Decline and Fall

English irony (the comedy of Swift and Fielding, Gibbon and Austen) is at its best deeply unsettling. One masterly proponent of it was Evelyn Waugh and in 1928 he wrote his first novel, a near perfect comic masterpiece, Decline and Fall.

The hero, Paul Pennyfeather, a modest, decent, stoical young man is, during the novel’s preface, sent down from his Oxford College (wrongly) for indecent behaviour. After being confronted by drunken members of the Bullingdon club on the rampage, he is de-bagged in the quad on his way home sober from a lecture. The college authorities, unwilling to discipline the club’s influential members, instead choose to make an example of the studious and relatively poor Pennyfeather (they have the means to pay the college fines whereas he does not).

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Prison books

A court in Portland Oregon, on Monday 27th January 2014, sentenced Rebecca Rubin for the offence of arson in the following way:

1. 5 years imprisonment.
2. $14 million restitution on her release.
3. She was required to read, whilst in prison, Malcolm Gladwell’s book David and Goliath.

The prosecutor had asked the court to sentence her to 7 ½ years imprisonment and pay $40 million restitution (it is not recorded what book, if any, they required her to read). It seems rather savage to impose literary obligations on prisoners. Continue reading