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A Handful of Dust

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3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  14,895 ratings  ·  701 reviews
(Book Jacket Status: Jacketed)

Evelyn Waughâs 1934 novel is a bitingly funny vision of aristocratic decadence in England between the wars. It tells the story of Tony Last, who, to the irritation of his wife, is inordinately obsessed with his Victorian Gothic country house and life. When Lady Brenda Last embarks on an affair with the worthless John Beaver out of boredom with
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Hardcover, Everyman's Library , 225 pages
Published April 9th 2002 by Knopf Doubleday (first published 1934)
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Community Reviews

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Jeffrey Keeten
"'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
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David
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
Julie
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
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Jan-Maat
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
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Maureen
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
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Trevor
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
Jim
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
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F.R.
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
James
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
Steven
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
Christopher
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
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Steve


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
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Cecily
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?

Luís Blue Yorkie
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
Stela
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
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Jennifer
Nov 21, 2008 Jennifer rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
Evelyn
This story is set between the two world wars and is peopled by British aristocrats grasping futilely at their disappearing lifestyle. Modern times are changing their continuous round of parties and hunts. The estate is gobbling up all available finances in upkeep and modernization of the home. Enter Lord and Lady Last, quite a pun that name. This is a satire that had me laugh out loud and gasp in horrified shock on alternating pages. I loved the carefree dialogue, I abhorred what I felt was the ...more
Helle
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
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Michael
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
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
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Ellie
This is a dark and savage satire on British society in the 30's;

"It was, transparently, a made-up party, the guests being chosen for no mutual bond—least of all affection for Mrs. Beaver or for each other—except that their names were in current use . . ." p. 51

Waugh is not afraid to attack, and unlike some of his other books, A handful of dust has a much more savage and bitter feel. There is less of the frothy language and light gentle almost poking fun in an affectionate way of some of his othe
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Skylar Burris
It is appropriate that Waugh should allude to "The Waste Land," since A Handful of Dust is itself a satirical expose of the moral waste land that is modern society, a world drifting without the anchor of religion and tradition. But Waugh’s message is communicated both gradually and subtly, and with great wit. He seems always to select the perfect turn of phrase, and he creates extremely amusing and original situations. Take, for instance, the sad case of Tony Last, who, delirious with fever, wan ...more
Mariano Hortal
Me encanta descubrir en cada obra al gran Evelyn Waugh, uno de esos autores solo conocido por retorno a Brideshead y que, sin embargo, tiene muchísimo que ofrecer. Él inicio la senda transgresora que seguirían Golding y Spark y en una obra como esta, por otra parte poco leída y casi inencontrable en España encontramos sus grandes virtudes.
Es curioso que comience como una de estas novelas de los autores de la "lost-generation" norteamericana, a lo Gatsby, con toda su fina ironía, sátira, cinismo
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Max
Engaging and pleasurable. Many books detailing the give and take of upscale English society become as tedious as their subject matter. Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited did little for me, but his deft wit and style in A Handful of Dust make this book a winner.

The characters elicit your emotions and you find yourself caring – wanting to shake Tony out of his blind stupor or just shake Brenda and her friends for being such twits. The episode of Tony in the jungle is an ingenious and apt finish to the
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Emma Jolie
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
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Elsabe
Oh joy! I was so enthralled by the Britishness of the Brits that I did not see it coming. Complacent in my trust of things going just as they should. How delightful the plot changes. How true of life. As soon as something unexpected happens to us, it seems that it is easy to continue with that unexpected trait of change. Doing bizarre things never ever considered in a million years.
The 2 contradictory catch 22's:
Is it possible that we could learn to love (aka adapt) to anything? Even the loss
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Glen Hunting
An unresolved novel, at least in conventional terms, which would be quite unpalatable to the contemporary literary market and probably impossible to sell to them. But I think it works.

Put very simply, A Handful of Dust portrays the steady degradation of a calm and ordered existence into chaos and ruin. Again, it's a tough sell in the early 21st century, but surely it is all the more compelling for that. Delirium and insanity make their first appearance within Waugh's oeuvre (brought on by a trop
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Vilja
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.
Pris robichaud

As Good As it Gets: Surreal, Amoral, Aristocratic Decadence , 29 Jul 2007



"And 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.
Frisch weht der Wind
Der Heimat zu.
Mein Irisch Kind,
Wo weilest du? "
The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot 1922

Evelyn Waugh has given us a dark, witty, satirical novel that takes aim at the post World War I upper class society. His writing is biting
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The Modern Librar...: * A Handful of Dust - Evelyn Waugh 7 39 Feb 05, 2015 06:51PM  
Bright Young Things: A Handful of Dust - more greatness from Waugh 40 30 Sep 03, 2013 05:15PM  
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  • The Way of All Flesh
  • The Adventures of Augie March
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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...
Brideshead Revisited Scoop Vile Bodies The Loved One Decline and Fall

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