Decline and Fall
a novel by Evelyn Waugh, published in 1928
Waugh's first novel, which was an immediate success, describes the misfortunes of Paul Pennyfeather, an innocent abroad in the decadent world of fashionable 1920s society. Sent down from Scone College, Oxford, after being wrongly accused of indecent behaviour, he is forced to give up his theological studies in order to become a schoolmaster (an episode which owes something to Waugh's own disastrous experiences as a preparatory school teacher) and arrives at Llanabba Castle, a minor public school. Here, his pupils include the son of Margot Beste-Chetwynde, a society beauty by whom Pennyfeather becomes infatuated, and who amuses herself by agreeing to marry him. On the eve of the wedding, however, Paul is arrested, though innocent, for having unknowingly become involved in Margot's activities in the white slave trade; he goes to prison, which he finds quite congenial, because ‘anyone who has been to an English public school will always feel comparatively at home in prison’. His escape is eventually arranged by Margot, who has married Lord Metroland in the meantime. After faking his own death certificate, Paul returns under the same name but another identity—that of a ‘distant cousin’—to Scone College, to resume his interrupted studies.
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