This week I was encouraged to read a Novel titled ‘Decline and Fall’ written by Evelyn Waugh, published in 1928. What I hope is that in the following blog post I do not add an unnecessary formality to what I found a really enjoyable piece of satire aimed at social classes and a group of characters which I feel still exist today, even quite publicly back at home in Norfolk.
To put the novel in context, Waugh was an English author, born in West Hampstead, London (1903). He had a public school education including a period spent at Hertford college, Oxford. This education qualified him perfectly to write ‘Decline and Fall’, his first published novel based loosely on his own experience.
Decline and Fall is based around the story of a character called Paul Pennyfeather and his life post an inebriated incident at the Bollinger club (Bullingdon, boys only club at Oxford university) where he effectively streaked bottomless across campus and was subsequently expelled. This incident leads to Pennyfeather’s inheritance being held and his requirement for an honest profession, for which he duly finds as a lecturer at ‘Llanabba’ a public school in Wales.
During a stage of Pennyfeather private tutoring we are introduced to a pupil’s mother, the wealthy ‘Margot Beste-Chetwynde’ to whom Pennyfeather becomes infatuated and engaged, crucially without prior knowledge of where her money and status originates – (seemingly upper class brothels).
It is at which point the strongest ties to architecture lie within the story. Waugh introduces one of Beste’s properties and chosen residence, ‘Kings Thursday’ an unaltered, timber framed, grand Tudor property set in the countryside and embraced by local upper class friends as a place of beauty, fit for entertaining the most distinguished guests. The house most importantly was unfettered by the constraints of modern services and extensions / refurbishment and maintained its historic class.
The issue therein lay as a sign of the times, the servants necessary to live in such a grand establishment, had universally come to detest working in the outdated chaos that a Tudor mansion created and were unwilling to continue. Kings Thursday had fallen into a state of disrepair and Beste had elected to knock down and re-build the property much to the disgust of the local neighbours and upper class families.
Cue the not yet formidable and rather unknown Hungarian ‘Otto Friedrich Silenus’. Silenus (not to be confused I am sure with the word ‘silliness’) came to the attention of Beste when his design for a chewing gum factory in Hungary was declined publicly and he found himself starving in a flat in Bloomsbury, London after travelling across Europe penniless in search for a commission despite his wealthy parentage. (On a side note I really do hope this is not the price and consequence of design and commission freedom that ‘us architects’ do so desire so badly)
Silenus upon initial interview with a local journalist outside Kings Thursday is quoted as saying “The problem with architecture as I see it, is the problem of all art – The elimination of human element from the consideration of form.” He is later heard complaining about having to include staircases so that the ‘creatures’ (humans) can move around. A rather humorous statement I think, that I guess only people like myself currently naively studying architecture can enjoy and appreciate.
It is at this point I really wanted should come to an end, on what was meant to be a short blog post, before I over analyse what is a really enjoyable read. If you are looking for an easy going, almost light hearted mock of the upper to middle class that won’t take too much of your time to read and digest, then the remainder of the story including Pennyfeathers eventful marriage to Beste and the fate of Kings Thursday is currently a bargain on Amazon and I implore you to give it a go, I may even blog again regarding the remainder of the nvoel soon. For now though, do check it out and enjoy!