels highly enough and this, his first, is no exception.
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