A Handful of Dust, Paperback Book
4 out of 5 (2 ratings)


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.

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


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Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.

Review by

Waugh gives us a bleak yet blackly comic account of a failing marriage between the aristocratic Tony and Brenda Last, set in a climate of genteel social barbarism.Moving between the worlds of sham-gothic English feudalism and decadent inter-war London society, Waugh's characters act with increasing selfishness and amorality. In the aftermath of the Lasts' breakup, we are given a disturbing vision of where such behaviour leads.This is a starker book than his more exuberant, earlier novels 'Scoop' and 'Decline and Fall', though still with plenty of darkly absurdist humour.

Review by

Probably my least favourite Waugh of those I've read (Decline & Fall, Black Mischief, Brideshead Revisited), in that I thought it merely quite good. It's really funny in places but reached a point where I felt Waugh was being cynical for its own sake (or maybe out of bitterness, as the novel mirrors the breakdown in his own marriage), rather than to satirise people who deserve it. Also in the second half Anthony goes on an adventure which, while justified within the themes of the book, breaks the plot in half and doesn't really work within the whole in my view. So a fair few negatives, but when it's funny it's really funny.

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