Decline and Fall mingles farce with grim tragedy. Episodic in form, with many of its scenes no more than a page or so in length, it is a penetrating yet hilarious study of disordered English society in the period between the wars. Evelyn Waugh insisted that his books were not intended as satires, since the satirical spirit presupposes a stable and homogeneous society against which to project its critical exposure of folly and vice. For all that, the writer demonstrates in this novel a tremendous talent for comic satire. Paul Pennyfeather’s misadventures reflect one phase of the contemporary mood of disillusionment. The character of Grimes, on the other hand, who is a bounder and a cad, is timeless—a figure who would have been as much at home in the days of the Caesars as he was in the reign of King George V. Waugh’s distortions and exaggerations have also the quality of fantasy, for in his pages the impossible and the believable exist simultaneously on the same plane.
Decline and Fall is the first and possibly the best work of Waugh, a luminary of the English satirists. The novel is notable for its economy of time and space. The action extends over one year, and the protagonist’s circumstances at the beginning and end are virtually identical, which neatly rounds off the story. Waugh’s prose is sparse, his epigrams unlabored, as in, for example, Paul Pennyfeather’s quip that the English public school is a perfect conditioner...
(The entire section is 1159 words.)
Show us the love and view this for free! Use the facebook like button, or any other share button on this page, and get this content free!free!
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Decline and Fall Critical Essays. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!