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A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh

A Handful of Dust (original 1934; edition 1999)

by Evelyn Waugh

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3,537772,243 (3.83)231
Title:A Handful of Dust
Authors:Evelyn Waugh
Info:Back Bay Books (1999), Paperback, 320 pages
Collections:Your library

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A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh (1934)


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Showing 1-5 of 74 (next | show all)
The twist!! The twist! The entire book was so enjoyable, then the twist. Tony's fate left me chilled and disturbed...perhaps because his fate awakens in me some of my own deep fears. Great read! ( )
  melissa_faith | Mar 16, 2019 |
I have liked other books by Evelyn Waugh (always with trepidation, since he was a pretty vile human being) but this was definitely a book I didn't find particularly interesting.

The book centers on Brenda and Tony Last, who retired to ancient Hetton, away from the hustle and bustle of society life. Brenda takes up with Mr. Beaver, a penniless social climber that nobody seems to care for all that much. Cue marriage crumbling.

The novel is populated by a bunch of characters who are basically bored and doing whatever happens across their path to relieve that boredom-- and I mostly felt bored reading about them. ( )
  amerynth | Dec 18, 2018 |
This book was chosen by the LibraryThing 1001 Group to read in November 2018 and I thought I should try it. I read Waugh's Brideshead Revisited many years ago when it was shown on PBS (Google tells me that was 1981) and I remember I had a hard time with it. But I have learned that certain books that didn't work for me when I was a callow youth have more appeal now that I am a senior. I'm not sure if that is the case with this book or if it is just that it was more accessible but I quite enjoyed this tale of an upper class marriage gone wrong.

Tony Last is the owner during the 1930s of Hetton Abbey, a gothic mess of a country estate that requires all of Last's income to maintain or try to maintain because it is in rather poor shape. The estate taxes that Last has to pay for inheriting the property are onerous and are the main reason the Lasts are short of money. Tony has been married to Brenda for seven years and they have one son, John Andrew. A young man with no job and no prospects of one, John Beaver, comes to Hetton Abbey for a weekend and for some reason Brenda becomes attracted to him. She takes a flat in a converted house in London that Beaver's mother, an interior designer, has divided into small abodes for a pied-a-terre for country folk. Everyone except Tony knows that Brenda and Beaver are having an affair and when Brenda finally tells Tony that she wants a divorce he is astounded. In the law of the time adultery was the only ground for divorce and it is considered bad form to use the wife's adultery. So Tony has to go off to a seaside hotel with a young woman who will appear to the detectives hired to provide evidence to be his lover, This particular chapter is pretty nearly farce and shows just how the divorce laws forced people to suborn testimony. Brenda decides that in order to keep Beaver she needs more alimony than Tony can provide and still keep Hetton. Finally showing some backbone Tony refuses and goes off to British Guiana on an expedition to find a mythical lost city. When gets sick and is abandoned by all the guides he stumbles into a habitation run by a lunatic who has a collection of Dickens' novels that he requires Tony to read to him. A virtual prisoner Tony Last will never return to England and distant cousins inherit the estate with a new round of death duries to pay.

The copy I read contained an alternate ending to the book that Waugh had to do for the American publication because the chapter about the madman in British Guiana had been published as a short story called The Man Who Loved Dickens. This certainly shows how powerless writers were to preserve their art at that time. The alternate ending is much less satisfying than the original and I wonder how many Americans at the time realized they had been cheated. ( )
1 vote gypsysmom | Nov 28, 2018 |
A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh at first seemed to be a light, witty and satirical novel that pokes fun at the upper class of Britain during the time between the wars. However, as the story developed into the disintegration of a marriage, the author revealed the cynicism and bleakness that gave this story it’s brilliant edge.

While much of the story has it’s roots in Waugh’s own life, A Handful of Dust is a perfect blend of comedy and tragedy that captures the self-absorption of the English upper class and the total disregard they had for others. It also struck me how cleverly Waugh turned the tables on his characters by making first one than another the “villain” of the piece. For me, however, the character of Brenda was the worst of the lot. She is the bored, slightly resentful wife that takes up with a society wastrel whose only purpose seems to be that of being the perfect “extra man” that society hostesses can call upon at the last minute. Brenda’s husband, Tony is overly complacent and seems to be fonder of his home than he is of his wife but the resolution of his story could either be considered good or bad, depending on how one feels about Charles Dickens.

Elegant, sophisticated, lively and chilling, A Handful of Dust was quite the read and has me looking forward to reading more of this author. ( )
1 vote DeltaQueen50 | Nov 23, 2018 |
This starts off as a portrait of a marriage in the upper echelons of British society. Tony & Brenda are married and having to economise to keep the family pile, Hetton Abbey, afloat. Tony is fully invested in the place, Brenda less so. Brenda is now bored of her lifestyle, Tony's settled down and she either isn't ready to, or is bored with how their life has established itself. In fact, she's the one who precipitates the action, in some senses. She finds a flat in London and starts an affair with a worthless society sponger. She has friends who she attends parties with, but none of this gets to the root of her meaningless existence. You may guess from this that i didn't have a lot of sympathy for her. After agreeing that they will divorce, things take a turn for the worse when Brenda starts wanting Tony to finance her lifestyle and, in effect, buy her the man she now thinks she loves. Good for him that he does not.
It all takes a turn for the somewhat odd when Tony heads off to Brazil and gets himself stuck in a most unusual situation, from which he will be unable to extricate himself.
The book ends with Hetton being the focus of attention of another branch of the Last family, and it seems to have a life that somehow it lacked with Brenda as lady of the house.
The language is delightful, the portrait of a couple who are falling apart and failing to understand that is poignant. Waugh shows his teeth occasioanlly, and there is certainly a satirical edge, espeically with some of the pointed allusions and comparisons. Throughout the characters remain fairly two dimensional, this is about what happens to them, not how it affects them. An enjoyable short novel. ( )
  Helenliz | Nov 19, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 74 (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 (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Evelyn Waughprimary authorall editionscalculated
Boyd, WilliamIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Davis, RobertForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Riera, ErnestTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sachs, AndrewNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wangenheim, Lucy vonTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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...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
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"Was anyone hurt?"
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Do not combine with the movie directed by Charles Sturridge.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0316926051, Paperback)

"All over England people were waking up, queasy and despondent."

Few writers have walked the line between farce and tragedy as nimbly as Evelyn Waugh, who employed the conventions of the comic novel to chip away at the already crumbling English class system. His 1934 novel, A Handful of Dust, is a sublime example of his bleak satirical style: a mordantly funny exposé of aristocratic decadence and ennui in England between the wars.

Tony Last is an aristocrat whose attachment to an ideal feudal past is so profound that he is blind to his wife Brenda's boredom with the stately rhythms of country life. While he earnestly plays the lord of the manor in his ghastly Victorian Gothic pile, she sets herself up in a London flat and pursues an affair with the social-climbing idler John Beaver. In the first half of the novel Waugh fearlessly anatomizes the lifestyles of the rich and shameless. Everyone moves through an endless cycle of parties and country-house weekends, being scrupulously polite in public and utterly horrid in private. Sex is something one does to relieve the boredom, and Brenda's affair provides a welcome subject for conversation:

It had been an autumn of very sparse and meagre romance; only the most obvious people had parted or come together, and Brenda was filling a want long felt by those whose simple, vicarious pleasure it was to discuss the subject in bed over the telephone.
Tony's indifference and Brenda's selfishness give their relationship a sort of equilibrium until tragedy forces them to face facts. The collapse of their relationship accelerates, and in the famous final section of the book Tony seeks solace in a foolhardy search for El Dorado, throwing himself on the mercy of a jungle only slightly more savage than the one he leaves behind in England. For all its biting wit, A Handful of Dust paints a bleak picture of the English upper classes, reaching beyond satire toward a very modern sense of despair. In Waugh's world, culture, breeding, and the trappings of civilization only provide more subtle means of destruction. --Simon Leake

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:33 -0400)

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A 1934 satirization of a segment of English society in which all the characters have money but few other qualities to recommend them.

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141183969, 0141037237

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