Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “A Handful Of Dust (Essential Penguin)” as Want to Read:
A Handful Of Dust (Essential Penguin)
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

A Handful Of Dust (Essential Penguin)

3.91  ·  Rating Details ·  17,793 Ratings  ·  827 Reviews
"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 ar

Paperback, 221 pages
Published October 7th 1999 by Penguin Books Ltd (first published 1934)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about A Handful Of Dust, please sign up.

Popular Answered Questions

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Glenn Sumi
I’m not generally a fan of satirical novels (as opposed to, say, satirical sketch comedy), but this book was terrific. Seldom have I seen tragedy and comedy so successfully intermingled.

Set between the wars in the chic upper-middle classes in and around London, A Handful Of Dust is full of horrible people doing horrible things to each other, but it adds up to a bitter indictment of human behaviour. And it’s not all jokes. There’s despair lurking beneath the brittle laughs, and sadness at the wa
Jeffrey Keeten
Oct 23, 2016 Jeffrey Keeten rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"'I never thought it would last but she seems really keen on it . . . I suppose it's a good plan . . . there wasn't much for her to do at Hetton. Of course she would rather die than admit it, but I believe she got a bit bored there sometimes. I've been thinking it over and that's the conclusion I came to. Brenda must have been bored.'"

 photo kristin_scott_thomas2_zps775ebf6f.jpg
Kristin Scott Thomas adds sizzle to the 1988 movie version as Brenda.

Tony and Brenda Last have been married for seven years and although they don’t have a fiery p
Sep 12, 2016 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For those of you who live cloistered in a medieval turret of moral purity and use the interwebs only for researching your medical ailments (and, oh -- of course, researching books as well), you may or may not be interested to know that there is a 'cuckolding' porn genre. The interesting detail about this isn't that there is a particular subset of video pornography dealing with spouses cheating on each other -- because when you consider some of the very specific porn specialty niches (biracial pa ...more
Reading Waugh is like being air-kissed by a socialite who clutches your shoulder in mock affection with one hand while raising an ice-pick behind your back with the other. You know you should be on guard for certain disaster, but charisma sweeps you away in an intoxicating wave of champagne and caviar.

Waugh wrote with scathing irony of the plight of English gentry between the two world wars. Sinking into debt and irrelevancy in the wake of the Depression, these bored and bigoted hyphenated lord
You need a degree of sympathy for the author's intentions to enjoy reading their book, to tune in to their wave length. This was something I have never managed to do with Evelyn Waugh and his books remain for me whipped cream. I can eat them up but I get no nourishment from them.

Perhaps my appetite has been spoiled by the image of Waugh in his old age living a mock-aristocratic life, drinking too much, his wife - also an Evelyn - who had affection only for a discrete herd of pedigree cattle. His
Waugh’s novel makes me think of a curious little pen knife kept under plate glass display at an antique shop: a decorative little handle, perhaps delicately wrought in chrome, looking charmingly innocuous nestled among the moldering paste jewelry and assorted tchotchkes. But then, with the flick of a finger, the blade appears—unexpectedly sharp, dazzlingly shiny, potentially cruel. Careful now: Waugh might cut you.

A Handful of Dust is perhaps similarly deceptive, especially when read today. Like
Talk about bleak satire and cynicism! I read – and loved – Brideshead Revisited years ago, and once again we’re among the English upper classes, whom Waugh mocks more or less constantly throughout the novel, which is especially apparent in some of the ludicrous but funny dialogues.

Some of the characters are ridiculous (Princess Jenny Akbar, Mr. Beaver, ‘Mumsy’) , some are indifferent/oblivious to people around them (Tony), some are utterly selfish (Brenda), and most of the characters exhibit a
Oct 04, 2016 Fabian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Oh what fun to get directly to the root of modern British wit. Okay, okay, the Victorian conventions still resonate, but Waugh loves dialogue as much as any screenwriter--it's modernity and old school gorgeously entwined. Indeed, pages upon pages of dialogue--at times the speakers themselves become insanely irrelevant--invites a speedy and satisfying reading of it. The strands of dialogue themselves are in the spotlight... what is being said (the ideas unraveled, the conventions and hypocrisies ...more
Nov 15, 2013 Maureen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009, novels
cross-posted at booklikes and the mo-centric universe.

(this is an edit of a review from 2009)

i found this to be much, much better than the two other waugh books i read: vile bodies, and the loved one. i would have liked it immensely had it ended about three quarters in, as stopping there would have satisfied my need for comeuppance for jerks but that comeuppance never came. the last quarter of the book seems almost a sequel to the first part, and left a darkness in its wake.

and yet, from what
Nov 03, 2009 Trevor rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
I don’t know why I thought this was going to be a comedy, but I did think that when I started. The problem might have been the title, the clear allusion to Eliot’s The Waste Land and Other Poems - you can only really be either ponderous or funny if you allude to The Waste Land and I just suspected that this would be funny. And then it starts with a character who is on the outskirts of polite society – not unlike the main character in Waugh’s first novel Decline And Fall, and well, it just made ...more
Aug 01, 2008 Cecily rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: humour, classics
Brilliantly and chillingly cold. Clever the way the naive and saintly Tony is seamlessly recast as the villain of the piece - not just by Brenda, but by most of their friends too. Reading Dickens in the jungle for eternity: heaven or hell?

Greg Z
Oct 04, 2016 Greg Z rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
England is between two World Wars, and when tragedy strikes a family in the form of a death, no one seems very upset. Are the English simply numb from the loss of almost an entire generation of men due to WW1? Or are the upper class simply ripe for satire? I think it's a little of both until towards the end of the book a woman wants a divorce so her husband basically hires a woman to spend a weekend with him so that he can be blamed for infidelity while the wife is the one who had been having an ...more
Se non avessi avuto il conforto dell'amica Stela, e della sua (come sempre) utilissima recensione (vedi qui), probabilmente avrei interrotto la lettura di questo romanzo poco prima della metà. La rappresentazione fredda della potenziale nullità umana qui fotografata è agghiacciante. O almeno così è apparsa a me, complice forse un periodo in cui non è difficile imbattersi in brutture e orrori di ogni tipo. Nella lettura si cerca sempre, consapevolmente o meno, una qualche forma di riscatto: socia ...more
Aug 10, 2011 Jim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I see that I have classified A Handful of Dust as "humor." It is, a sort of bright, brittle, mirthless humor that looks at the sea of human relationships and sees them dissolve in the great wastes that surround and lay beyond a seemingly humdrum life.

Tony and Brenda Last live in the country. Back when Tony was wooing Brenda, they went out to parties and were bright young things who seemed to lead a charmed life. Tony was equally wedded to his family's country estate, Hetton. Brenda becomes so bo
May 23, 2009 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: humor
Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust, on several end-of-century Top 100 lists,was published on September 3, 1934. Waugh took the title for his novel from a line in T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land — “I will show you fear in a handful of dust.” In Brideshead Revisited, Waugh returned to the same poem, sending Anthony Blanche out on an Oxford balcony to stutter a few lines from it. Waugh’s biographers have noted a particular connection to Eliot. Early in life, Waugh liked to associate himself with Eliot’s ...more
Oct 02, 2011 F.R. rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This satire from the 1930s is – as one would expect from Waugh – sharp, clever and merciless to its targets; although by the end it has veered off to some odd places, which might strengthen its impact, or may just prove to dark for some readers. Much like his excellent ‘Vile Bodies’, Waugh takes us to a distinctly Wodehouse-esque universe of aristocrats and bright young things. And yet this doesn’t have the exuberance of that earlier book, instead venturing to areas far crueller and colder. I re ...more
Jul 23, 2016 Gary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Gary by: Sas Tovee-Lynch
Overall I really enjoyed this book, though it changed so dramatically about half way through that I wasn’t sure at first if I liked it after that, because it was not what I was expecting.

The story is essentially one of upper class relationships and behaviour between the wars. The characters are filthy rich by most people’s standards but several of them never have enough money because they are maintaining enormous ancestral homes that cost a fortune to run. This is the cause of a lot of their pro
Feb 18, 2013 Steven rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It isn't very often that a novel makes me gasp while I'm reading it, but that's what happened when I saw Brenda Last's reaction to a death in the family. A Handful of Dust is a cruelly observant, clinically precise chronicle of the dissolution of an upper-crust marriage in 1930s England. Toby Last is a toff obsessed with the maintenance of Hetton Abbey, his family's unfashionable estate. Brenda Last, unable to tolerate the isolation and boredom of Toby's life, falls into an affair that sets the ...more
Apr 09, 2010 Christopher rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Oh I hate this book--but in a good way. It was one long descent into a world without meaning. A beautifully depressing tale that I struggle to extricate myself from. I feel entwined somehow in the struggle between the sacred life Tony lives of decorum, nobles oblige, and preservation of family heritage and the profane drive to detach from the nonsense of the past. But the characters in this book seem only to exchange it for vapid modern existence. Is there no middle ground?

I've rehearsed over an
May 08, 2016 Feliks rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When you start out reading this book, you don't realize how long afterward it is going to haunt you. These wealthy bourgeois characters from Britain's 'smart set'--seem just like us. They're the people we're told we should strive to emulate. They're not bad and they're not good. They're nice. They're normal. They present the correct exterior. They say all the right things at all times. They dress stylishly and they have savings and stocks. They have unsullied reputations. They play bridge with o ...more
Nov 18, 2012 Stela rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modernism, reviews
I'd say the contrast between appearance and essence is the main theme of this intriguing book, if I could find any depth in the characters that seem marionettes, navigating through life guided by the string of their basic desires barely dissimulated by social conventions.
No moral code, no humanity, no understanding, only indifference for the others' feelings and appalling gestures that pay tribute to the moment's desires: a wife so bored that commits adultery with a "dreary young man" and shows
Jul 17, 2015 Kaycie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1001_read
I haven't read such a WTF ending since "Mill in the Floss". What just happened?

I'll deal with ratings once I calm down.

I still got nothin'. I was really loving this book in the first half. Then the second half happened and I'm still wondering if someone took the first half of one book and the second half of another and put them together as a joke.

Ok ok, I can actually look into it a bit and see somewhat where Waugh was going with it and the point he was trying to make, but it really didn'
Emma Jolie
Jul 14, 2015 Emma Jolie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: humor, classics
I picked this book up because I wanted to read one of Evelyn Waugh's classics but I didn't want to start with the most famous one (Brideshead Revisited).

At first I absolutely despised the book. I am not a fan of "affair fiction" at all. I do not understand the obsession and fascination of watching a couples marriage dissipate because they can get their hands on something "more fresh". I guess that makes me a hypocrite by buying this book but I didn't realize what it was about until I went to rea
Jul 20, 2010 Stephen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

When I encountered Gore Vidal's statement that Evelyn Waugh was "our time's first satirist," I took him to mean our times best satirist. He could have intended nothing other.

Waugh's target in this novel is the English upper class, their attitudes, mores, shallowness, narrow self-centeredness, and on. . .and on. How can we characterize the nature of Waugh's satire? Blistering. Caustic. And utterly delightful.

The British upper class was not his only target, of course. In his other novels he lays i
Luís C.
Tony and Brenda Last are a young married couple who have been together for eight years. They have a son named John Andrew and they live on a wealthy estate called Hetton. The estate is in England, two hours outside of London. One weekend, a young man named John Beaver holds Tony to a casual invitation made for him to visit Hetton. Brenda meets Beaver for the first time and is attracted to him. At Hetton, Brenda has been cut off from the social scene she once enjoyed in London. Beaver and Brenda ...more
Nov 17, 2009 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What delicious fun! This book is usually called a satire, by which it seems to be meant that Waugh disliked almost all the characters and usually selected the nasty option for their actions in the story. That is not normally my cup of tea, but he was so extremely good at it. So, a slightly naughty reading pleasure, I suppose -- had me laughing aloud numerous times. An enjoyable response that doesn't happen often anymore! The plot takes an odd turn as the book approaches its end, but that proved ...more
Nov 21, 2008 Jennifer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: adults
I have had this book on my shelves since I finished Brideshead Revisited three years ago. I really do enjoy Waugh's writing and his observations of life in Britain of the 20s/30's...He is especially gifted at creating characthers (good, bad and ugly) that you are drawn to and can understand. His characters that are children are especially amusing because they are so "real." I can just hear my kids saying the same things and acting the same way...This book was about the disintegration of a marria ...more
Vit Babenco
Jul 27, 2015 Vit Babenco rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
How deadly can boredom really be? For some it can become deadly enough…
“I should say it was time she began to be bored. They’ve been married five or six years. Quite well off but everything goes in keeping up the house. I’ve never seen it but I’ve an idea it’s huge and quite hideous.”
While endeavouring to escape the boredom of the aristocratic life one may find a lot of troubles on one’s romantic head…
Evelyn Waugh is a brilliant observer of human peccadilloes and in A Handful of Dust he is at h
Feb 11, 2010 Vilja rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I had to stop myself from physically hurling this book against the wall multiple times throughout the story. The fact that it wasn't depressing wasn't the problem; the problem was that I wanted to strangle one of the main characters at every page.
Lorenzo Berardi
- Have got out of dinner 16th. Are you still free?
- Delighted. Second thoughts always best. Brenda.

This short interchange via telegrams between Mr Beaver and "her ladyship" Brenda Last may be considered the turning point of this novel, written in 1934.

While reading this passage, it occurred to me that the same thrust and counter-thrust may have happened today, via textings.
Don't you think so?
Sure, a present-day Mrs Last would have texted "2nd thoughts" while a contemporary Beaver -being just
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
The Modern Librar...: * A Handful of Dust - Evelyn Waugh 7 45 Feb 05, 2015 06:51PM  
Bright Young Things: A Handful of Dust - more greatness from Waugh 40 31 Sep 03, 2013 05:15PM  
  • A Dance to the Music of Time: 1st Movement (A Dance to the Music of Time, #1-3)
  • Studs Lonigan
  • Loving
  • Zuleika Dobson
  • The Death of the Heart
  • Under the Net
  • The Old Wives' Tale
  • Appointment in Samarra
  • The Man Who Loved Children
  • The Way of All Flesh
  • A House for Mr Biswas
  • The Wapshot Chronicle
  • The Adventures of Augie March
  • A High Wind in Jamaica
  • U.S.A., #1-3
  • Point Counter Point
  • Under the Volcano
  • The Magnificent Ambersons (The Growth Trilogy, #2)
Evelyn Waugh's father Arthur was a noted editor and publisher. His only sibling Alec also became a writer of note. In fact, his book “The Loom of Youth” (1917) a novel about his old boarding school Sherborne caused Evelyn to be expelled from there and placed at Lancing College. He said of his time there, “…the whole of English education when I was brought up was to produce prose writers; it was al ...more
More about Evelyn Waugh...

Share This Book

“You can't ever tell what's going to hurt people.” 34 likes
“It would be a dull world if we all thought alike.” 14 likes
More quotes…