Evelyn Waugh (1903–1966)

  • Michael Gorra


Just before the end of Decline and Fall (1928) Evelyn Waugh makes Paul Pennyfeather attend a lecture on church history, at which he learns about:

… the heresies of the second century. There was a bishop of Bithynia, Paul learned, who had denied the Divinity of Christ, the immortality of the soul, the existence of good, the legality of marriage, and validity of the sacrament of Extreme Unction. How right they had been to condemn him! (288)

But should one take this passage, and Pennyfeather’s concluding comment in particular, at face value, as a Kiplingesque plea for what Alvin Kernan calls the need for ‘ceaselessly manned walls protecting sense, order, and meaningful life from riot and savagery’ ?1 For Pennyfeather’s sentiments seem out of place in a novel written with the brio of Decline and Fall. They seem, in fact, to belong to the older Waugh, who in Brideshead Revisited replaced the anarchic comedy of his early work with an assertive Catholicism, a vision of the Roman Church as civilization’s only defence against the terrors of the modern world. This passage does provide a foreshadowing of Waugh’s later beliefs, but one need not in reading Decline and Fall take its implications seriously, need not view it as a condemnation of the world in which the novel is set.


Real Person Radical Instability Country House Vatican Council Outward Behaviour 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Alvin Kernan, ‘The Wall and the Jungle: The Early Novels of Evelyn Waugh’, Yale Review 53 (1963–64), p. 199.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Terry Eagleton, Exiles and Emigres (New York: Schocken Books, 1972), p. 43.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Edmund Wilson, “‘Never Apologize, Never Explain”: The Art of Evelyn Waugh’, in Classics and Commercials (New York: Farrar Straus and Co., 1950), p. 146.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Graham Greene, The Redemption of Mr. Joyboÿ, in The Portable Graham Greene, ed. Philip Stratford (New York: Viking, 1973), p. 557.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Graham Greene, Ways of Escape (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1980), p. 270.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    J. B. Priestley, ‘What was Wrong with Pinfold’, The New Statesman, 31 August 1957, p. 244.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose, trans. William Weaver (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983), p. 132.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Evelyn Waugh, ‘Satire and Fiction’, in The Essays, Articles, and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Donat Gallagher (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1984), p. 102.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Henri Bergson, ‘Laughter’, in Comedy, ed. Wylie Sypher (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980), p. 84.Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    Peter Quennell, ‘A Kingdom of Cokayne’, in Evelyn Waugh and his World, ed. David Pryce-Jones (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1973), p. 23.Google Scholar
  11. 13.
    Bernard Bergonzi, ‘Evelyn Waugh’s Gentlemen’, Critical Quarterly 5 (Spring 1963), p. 191.Google Scholar
  12. 14.
    Samuel Hynes, The Auden Generation (New York: The Viking Press, 1977), p. 59;Google Scholar
  13. William H. Pritchard, Seeing Through Everything (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), p. 187.Google Scholar
  14. 15.
    Jeffrey Heath, The Picturesque Prison: Evelyn Waugh and His Writing (Kingston and Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 1982), pp. 89–90.Google Scholar
  15. 16.
    Julian Jebb, ‘Evelyn Waugh’, an interview in The Paris Review vol. 8 (Summer-Fall, 1963), p. 79.Google Scholar
  16. 17.
    Stephen Spender, The Creative Element (New York: British Book Center, 1954), p. 164.Google Scholar
  17. 20.
    Alec Waugh, My Brother Evelyn (New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1967), p. 191.Google Scholar
  18. 21.
    E. M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel (New York: Harcourt Brace and Co., 1927), p. 103.Google Scholar
  19. 22.
    Bernard Bergonzi, The Situation of the Novel (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1970), p. 106.Google Scholar
  20. 23.
    Joseph Epstein, ‘The Outrageous Mr. Wu’, The New Criterion, April 1985, p. 14.Google Scholar
  21. 24.
    Waugh, Edmund Campion (1935: rpt. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), p. 117.Google Scholar
  22. 28.
    Conor Cruise O’Brien (writing as Donat O’Donnell), Maria Cross: Imaginative Patterns in a Group of Modern Catholic Writers (New York: Oxford University Press, 1952), p. 120.Google Scholar
  23. 30.
    Raymond Williams, Culture and Society (New York: Columbia University Press, 1958).Google Scholar
  24. 32.
    Evelyn Waugh, ‘Basil Seal Rides Again’, in Work Suspended and Other Stories (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1967), p. 269.Google Scholar
  25. 33.
    T. E. Hulme, ‘Romanticism and Classicism’, in Speculations, ed. Herbert Read (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1924), p. 117.Google Scholar
  26. 35.
    Frank Kermode, ‘Mr. Waugh’s Cities’, in Puzzles and Epiphanies (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962), pp. 171–2.Google Scholar
  27. 37.
    George Orwell, ‘Inside the Whale’, in The Collected Essays, Journals and Letters of George Orwell, Vol. 1, ed. Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1968), p. 503.Google Scholar
  28. 39.
    I. A. Richards, Science and Poetry (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1976), p. 76.Google Scholar
  29. 40.
    Cyril Connolly, Enemies of Promise. (1938; rpt. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1961), p. 94.Google Scholar
  30. 41.
    Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited, rev. ed. (London: Chapman & Hall, 1960), p. 9.Google Scholar
  31. 48.
    Martin Green, Transatlantic Patterns (New York: Basic Books, 1977), ch. 11.Google Scholar
  32. 50.
    See Robert Wohl, The Generation of 1914 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979), ch. 3: ‘England: Lost Legions of Lost Youth’.Google Scholar
  33. 51.
    Lady Desborough, Pages From a Family Journal (Eton College: privately printed, Spottiswode, Ballantyne & Co., 1916).Google Scholar
  34. 60.
    Evelyn Waugh, The Letters of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Mark Amory (New Haven and New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1980), p. 638.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Michael Gorra 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Gorra
    • 1
  1. 1.Smith CollegeNorthamptonUSA

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