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A Handful of Dust (Penguin Modern Classics) [Paperback]

Evelyn Waugh
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
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Book Description

7 Dec 2000 Penguin Modern Classics

Taking its title from T.S. Eliot's modernist poem The Waste Land, Evelyn Waugh's A Handful of Dust is a chronicle of Britain's decadence and social disintegration between the First and Second World Wars. This Penguin Modern Classics edition is edited with an introduction and notes by Robert Murray Davis.

After seven years of marriage, the beautiful Lady Brenda Last is bored with life at Hetton Abbey, the Gothic mansion that is the pride and joy of her husband, Tony. She drifts into an affair with the shallow socialite John Beaver and forsakes Tony for the Belgravia set. Brilliantly combining tragedy, comedy and savage irony, A Handful of Dust captures the irresponsible mood of the 'crazy and sterile generation' between the wars. This breakdown of the Last marriage is a painful, comic re-working of Waugh's own divorce, and a symbol of the disintegration of society.

Evelyn Waugh (1903-66) was born in Hampstead, second son of Arthur Waugh, publisher and literary critic, and brother of Alec Waugh, the popular novelist. In 1928 he published his first work, a life of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and his first novel, Decline and Fall, which was soon followed by Vile Bodies (1930), A Handful of Dust (1934) and Scoop (1938). In 1942 he published Put Out More Flags and then in 1945 Brideshead Revisited. Men at Arms (1952) was the first volume of 'The Sword of Honour' trilogy, and won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize; the other volumes, Officers and Gentlemen and Unconditional Surrender, followed in 1955 and 1961.

If you enjouyed A Handful of Dust, you might like Waugh's Vile Bodies, also available in Penguin Modern Classics.

'One of the twentieth century's most chilling and bitter novels; and one of its best'

Nicholas Lezard, Guardian

'One of the most distinguished novels of the century'

Frank Kermode

'This is a masterpiece of stylish satire, and is funny, too ... a marvellous book'

John Banville, Irish Times


Frequently Bought Together

A Handful of Dust (Penguin Modern Classics) + Vile Bodies (Penguin Modern Classics) + Decline and Fall (Penguin Modern Classics)
Price For All Three: 20.97

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (7 Dec 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141183969
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141183961
  • Product Dimensions: 1.7 x 12.8 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,728 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Review

"A vicious, witty novel." --"New York Times ""Waugh's technique is relentless and razor-edged...By any standard it is super satire." --"Chicago Daily News""The most mature and the best written novel that Mr. Waugh has yet produced." --"New Statesman & Nation ""A story both tragic and hilariously funny, that seems to move along without aid from its author...Unquestionably the best book Mr. Waugh has written." --"Saturday Review "

About the Author

Evelyn Waugh was born in Hampstead in 1903, second son of Arthur Waugh, publisher and literary critic, and brother of Alec Waugh, the popular novelist. He was educated at Lancing and Hertford College, Oxford, where he read Modern History. In 1928 he published his first work, a life of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and his first novel, Decline and Fall, which was soon followed by Vile Bodies (1930), Black Mischief (1932), A Handful of Dust (1934) and Scoop (1938). During these years he travelled extensively in most parts of Europe, the Near East, Africa and tropical America, and published a number of travel books, including Labels (1930), Remote People, (1931), Ninety-Two Days (1934) and Waugh in Abyssinia (1936). In 1939 he was commissioned in the Royal Marines and later transferred to the Royal Horse Guards, serving in the Middle East and in Yugoslavia. In 1942 he published Put Out More Flags and then in 1945 Brideshead Revisited. When the Going was Good and The Loved One preceded Men at Arms, which came out in 1952, the first volume of 'The Sword of Honour' trilogy, and won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. The other volumes, Officers and Gentlemen and Unconditional Surrender, followed in 1955 and 1961. He died in 1966.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
'Was anyone hurt?' 'No one I am thankful to say,' said Mrs Beaver, 'except two housemaids who lost their heads and jumped through a glass roof into the paved court. Read the first page
Browse Sample Pages
Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
64 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Novel from a Master Satirist 27 Jun 2004
Format:Paperback
You know that when you see a passage from Eliot's THE WASTE LAND appearing before the title page that you are not headed for 300 pages of fun and games. Sure there is the usual stock of Waugh humor, wit, and snappy dialogue to be had here, but this ranks as amongst his darkest novels. It's tragicomedy at its finest. It's also one of the most beautifully written novels I've ever read, perfect in pitch, cadence, wording, razor sharp characterization, mood, you name it.
Like a number of his novels, it is set primarily in England, between the wars, bouncing back and forth between London and an Estate in the country. The plot boils down to the break up of a marriage and the decline and fall of the central character, Lord of the manor and eventual "Explorer," Anthony (Tony) Mast.
Tony means well. He really does. It's just that he's so fixated on maintaining Hetton, his hereditary estate, that he doesn't even notice when his lovely wife Brenda engages in an affair with an inconsequential and boorish young society chap to whom Waugh assigns the inglorious name, John Beaver.
Waugh's customary drollery comes to the fore as he depicts the cavalier attitudes towards the affair on the part of Tony's and Brenda's social circle. They are rather like actors in a Restoration play, whose moral compasses have become entirely skewed. Though not as moralistic as some of Waugh's late novels, A HANDFUL OF DUST definitely offers a portrait of a very decadent society, indeed. These are not sympathetic characters. Even the two children who enter into the plot are hardly what one would call likeable.
This novel definitely takes some unexpected turns, leading us eventually to a denouement in the Amazon Jungle. The ending has to rank as one of the greatest in literature.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars And that dust is golden 27 Nov 2002
By "jwws2"
Format:Paperback
Waugh was a wine critic with no equal. He is a satirist with no equal. His eye for social detail could not be crisper, his tongue could not be sharper. At times he will have you writhing with laughter; at times he will have you crying in pain.
As with much of Waugh's work his own life is a weighty influence. What distinguishes this novel from his earlier work is the heavy undercurrent that permeates thoughout. The title of the work is taken from T.S. Eliot's seminal modernist work 'The Waste Land', and that is precisely what Waugh sets out to describe. Although the humour follows on through Waugh's work, this is not the light-hearted jaunt through English polite society of 'Vile Bodies'. On occasion 'A Handful of Dust' is dark and damning.
That said, the work is highly amusing in places. Such a marriage of humour and despair might seem improbable if not impossible. It would be for rank-and-file satirists. Waugh is a class apart.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By prisrob TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
"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 and sharp and sometimes hilarious. Tony Last ( the last of the dwindling English gentry ) is smitten, smitten with his boring life at Hetton, his ancesteral, crumbling home. His fortune has dwindeled and there is not much left for his family. His wife whom he adores, Brenda, is smitten also, but not with Tony. She is bored and has found a lover, John Beaver (yes, Beaver). He is a sponger of life and of Brenda and ultimately , Tony. Brenda has rented a flat in London from John's mother- what goes around, comes around. She is smitten with the social life. Tony is unaware of any of the happenings- he trusts his beloved Brenda and is too busy with his life. Their son, John, is a slightly annoying pawn in this tragic comedy. Waugh has written a disaster of scathing proportions and the family such as it is, falls apart. None of these characters are in the least likeable. Not one could bring some semblance of order and honesty to this aristocratic crowd. There is wit, but with the humor comes a feeling of loss. Tony becomes his own person when he goes on a trip to the Amazon. That portion of the tale is interspersed with Brenda's social life in London. The ending is amazing and Dickensonian,if you get my drift.

"My novel also included a happier ending for an American audience, which doesn't surprise me at all.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sharp, clever, merciless satire 27 Aug 2012
Format:Paperback
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 reach for the name Wodehouse as that's the obvious comparison for anything detailing young gadabouts in London, but this is really a different beast all together - a Wodehouse that confronts adultery, death and the meaningless of life.

Brenda Last, bored of her existance in the country with her husband Toby, comes to London and embarks on an affair with young wastrel named John Beaver - thus setting off a chain of events which shakes ordered lives around and allows Waugh to vent his spleen across the upper echelons of society. However I can't help thinking, given the repercussions of this affair, that it's oddly sexless and passionless. The whole torrid romance (if that's what one would call it) seems to be going on off-stage while simultaneously happening on-stage - we think we're looking at it but clearly the actual spark is missing. That's no doubt a deliberate move on Waugh's part, as it makes Brenda seem even more selfish, while the character of John Beaver - who at the start seems like he is going to be a major figure in the narrative - just seems to become more and more a cipher.

The ending will no doubt be seen by some as an incredible comeuppance for one of the major characters of the book, while others will surely view it as a bizarre and cruel twist.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A great Read.
This novel I had read many years ago.Missing from my bookcase.Now I have read it again,and enjoyed it ever more so.
William.
Published 7 days ago by Will
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful dialogue
I have avoided this author since a child due to watching a little of Brideshead Revisited at an early age and finding it boring (too young to appreciate it). Read more
Published 10 days ago by Tracey Madeley
5.0 out of 5 stars Just fantastic!
This book is a fresh as it was when it was first written. It is a witty, satirical novel with a great plot.
Published 3 months ago by A.M. BLOOR
5.0 out of 5 stars Witty and ascerbic
I'm a big fan of Evelyn Waugh's writing and read this novel for the second time recently (I don't re-read books very often and found more pleasure in it this time than the... Read more
Published 4 months ago by susie
3.0 out of 5 stars It 's okay.
I only bought this copy, while the one I wished for was not available anymore. I 'll read it later, it will be okay.
Published 7 months ago by Ger Reekers
2.0 out of 5 stars Not my cup of tea
I only got this for my book club but didn't enjoy it at all - the characters were all thoroughly unpleasant and I didn't think it a patch on Brideshead.
Published 7 months ago by creative pupps
4.0 out of 5 stars Wide appeal on many levels
Absolutely great, from the subtlety of much of its characterisation to knockabout comedy the book is well worth a read. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Headley J. des Forges
1.0 out of 5 stars Handful of Rubbish
To be perfectly honest, this was one of the worst books I have ever read. I hated the characters so much that I didn't even care about the ending. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Wondering Worm
5.0 out of 5 stars A Handful of Dust
Evelyn Waugh at his best, always a delight to read his books. Definitely in my top 5 of favourite authors
Published 14 months ago by marie cheshire
2.0 out of 5 stars A Handful of Dust
I felt this was not really worth reading- but it was our Book Club choice. It seemed like a fairly well written 1930's Mills and Boon
Published 14 months ago by Shirley Stevens
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