Independent Systems of Ideology: Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall


Florida A&M University


Evelyn Waugh’s imaginary perfection involves defining Englishness as a monolithic code of morality and class structure, one that actually never exists universally and is mostly idyllic, but is nevertheless the standard to which society should be held.  Invariably, Waugh’s Englishness is a hegemonic, stratified and rigid phenomenon; his novels belie a deep distrust of the ascendant lower-class.  Englishness is what separates Waugh’s cultural compatriots—those that share his deeply conservative, moralistic and hegemonic ideology—from those Waugh derides as pretenders to the same.  Waugh is doing much more than simply making fun of the wealthy and clueless; he is also blaming them for abandoning a more perfect past in favor of a shoddy future.  The upper-class characters he portrays are often woefully out of touch, immoral, even reprobate, but their primary failing is an abandonment of tradition in favor of an unsatisfying modernity.  Waugh is, as the title Decline and Fall suggests, watching the gradual disintegration of what he believes to be a great society, and showing it as beset on all sides by people who simply do not belong.