Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Decline and Fall

In 1928, when England was laboring under the delusion it was still a great empire, Evelyn Waugh published his novel, Decline and Fall. It is a social satire that employs Waugh's trademark black humor to lampoon various features of British society in the 1920s. The title alludes to Gibbon's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and Spengler's The Decline of the West, which argued that the rise of nations and cultures is inevitably followed by their eclipse.
In Waugh’s novel, theology student Paul Pennyfeather falls down the slippery slope of the drunken antics of his club and is expelled from Oxford for running through the grounds without his trousers.
Because of this, he loses his inheritance, takes a job teaching at an obscure public school, where he becomes engaged to the wealthy mother of one of his pupils. Pennyfeather is unaware that the source of her income is a number of high-class brothels in South America. Arrested on the morning of the wedding, after running a business-related errand for her, he takes the fall to protect his fiancée's honor and is sentenced to seven years in prison for traffic in prostitution. She marries another man with ties to the high government who arranges for Paul to fake his own death and escape from prison. In the end, Pennyfeather returns to where he started at Oxford. He convinces the college he is the distant cousin of the Paul Pennyfeather who was sent down previously. The novel ends as it began, with him sitting in his room listening to the distant shouts of the same club that proved to be his downfall.
Now, laboring under the delusion that we are still a great empire, as the images of our Black Friday debacle and presidential election have shown us running through the grounds without our trousers, we can only hope that we will not be expelled from the college of civilized nations, entangle ourselves with a brothel owner, find ourselves in solitary confinement, and escape, to begin anew where we began before.

But hope is not a method, is it?

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