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Decline and Fall

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  11,835 ratings  ·  843 reviews
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 B ...more
Paperback, 300 pages
Published May 2005 by Kessinger Publishing (first published 1928)
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Mark Rubenstein That all sort of depends on your own personal sense of humour, doesn’t it?

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Average rating 3.85  · 
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 ·  11,835 ratings  ·  843 reviews

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Jun 18, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 t
Paul Bryant
Jun 08, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels


Bowling along in this droll farce about the upper classes – if you imagine a line with PG Wodehouse (utter lollery) at one end and Edward St Aubyn (still funny, but black, bitter and bleak) at the other – then Decline and Fall is towards the Wooster end of the spectrum - and then on page 77, there’s a sports day organised at the minor public school where our wan young defenestrated undergrad Paul Pennyfeather is now teaching. Glid
Nov 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This wonderfully whimsical (unusual for waspish Waugh) coming of age lark cheered me immensely in Sophomore Year after my own Decline & Fall into disrespect.

The previous year, a free year for me to recuperate after extensive medical attention, I hit rock bottom.

I Declined & Fell through the cracks of polished respectability, a persona non grata. To my on-again-off-again girlfriend Maria, I was just a laughable sorta bum.

So I had to start life ALL OVER AGAIN on my quest to recover, like Rodney Da
Jun 22, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who enjoys dissecting society with their razor sharp wit
Recommended to Shovelmonkey1 by: 1001 books list
A skewed and satirical version of Lemony Snickets Series of Unfortunate Events for grown-ups including a similar line-up of comedy death scenes and improbably named characters.

Oh Mr Waugh, you're a cad, a bounder and pithier than a bushel of oranges. Why, I do believe that without you the 30s would have been quite insufferably dull. Lets face it, with one war over and another one gestating quietly in the wings, what better way to pass the time than by disembowelin
This was Waugh's first novel and was received with great acclaim, even by my old favourite Arnold Bennett. However I find it like eating whipped cream. It goes down easy, but doesn't fill me up.

Clearly I lack the required level of sensibility to appreciate Waugh. Which is to say an addiction to the riotous upper classes. If you think there is nothing better than a snazzily dissolute aristocrat then this is the comedy for you.

It romps from Bullingdon Club style antics at Oxford via cut price pri
This is my first Evelyn Waugh and I will be reading more, although I suspect the author finds salvation through religion more than I.

This was the author's first published novel. It was published in 1928 and is a satire of British society of the 1920s. The humor is accusatory, as most satirical humor is. Social norms, cultural differences, education, religion, bureaucracy, prisons, marriage, sex, love, honor - all of these themes are mercilessly poked at, to such an extent that the book could be
Dec 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
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) whe ...more
Apr 02, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Decline and Fall is an amusing story, told with great wit, and filled with astute social commentary. Unfortunately the commentary is quite particular to its place and time period. I could not really sustain my interest and enjoyment beyond about a third of the way through. It all got a bit too much.
Connie G
Aug 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"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 schoo
Jan 23, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"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 en
Barry Pierce
Ugh how great is this? Waugh's biting satire of his time and class is just *heart eyes emoji*. This is a lot funnier than I expected it so be, although it is very much British humour (which I love) so it may be lost on a lot of people. It's sort of like a comical Clockwork Orange mixed with Anderson's If.... Basically it's a Malcolm McDowell film (but nothing like Caligula). It's really very good. It's my first Waugh and I need more! He may be a new favourite. ...more
May 30, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: humour, classics
An improbable, but comic, tale of Paul Pennyfeather, wrongly sent down from Oxford, and his subsequent adventures as a teacher in a very dubious private school, love with an older heiress, prison and Reggie-Perrin style "death".

This was Waugh's first novel, but in places it's like a caricature of his (not yet written) Brideshead Revisited, which I reviewed more thoroughly than this, HERE.
Mar 23, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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". ...more
Lorenzo Berardi
'Decline and Fall' is the sort of merciless social satire about Oxford and its elitist characters I expected to find when I bought 'Zuleika Dobson' by Max Beerbohm.

Whereas the latter left me utterly disappointed - to the point I left that book half-read - this novel turned out to be far more brilliant than I thought.

It's funny to notice how Mr. Beerbohm was chiefly a caricaturist who toyed with literature while young Evelyn Waugh was exactly the opposite.
And I believe both men made the right ch
Mar 25, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Decline and Fall was Evelyn Waugh's first novel, and the first novel of his (that's right, Kelly, Evelyn's a man) that I read. It wasn't at all what I expected.

I expected a weighty, gloomy, hopeless, depressing love letter to the British upper crust. I expected the kind of book Merchant-Ivory would be happy to film amidst overcast skies and lush lawns. I expected Masterpiece Theatre during a PBS funding push.

I didn't expect scathing satire, a sort of P.G. Wodehouse with fangs, nor did I expect

Description: 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
Mar 25, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: humor, ficção
It's funny, but the racism ruins it. ...more
Jul 08, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Poor Paul Pennyfeather. He gets kicked out of Oxford for indecent exposure, although it isn't entirely his fault. Leaving Oxford causes him to default on his sizable inheritance, which leads him to a teaching position in Wales, Not to worry that he has no teaching experience, he is hired anyway. He falls for the mother of one of his students and takes the enviable position of being the boy's private tutor. Unbeknownst to Paul, his new paramour's wealth comes from an investment in many high class ...more
Evelyn Waugh’s social satire that makes buffoons of the English upper-class system, particularly hard on the education sector. I wish we could say none of this rings true, but alas beneath the farcical facade is an element of truth--as indeed there must be if satire is to work at all.

About midway of this novel, there is a scene set at a boy’s school sports day. I could picture this event perfectly...the children of the wealthy and prestigious, not an athlete among them, taking all the honors and
Anthony Lipmann
May 15, 2010 rated it did not like it
I have been re-visiting books which I read in my youth. This is an interesting activity. I began reading Tess of the D'Urbervilles in this vein, only to find that I had never read it in the first place. More about that later. Reading 'Decline and Fall' which I probably read while I was at Oxford, and generally a fan of Waugh's use of language I was preparing myself for a treat. I was ready to luxuriate back into a bubble-bath of wit. I recalled the opening scenes of the Bollinger Club (so opport ...more
Aug 06, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: if you like the great gatsby
Recommended to Hannah by: school
Plot: I was so pleasantly surprised at my enjoyment of this book. I had not expected to find it as good or as easy to read as it ended up being. The plot follows the story of Paul Pennyweather who within the first 2 pages is forced to leave oxford university through no fault of his own. This leads him to starting a career in a boys school and ends up meeting a very important lady through this job. The plot was funny to say the lease. I love a school novel and this was an interesting one. It also ...more
Apr 26, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My feelings about this book changed all the way through. In some ways it is reminiscent of Dickens, as Waugh introduces a cast of brilliantly-drawn comic characters with favourite phrases which sum them up - like Captain Grimes, a disreputable ex-soldier who is always "in the soup", and Philbrick, a butler with a highly-coloured past. I enjoyed the opening section, where the hapless hero, Paul Pennyfeather, is sent down from Oxford, but I felt the novel gets a bit bogged down after he starts to ...more
Claire Fuller
Not for me. I didn't realise this was going to be quite so farcial when I started it. The writing was good, but nothing seemed to hit the right note, nothing was funny (although I'm not very good with funny books anyway). Actually, even though Waugh was clearly trying to poke fun at the attitudes of the English aristocracy in the 1920s, I found the racism offensive. ...more
Jan 14, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1920s, london, humor, campus
An elegant retelling of Voltaire's Candide, Waugh's first novel, Decline and Fall (1928) recounts the misfortunes that plague Paul Pennyfeather, from his dismissal from Oxford for "indecent behavior," to a miserable term as master at a public school, to his disastrous betrothal to a wealthy socialite, and finally to his incarceration, death, and resurrection. The road to his ruin is populated with satiric send ups of typical literary characters, many of whom are as indestructible as Paul himself ...more
Jun 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A delightfully savage satire on the English public school system. When a young man is de-pantsed as part of an upperclass prank, he is "sent down" and finds a job at a Welsh public school. He winds up being a Candide-type of character as he winds up in prison and finally breaks out into the clear. ...more
Laurel Hicks
Filled with lighthearted solemnity, Waugh's first novel signals a rise. ...more
Feb 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A puredee delight. One of the funniest novels I've ever read. ...more
According to the introduction to the Penguin edition, referring to his own work Waugh said
‘I regard writing not as investigation of character but as an exercise in the use of language, and with this I am obsessed. I have no technical psychological interest. It is drama, speech and events that interest me.’

Yet he is very precise in his depiction of English class conscious society. Witty, funny, and piercingly critical, it portrays in Paul Pennyfeather the stereotypical, quintessential English ge
James Henderson
Jan 20, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: u-of-chicago
Evelyn Waugh's first novel, Decline and Fall, is a delightful satiric comedy. It is based in part on Waugh's undergraduate years at Hertford College, Oxford, and his experience as a teacher in Wales. He is sent down from Oxford and as a result takes a position at the Llanabba school in Wales. The school itself is dingy, depressing, and seems always on the verge of coming apart at the seams. The masters, Captain Grimes, Mr. Prendergast, and Paul, are all unqualified for their positions, the stude ...more
Mar 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Wodehouse fans
Shelves: 5-stars
This is Waugh's first book, and one of his finest. This is an absurd story of a young man, expelled (or "sent down") from Oxford for indecent behaviour, who obtains a job as a teacher at a less than salubrious third-rate public school in Wales and is then entrapped in a series of bizarre events that take him on a rollercoaster ride through upper-class circles. The central character, Paul Pennyfeather, is a naive soul, full of gusto and enthusiasm, but lacking in common sense. The use of the term ...more
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Evelyn Waugh's father Arthur was a noted editor and publisher. His only sibling Alec also became a writer of note. In fact, his book “The Loom of Youth” (1917) a novel about his old boarding school Sherborne caused Evelyn to be expelled from there and placed at Lancing College. He said of his time there, “…the whole of English education when I was brought up was to produce prose writers; it was al ...more

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“Old boy," said Grimes, "you're in love."
"Smitten?" said Grimes.
"No, no."
"The tender passion?"
"Cupid's jolly little darts?"
"Spring fancies, love's young dream?"
"Not even a quickening of the pulse?"
"A sweet despair?"
"Certainly not."
"A trembling hope?"
"A frisson? a Je ne sais quoi?"
"Nothing of the sort."
"Liar!" said Grimes.”
“Life is like the big wheel at Luna Park. You pay five francs and go into a room with tiers of seats all around, and in the centre the floor is made of a great disc of polished wood that revolves quickly. At first you sit down and watch the others. They are all trying to sit in the wheel, and they keep getting flung off, and that makes them laugh too. It's great fun.

You see, the nearer you can get to the hub of the wheel the slower it is moving and the easier it is to stay on. There's generally someone in the centre who stands up and sometimes does a sort of dance. Often he's paid by the management, though, or, at any rate, he's allowed in free. Of course at the very centre there's a point completely at rest, if one could only find it; I'm not very near that point myself. Of course the professional men get in the way. Lots of people just enjoy scrambling on and being whisked off and scrambling on again. How they all shriek and giggle! Then there are others, like Margot, who sit as far out as they can and hold on for dear life and enjoy that. But the whole point about the wheel is that you needn't get on it at all, if you don't want to. People get hold of ideas about life, and that makes them think they've got to join in the game, even if they don't enjoy it. It doesn't suit everyone.

People don't see that when they say "life" they mean two different things. They can mean simply existence, with its physiological implications of growth and organic change. They can't escape that - even by death, but because that's inevitable they think the other idea of life is too - the scrambling and excitement and bumps and the effort to get to the middle, and when we do get to the middle, it's just as if we never started. It's so odd.

Now you're a person who was clearly meant to stay in the seats and sit still and if you get bored watch the others. Somehow you got on to the wheel, and you got thrown off again at once with a hard bump. It's all right for Margot, who can cling on, and for me, at the centre, but you're static. Instead of this absurd division into sexes they ought to class people as static and dynamic. There's a real distinction there, though I can't tell you how it comes. I think we're probably two quite different species spiritually.”
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