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A Handful of Dust (Everyman's Library) Hardcover – April 9, 2002
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"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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“A vicious, witty novel.” —New York Times
“Waugh’s technique is relentless and razor-edged…By any standard it is super satire.” —Chicago Daily News
“The most mature and the best written novel that Mr. Waugh has yet produced.” —New Statesman & Nation
“A story both tragic and hilariously funny, that seems to move along without aid from its author…Unquestionably the best book Mr. Waugh has written.” —Saturday Review
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A Handful of Dust is set in 1930s Victorian England, and focuses on the breakdown of the marriage of Tony and Brenda Last. The aristocratic Tony is preoccupied with the maintenance of his family country estate, Brenda is bored with her isolation there and also with Tony. Enter John Beaver, a self-interested and impoverished social climber who invites himself to Hetton ( Tony's estate) for the weekend. The affair with Brenda, who yearns for urban excitement, begins when she takes a flat in London and "goes back to school!"
In his introduction to the Everyman's Library publication , William Boyd quotes from Waugh's Labels, a travel book Waugh wrote after his own broken marriage. "Fortune is the least capricious of deities, and arranges things on the just and rigid system that no one shall be very happy for very long." Are many great novels autobiographical? You bet!
And so the story of infidelity unfolds often reminiscent to me of Idina Sackville in The Bolter although a littler less tawdry! In an amazing twist, the reader of the Everyman's Library publication of A Handful of Dust gets the option of the two endings! When the book was to be serialized in an American magazine they determined Waugh's original ending too dreary so he wrote a new one! I like the latter the best which includes a sort of just rewards for Tony Last. I think it made Waugh feel better. Enjoy!
The best known of Waugh's novels is Brideshead Revisited ( 1945) and later Sword of Honor ( 1952-1961), his World War II Trilogy. A Handful of Dust and Brideshead Revisited were made into motion pictures.
For reviews of more " classics" go to gordonsgoodreads.com
"Beaver, for the first time in his life found himself a person of interest and, almost of consequence. Women studied him with a new scrutiny, wondering what they had missed in him; men treated him as an equal, even as a successful competitor."
praiae it has received. In my opinion the shifts in tone between parts of the novel are jarring and the satire is shallow.
It just grabs you and although you may find it a bit wearing to bear the social customs of the time, the book is well worth completion.
One of my favorites