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A Handful of Dust

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  21,672 ratings  ·  1,118 reviews
Laced with cynicism and truth, "A Handful of Dust" satirizes a certain stratum of English life where all the characters have wealth, but lack practically every other credential. Murderously urbane, it depicts the breakup of a marriage in the London gentry, where the errant wife suffers from terminal boredom, and becomes enamoured of a social parasite and professional lunch ...more
Paperback, 308 pages
Published November 30th 1977 by Back Bay Books (first published 1934)
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Hermione Anstey A very unexpected ending with such sadness.. I thought Brenda was a fantastic representation of the shallow nature of gentrified persons. It filled me…moreA very unexpected ending with such sadness.. I thought Brenda was a fantastic representation of the shallow nature of gentrified persons. It filled me with huge irritation that she should have felt hard done by by Tony, who in the end seemed to be punished for his actions - he appeared to be the one of the few characters, if not the only, who did not hold the social sphere as priority. It emphasised the cruelties of the upper class to the utmost degree.. it was most definitely was 'hard cheese on Tony'.(less)

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3.92  · 
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Jeffrey Keeten
Jan 04, 2015 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
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
Aug 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Aren't we ALL Last in the end? I can just hear Waugh's grim, faith-rooted, world-weary grunt of agreement!

Tony Last is a happy remnant of the Edwardian gentry, so much like his friends (and so many folks we know) - moneyed but house-poor, measuring out his comforting illusions in coffee spoons - until those illusions are shattered.

Fate knocks on his door.


Illusions! What use are they in the storm?

As for me, as I grow old, I have fewer illusions - and am glad of it.

Because, like Auden's
Apr 12, 2010 rated it really liked it
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 Christine
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
May 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics, humour
Brilliant, but its sparkle is ice cold.

It's clever that the naive and saintly Tony is seamlessly recast as the villain of the piece - not just by his wife Brenda, but by most of their friends too.

But Brenda is the evil one, most dramatically demonstrated by a misplaced "Thank God". It sounds innocuous, but in context, it's one of the most chilling lines I've ever read.

Reading Dickens in the jungle for eternity: would that be heaven or hell?
Kevin Ansbro
Evelyn Waugh's writing is delightfully (and spitefully) mischievous. He's as witty as Oscar Wilde and as caustic as drain cleaner.
Something of a pessimist and a social misfit, Waugh loved to send up the chattering classes of which he was a part. This book also has an autobiographical aspect to it and centres on his inside view of upper class selfishness and the erosion of spiritual values in post-WWI England.
Apr 01, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: waugh
2.5 stars
I’m not sure what it is about me and Evelyn Waugh; critics have said this is one of the best novels of the twentieth century and I really don’t get it. It is, as ever, a satire on the mores of the English upper class. The title is from The Waste Land:
“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.”
This is satire, comedy and farce mixed with the absurd; again
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
Feb 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Antonomasia by: Lee
Penguin Modern Classics edition with introduction and irksome notes by Robert Murray Davis

It sounds so grown-up... and boring, I always used to think about A Handful of Dust. Just another novel about middle-aged people having affairs. In my teens, I read, loved and re-read Brideshead, Scoop, Vile Bodies and Decline and Fall, and seemed to have exhausted the really interesting Waugh books. Then, a couple of years ago, I found that The Loved One, whilst it may not have the glamour of Roaring Twent
I just can’t get enough of British wit. There’s something both elegant and scathing in it that North Americans don’t seem to be able to reproduce. And when it comes to biting British wit, no one can outdo the great Evelyn Waugh.

I’m not sure that I would have been interested in this book if I hadn’t read and loved “Brideshead Revisited” ( stories about bored people having affairs is usually not something that interests me because it feels like a subject tha
May 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 & 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 hypocrisie ...more
Apr 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Published in 1934, A Handful of Dust is a satirical novel that offers a social perspective of life among the upper classes in England in the early twentieth century. The socially privileged thrive on club membership, nightly parties, and the latest gossip. They keep up a charade of manners, a glamorously hollow existence to which the poorer classes aspire. The novel begins on a light witty note but the flippancy slips darkly into sadness that finally wraps the gothic world in a shroud of grief.

Oct 23, 2016 rated it liked it
The perfection of this novel lays only in its title, for a handful of dust is the exact description of the reading experience it provides and to some extent, its content. The fragile remains of the barely lively activity called reading this book would be swept away with the last page, if not for the purpose of writing this review. The book had so little impact on me that I, after finishing it last night, already have troubles remembering the theme.

It's a story about priviliged people of the last
Bored-Privileged-Socialites or

A Biting Satire of British Upper-Class Society Between the Two Wars or

Infidelity--Marriage Without Love

There you have three one-liners that describe this book.

The two central protagonists are Brenda and Tony Last. They have been married for seven years when the book opens. They have one son. The setting is London during the late 1920s or early 1930s. An expedition is made to Brazil. That is all you will be given about the plot.

The characters are immoral and shallo
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 scen
Apr 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an important novel of Evelyn Waugh’s; marking a much more serious, darkly witty and sharply observant style, from his earlier, comic novels. It is widely suggested that this novel was largely the result of his first wife, Evelyn Gardner, or ‘She-Evelyn,’ leaving him for another man after a year of marriage. If so, Waugh certainly had his revenge , as he bitterly skewers his ex-wife, and her lover, in print.

Brenda and Tony Last have been married for five, or six, years, when we meet them.
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
Nov 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Sep 29, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels, 2009
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
Paul Secor
Jul 01, 2018 rated it it was ok
I'm obviously in the minority with my rating. I've read a number of reviews here (after finishing the book) and am not convinced of its worth.
When I began reading this novel, I thought I might enjoy it. However, the inane characters and their inane actions soon dispelled that notion.
I get that it was supposed to be a satire - and a bitter one - but, for me at least, there was nothing there worth satirizing.

On the back cover of the edition I read is the mention: "A Handful of Dust (was) selected
Roman Clodia
Apr 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although they were both in good health and of unexceptional figure, Tony and Brenda were on a diet. It gave an interest to their meals... 'Yes, darling, and when we get tired of it we might try an alphabetical diet, having things beginning with a different letter each day.'

At the heart of this book is the ill-matched marriage of Brenda and Tony Last ('she's lovely, he's rather a stick') - he obsessed with his family seat and the money it takes to keep up, forcing his wife to travel in the 3rd
Oct 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 26, 2016 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
Vit Babenco
Apr 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
May 23, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 08, 2011 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
Sep 26, 2011 rated it liked it
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
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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
“You can't ever tell what's going to hurt people.” 37 likes
“It would be a dull world if we all thought alike.” 16 likes
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