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Decline and Fall

Evelyn Waugh


Paul Pennyfeather is a second-year theology student who, as a result of mistaken identity, has his “education discontinued for personal reasons.” He ends up as a schoolmaster at a fourth-rate school, hired despite not meeting any of the qualifications in their advertisement. He there encounters a cornucopia of eccentric characters, including another master who has a wooden leg, a former clergyman with capital-D Doubts, and a servant who tells everyone he’s rich, but with a different tale for each about why he’s posing as a servant. Paul’s time at school leads to romance with a student’s mother, and that in turn leads to enormous complications in Paul’s life.

Inspired in part by his own experiences in school and as a schoolmaster, Evelyn Waugh’s first published novel, Decline and Fall, is a dark and occasionally farcical satire of British college life. It’s something of a perverse coming-of-age story, subverting the expected journey and ending that the archetype usually demands. Shining a devastating light on many of the societal struggles of post-WWI Britain, Waugh took his novel’s title from another work that revealed the ineluctable descent of a great society: Gibbons’ The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Waugh issued a new edition of Decline and Fall in 1960 that contained restored text that was removed by his publisher from the first edition. This Standard Ebooks edition follows the first edition.

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