Declline and Fall Evelyn Waugh


Evelyn Waugh's first novel--what can one say?

It is both humorous and in some ways biting. Peter Pennyfeather is a prototypical anti-hero who not only is not in control of his life, but who doesn't even show the slightest inclination toward wanting control of it. Tossed out of Oxford because of a prank played one him during one of the house rivalry nights, he assumes the position of every fallen School Man and wastrel--Public School teacher. Eventually he meets and desires to marry an aristocratic woman who runs a rather dubious operation in South America as the source of her income. In a turn of events, he takes the fall for her and winds up in prison. The first four weeks he spends in a highly regimented solitray confinement during which he is told when to eat, drink, bathe, sleep, work, and read. Needless to say, he finds this style of life wonderfully comforting and requests that solitary continue indefinitely.

This, in broad strokes, is the main line of the novel, which, like all of Waughs work, is rally about the most serious things in life. Waugh seems to have little sympathy for, but a genuine liking of, his main character. The others in the book, he cares for even less. With the satiric bite we was to become famous for he skewers each one of them.

The book was amusing through and through, while throwing some very sharp darts at all and sundry. I'm told by the essay referenced below that this book was written before Waugh was a member of the Catholic Church, and the attitudes toward matters devotional and the fate of the one clergyman of the novel both tend to support this notion.

If you want something on the lighter side that still has sufficient depth to be ruminated over for some days with great profit to the reader, this is a recommended work. Some may not care for the sharpness of the satire, I was, at first put off by it. (The first Waugh I ever read was The Loved One.) But gradually one gets into the spirit of it and understands Waugh's point, however exaggerately it may be made.

For an essay about Waugh and his works by the questionable, but occasionally entertaining Christopher Hitchens, see here.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on June 2, 2004 7:23 AM.

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