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.

The Bolter/Chief Seductress Idina Sackville

The Bolter by Frances Osborne seemed an unlikely recommendation from my bookseller, but I am a trusting customer!

I  needed to remind myself chapter by chapter that I was not reading a novel. The Bolter, the true story of  British socialite Idina Sackville, who trashed  all the trappings of incredible wealth , her husband and two young children to lead her followers to nothing less than a scandalous and wild life as ” The Happy Valley Set”  in Kenya.

Osborne’s recounting the saga of Idina Sackville is representative of a group of women in the 1920s and 1930s who “bolted” from their marriages and ordered lives to live free from the yoke of society’s rules. The book leaves no doubt that Idina was the most famous and sensational of all ” The Bolters!”

A free spirit, enlightening, shocking, with an underlying sadness, emptiness and loneliness that came with abandoning all tradition. Friends come and go as passions rise and fall.

Enjoy The Bolter.  There is a lesson.