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A Handful of Dust (1934)

by Evelyn Waugh

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,727832,336 (3.83)246
After seven years of marriage, the beautiful Lady Brenda Last has grown bored with life at Hetton Abbey, the Gothic mansion that is the pride and joy of her husband, Tony. She drifts into an affair with the shallow socialite John Beaver and forsakes Tony for the Belgravia set. In a novel that combines tragedy, comedy, and savage irony, Evelyn Waugh indelibly captures the irresponsible mood of the "crazy and sterile generation" between the wars.… (more)
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» See also 246 mentions

English (80)  Danish (2)  Dutch (1)  All languages (83)
Showing 1-5 of 80 (next | show all)
This starts out as farcical, lighthearted laugh that suddenly turns on the reader and becomes tragic. Written in 1934, it is set between the wars and is a look at the changes in English society following WWI with those that have money.
Tony Last is an aristocratic Englishman who clings to his roots (namely his Gothic styled home) which represents cold, boring, country life. Tony was the lucky man to land the much sought after Brenda St. Cloud. He is blind to, or ignore's his wife's dislike of the home and country life. She takes a flat in London, after a meet up with John Beaver, a penniless, social climber who offers Brenda a picture of the social life to be found in London and engages in an affair with Beaver, leaving her husband and young son to the country life. In fact she excludes her husband, tries to entice her husband into his own affair, and in the end, all comes to a tragic end and the marriage is over. This book gives a look at how divorces used to happen when they were not so easy. Tony at first wants to cooperate but Brenda becomes selfish, wanting to take everything from her husband. Tony leaves in search of the mythical city of gold in Brazil where he becomes captive to a man who won't let him go just as Brenda had been captive to Tony in his obsession. Another theme in the book is the church life. The country church with it's beloved minister and it's prewritten sermons set in a different time and place show a picture of the religious life as a custom rather than a belief. It is quite clear that Tony's connection to church is more about his social standing and traditions than about faith or belief.

The first line, "Was anyone hurt" and the discussion of the servants who "lost their heads" but no one was hurt sets the atmosphere for this tragic/comedy. There are many who are hurt in this novel; a son abandoned by his mother and father and left in the hands of the help and the death of the marriage which does hurt both Brenda and Tony. It is a picture of the change in British society but also of marriage and family.

Waugh wrote a short story called, "The Man Who Loved Dickens" and this book developed as prequel to that short story. This grafting of the story of that man prior to his becoming a prisoner in the Amazon jungle to an obsessed, illiterate man, who loves to hear Dickens read and is obsessed with the larger than life Dicken's characters. This part seems like awkward and has been a source of criticism. The title of the book, A Handful of Dust, comes from T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland, a favorite poem and alludes to death, "from dust you came and dust you will return".

This is my favorite of the three Waugh novels that I've read. Rating 4.2 ( )
  Kristelh | Jul 14, 2020 |
This is the kind of book you take up and hope to read at your ease, wrapped up in a cosy blanket, and feeling perfectly at home. Instead, it grabs you by the nape of the neck and throws you in unexpectedly unsettling places in a way that makes you beg for more. Eventually, it makes you uncomfortable to realise how brilliantly it is written. No matter what expectations you have when you pick it up, you end up in the Twilight Zone. Deliciously brutal. ( )
  ViktorijaB93 | Apr 10, 2020 |
This was my first book by Evelyn Waugh, and I rather enjoyed it. It's a satire (of course) of London gentry of the1930s, and offers a devastating portrait of the wealthy and snobbish aristocratic classes. It is full of dark humor, portrayed with Waugh's cold, rapier wit and more than a touch of bitter cynicism. The plot reportedly has autobiographical elements, notably drawing on Waugh's international travels and the painful breakup of his first marriage. Based on my reaction to this novel, I am inclined to seek out others of his work. A good summary of the plot is available at Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Handful_of_Dust ( )
1 vote danielx | Nov 28, 2019 |
I was not liking the book until Tony become delirious, Then it got interesting. Felt like magical realism. ( )
  Ed_Schneider | Nov 6, 2019 |
This was a very readable, plot driven novel about a married couple who is known for their solid marriage and respectable life in the country. But then the wife, Brenda, gets bored. Out of sheer boredom she starts an affair with a young man. At first she (and all her friends) obvious feel that this is just a diversion for Brenda and no big deal. But things start to spiral and about half way through the book the plot takes a big turn that leads to pretty radical life changes for both Brenda and Tony (the husband).

I liked the book. It was readable and kept me entertained. It mainly consists of dialogue so it reads quickly. As always with Waugh, it has lots of slang from the time period which is always kind of funny. I'm not sure it's very memorable, but I enjoyed it. ( )
  japaul22 | Jul 7, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 80 (next | show all)
The characters of Evelyn Waugh are ... the natives of a highly articulated culture that has no myths, only rituals. ... Dying of manners, they are determined to go on snubbing reality ... The most thoroughly weaned generation in the world, they are discovering that a little money is a dangerous thing. ... There is no comfortable catharsis in Mr. Waugh's comedy of manners.
added by Roycrofter | editNew York Times, Anatole Broyard (Dec 28, 1977)
 

» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Evelyn Waughprimary authorall editionscalculated
Boyd, WilliamIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Canavaggia, MarieTraductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Davis, RobertForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Davis, Robert MurrayEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Riera, ErnestTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sachs, AndrewNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wangenheim, Lucy vonTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
...I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
— The Waste Land
Dedication
First words
"Was anyone hurt?"
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Do not combine with the movie directed by Charles Sturridge.
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Average: (3.83)
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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141183969, 0141037237

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