Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Paul Pennyfeather, an inoffensive divinity student at Oxford University who is wrongly dismissed for indecent exposure after he is made the victim of a prank. He teaches at a school in Wales and is hired as vacation tutor for one of his pupils. He becomes engaged to the boy’s mother, Margot Beste-Chetwynde; just before the wedding, however, he is arrested and later is convicted of operating the international white-slave trade she runs. After she has arranged for his successful escape from prison, Paul is officially declared dead. Disguised by a heavy mustache, he returns to his college at Oxford to continue his interrupted study for the Church.
Sir Alastair Digby-Vaine-Trumpington
Sir Alastair Digby-Vaine-Trumpington, whose prank results in Paul’s dismissal from Oxford. Later, as Paul’s former fiancée’s boyfriend, he assists in Paul’s escape from prison.
Dr. Augustus Fagan
Dr. Augustus Fagan, the head of the inadequate Llanabba Castle school where Paul teaches. Fagan forsakes education for medicine and becomes the owner of the nursing home where Paul’s death certificate is signed by a drunken doctor.
Peter Beste-Chetwynde, one of Paul’s pupils.
Margot Beste-Chetwynde, his mother and Paul’s fiancée. Paul is convicted of her crimes. He spends the...
(The entire section is 593 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Decline and Fall Characters. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Paul Pennyfeather is the only fully developed character in Decline and Fall, which is otherwise populated by a large cast of eccentrics whose activities range from the merely odd to the seriously criminal. In keeping with the image of life as a ferris wheel, they keep popping up in each phase of Pennyfeather's career: Yesterday's schoolteacher is today's brothel keeper and tomorrow's fellow prisoner, as people turn yet another facet of their characters to the fresh light afforded by their constantly changing circumstances. Much of the humor is based upon the notion that in occupational matters, personality is far more important than professional training: thus readers are rather convincingly shown how teaching school is much like operating a brothel, and that anyone cut out for these jobs should also make a model inmate of a penal institution.
Decline and Fall's characters may, to a reader unfamiliar with English society's tolerance of eccentricity, seem unreal figures of fun. But it should be stressed that it is exaggeration, rather than fantastic invention out of whole cloth, which has here been applied to traits that form part of the English national character. Foreign commentators have sometimes misread Waugh as a purely comic writer, but in his native land he is considered a reliable observer of social types whose real-life counterparts are everywhere to be seen. Amusing though they may be, it is the fundamental reality of Decline...
(The entire section is 251 words.)