Evelyn Waugh, Clare West con Oxford Bookworms Library: Level 6:: Decline and Fall: 2500 Headwords (Oxford Bookworms ELT)
Word count 31,245
Concocted of cruelty, bigotry, pederasty, white slavery, violence, madness and murder, Decline and Fall is fundamentally playful and side-splittingly funny (David Bradshaw)
Evelyn Waugh was born in Hampstead in 1903. His first novel, Decline and Fall, was published in 1928 and it was soon followed by: Vile Bodies (1930), Black Mischief (1932), A Handful of Dust (1934) and Scoop (1938). He travelled extensively, served in the Royal Marines and the Royal Horse Guards and continued to write, winning many prestigious literary awards. Brideshead Revisited was first published in 1945. Evelyn Waugh died in 1966.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Mr Sniggs, the Junior Dean, and Mr Postlethwaite, the Domestic Bursar, sat alone in Mr Sniggs’ room overlooking the garden quad at Scone College. From the rooms of Sir Alastair Digby-Vane-Trumpington, two staircases away, came a confused roaring and breaking of glass. They alone of the senior members of Scone were at home that evening, for it was the night of the annual dinner of the Bollinger Club. The others were all scattered over Boar’s Hill and North Oxford at gay, contentious little parties, or at other senior common-rooms, or at the meetings of learned societies, for the annual Bollinger dinner is a difficult time for those in authority.
It is not accurate to call this an annual event, because quite often the Club is suspended for some years after each meeting. There is tradition behind the Bollinger; it numbers reigning kings among its past members. At the last dinner, three years ago, a fox had been brought in in a cage and stoned to death with champagne bottles. What an evening that had been! This was the first meeting since then, and from all over Europe old members had rallied for the occasion. For two days they had been pouring into Oxford: epileptic royalty from their villas of exile; uncouth peers from crumbling country seats; smooth young men of uncertain tastes from embassies and legations; illiterate lairds from wet granite hovels in the Highlands; ambitious young barristers and Conservative candidates torn from the London season and the indelicate advances of debutantes; all that was most sonorous of name and title was there for the beano.
‘The fines!’ said Mr Sniggs, gently rubbing his pipe along the side of his nose. ‘Oh my! the fines there’ll be after this evening!’
There is some highly prized port in the senior common-room cellars that is only brought up when the College fines have reached £50.
‘We shall have a week of it at least,’ said Mr Postlethwaite, ‘a week of Founder’s port.’
A shriller note could now be heard rising from Sir Alastair’s rooms; any who have heard that sound will shrink at the recollection of it; it is the sound of English county families baying for broken glass. Soon they would all be tumbling out into the quad, crimson and roaring in their bottle-green evening coats, for the real romp of the evening.
‘Don’t you think it would be wiser if we turned out the light?’ said Mr Sniggs.
In the darkness the two dons crept to the window. The quad below was a kaleidoscope of dimly discernible faces.
‘There must be fifty of them at least,’ said Mr Postlethwaite. ‘If only they were all members of the College! Fifty of them at ten pounds each. Oh my!’
‘It’ll be more if they attack the Chapel,’ said Mr Sniggs. ‘Oh, please God, make them attack the Chapel.’
‘I wonder who the unpopular undergraduates are this term. They always attack their rooms. I hope they have been wise enough to go out for the evening.’
‘I think Partridge will be one; he possesses a painting by Matisse or some such name.’
‘And I’m told he has black sheets on his bed.’
‘And Sanders went to dinner with Ramsay MacDonald once.’
‘And Rending can afford to hunt, but collects china instead.’
‘And smokes cigars in the garden after breakfast.’
‘Austen has a grand piano.’
‘They’ll enjoy smashing that.’
‘There’ll be a heavy bill for to-night; just you see! But I confess I should feel easier if the Dean or the Master were in. They can’t see us from here, can they?’
It was a lovely evening. They broke up Mr Austen’s grand piano, and stamped Lord Rending’s cigars into his carpet, and smashed his china, and tore up Mr Partridge’s sheets, and threw the Matisse into his water-jug; Mr Sanders had nothing to break except his windows, but they found the manuscript at which he had been working for the Newdigate Prize Poem, and had great fun with that. Sir Alastair Digby-Vane-Trumpington felt quite ill with excitement, and was supported to bed by Lumsden of Strathdrummond. It was half-past eleven. Soon the evening would come to an end. But there was still a treat to come.