Followers of this blog know that I enjoy delving back among the best known authors and retrieving works that I have not read. Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust is one more example. Written in 1934, A Handful of Dust is listed as number 34 of the Modern Library’s 100 Best English Language Novels of the 20th Century.
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.