Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh

This is a quick read at 216 pages. It’s another of Grandad’s old Penguins from 1953 but it was first published in 1928.

I realised quite late on in this book that I’ve been reading Evelyn Waugh’s books completely out of order. I’m sure that Scoop has the character Lady Metroland in it and in this book Margot marries Lord Metroland. I should have read this one first.

Anyway, it begins in Oxford on the night of the Bollinger Club’s annual dinner, it’s a time of stress for those in authority as the filthy rich members of the exclusive club always cause mayhem in the town.

Paul Pennyfeather is a serious young student, studying to become a vicar, but when he runs into a group of drunken Bollinger toffs on his way home, the result is that he ends up being ‘sent down’ and his future is in ruins.

He ends up having to take a job as a schoolmaster in a very bad boarding school at a time when the only qualification that you seemed to need to get a job like that was to have been educated at a public school yourself.

I found it very amusing, if a bit too close to the truth in parts, because it does seem that even nowadays you can get away with an awful lot if you go to certain schools and know the right people. The whole Bollinger Club thing is obviously modelled on the Bullingdon Club – which our dear, dear leaders (and I don’t think!) Cameron and Osborne attended.

It was interested to see Evelyn Waugh mentioned quite a lot in the Mitford letters. He was regarded as a complete drunk and a shameless social climber. One of the sisters mentioned that you could track his ascent by the people that he had dedicated his books to. This one is decicated to Harold Acton, apparently he reached a pinnacle when he dedicated a much later book to Deborah (Mitford) Devonshire. Annoyingly I’ve packed his other books away already so I can’t check out his social progress. He was a dreadful snob but he was also a good writer. I don’t think I would have wanted him as a dinner guest though, not that he would ever have lowered himself to come.