Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Llanabba Castle School
Llanabba Castle School. Small privately owned school in North Wales attended by fifty or sixty boys, ages ten through eighteen. Despite Waugh’s protestations to the contrary, it is most likely a fictionalized version of the North Wales school where he taught after leaving Oxford University. The essence of the school is falseness: The building is a country house altered to resemble a medieval castle, while the school’s claims to high academic standards and upper-class pupils and staff are similarly false. Pennyfeather is not impressed by the school’s dinginess or the meanness of its meals.
In a scene involving Llanabba’s annual sports competition, most of Waugh’s targets for satire are attacked: the chaotic organization of the school; the way in which the school’s owner and headmaster, Dr. Augustus Fagan, fusses over the few titled parents; whether the nouveaux riches can ever be as good as the old-fashioned titled families; a general air of hypocrisy; and even the position of blacks in society. In sports, cheating by staff and pupils is rampant.
Waugh makes use of this section of the novel to satirize the Welsh people, showing them as mercenary subhumans. In particular he describes (in insulting terms) a local brass band hired to play during the sports competition. Several of the scenes set in Wales take place in a local village public house, which is patronized mostly by the working...
(The entire section is 590 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Decline and Fall makes brilliant use of two literary techniques that invert one's conventional responses to the ebb and flow of life's occurrences. The first describes the most outrageous and unlikely events in the deadpan tones of a newspaper reporter and leaves the reader to imagine just how bizarre things actually were. The second takes a stock situation, such as a plea for mercy or a meditation upon the death of a friend, and presents it in the form of a purple-prose parody of some monument of English literature: Shakespeare's Othello (c.1604) and Walter Pater's Marius the Epicurean (1885) in the examples referred to here, and a host of other targets throughout the remainder of the book. Both techniques require great sureness of touch if they are to be brought off successfully, and it is a measure of Waugh's outstanding technical competence that readers eagerly accept these daring forays against convention.
(The entire section is 150 words.)
The social preoccupations of Decline and Fall are accurately indicated by its title. The novel portrays an England whose established social institutions have lost both their integrity and their authority: The church has lost its faith, the aristocracy has descended to the level of the masses and the educational system teaches nothing worth learning. The social rot is so far advanced, in fact, that even standards of common courtesy have declined to the extent that rudeness has replaced politeness as the mark of the successful person.
The humorous aspects of this situation are, however, never far from Waugh's mind, and thus he has a great deal of fun arguing that the criminal classes are the only ones to have maintained their traditional values in this rapidly changing milieu. Elsewhere, the absurd behavior of those characters who are supposed to be pillars of society is generally seen as ignorant and confused rather than deliberately malicious: Many of them would behave better if they could, but this is made almost impossible by the deteriorating moral climate in which they live. The conflict between impulses towards the good and the negative conditioning of society is seen at its most evenly balanced in Paul Pennyfeather, the protagonist of Decline and Fall, whose individual struggles point the way to the central theme of the book.
(The entire section is 220 words.)
The bold, unconventional humor of Decline and Fall is certainly indebted to the work of such late-Victorian figures as Oscar Wilde and Max Beerbohm, who were instrumental in playfully and irreverently breaking down the overbearing moral earnestness of the Victorian tradition. The satiric outrageousness of its dialogue and portrayal of character reflects the influence of Ronald Firbank, whose novels combined solid literary craftsmanship with a willingness to explore the more extreme aspects of modern sensibilities. In a 1929 essay, "Ronald Firbank," Waugh paid explicit tribute to his ability to alternate "the wildest extravagance and the most austere economy," a phrase which will also do as a description of Decline and Fall's effective combination of satire and seriousness.
(The entire section is 116 words.)
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Beaty, Frederick L. The Ironic World of Evelyn Waugh: A Study of Eight Novels. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1992. Argues that Waugh is more an ironist than a satirist and examines his various uses of irony. Chapter 2 is a study of Decline and Fall.
Carens, James F. The Satiric Art of Evelyn Waugh. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1966. Published in the year of Waugh’s death, this study of all his major works concentrates on specific satiric effects and the way in which the author achieved them. Decline and Fall is discussed in chapters 1 through 7.
Cowley, Malcolm. “Decline and Fall.” In Critical Essays on Evelyn Waugh, edited by James F. Carens. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987. This essay, first published only three years after the appearance of Decline and Fall, compares that novel with Vile Bodies and concludes that the first is greatly superior. An interesting early evaluation of Waugh.
Crabbe, Katharyn W. Evelyn Waugh. New York: Continuum, 1988. Following a brief biography in chapter 1, the author devotes the six remaining chapters to the novels; Decline and Fall is analyzed in chapter 2.
Stopp, Frederick J. Evelyn Waugh: Portrait of an Artist. Boston: Little, Brown, 1958. A standard work,...
(The entire section is 222 words.)