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Waugh, Evelyn. A Handful of Dust.


- John Beaver (25): poor, living on invitations for lunch and weekend visits, not too favourite in the society

- Tony Last (30): upper middle class, strongly attached to the inhereted castle of Hetton which he seeks to preserve and repair (but not modernize), prefers staying at home to going to society

- Brenda Last (26): Tony's wife, sociable and society loving, the very opposite of her husband


- derived from lines in T. S. Eliot's Waste Land which are also included as the novel's epigraph



Beaver visits the Lasts. Tony shifts the burden of entertaining the guest to Brenda. She finds him interesting, as nobody except her seems to do. She asks him to accompany her to a party and he accepts. Brenda asks her husband to hire a flat in London for her, he cannot refuse her.

Marjorie, Brenda's sister, does not like Brenda going out with Beaver because of the danger of scandal. She believes that Beaver does not love Brenda as oterwise she would not love him. Brenda buys Beaver a ring for a present, he thanks her in a rather cold letter, never having any words of love for her.

Brenda spends much time in London to study economy, as she claims. Tony misses her and comes to London unexpectedly to see her. He calls to her flat, intending to visit her. Brenda is annoyed because she has to send Beaver away from the flat, just in case. Tony returns home, unaware of Brenda's having a lover.

Brenda realizes her husband misses her and attempts to find him a lover but she fails.

Brenda and Tony's little son John is killed in a hunting accident. When Brenda is told the news, she first thinks that it is John Beaver who died. Brenda tells Tony about her affair and asks him to divorce her.

For the sake of public opinion, the divorce is arranged in such a way that it renders Tony the unfaithful one and not Brenda. Brenda is talked into demaning so much money from Tony that it would mean for him to sell his castle. Tony refuses and leaves England, intending to return in six months and grant Brenda the divorce, if she still wants it, but no money.

Tony travels to discover the fabulous City of Brazil. He imagines the City in the Gothic vein, similar as his own castle. In his memories he is still returning to Brenda. The narration switches now between Tony in the forests and Brenda in London.

Brenda lacks money. She feels neglected by Beaver who seems to be using her for her social connections only.

Tony gets gravely ill. In his visions he is always seeing Brenda and his castle. Tony's companion dies and Tony himself is found by one Mr Todd who cures him. Being illiterate, Mr Todd forces Tony to read for him the Dickens books he inherited from his father. Mr Todd does not let Tony go. He takes his watch and sends it to England, probably to prove his death.

Brenda marries Tony's friend. Tony's castle is inherited by Richard Last who converts it into a fox-farm. He is determined to make the castle bloom as it did in Tony's time.


  • Author

    Waugh, Evelyn. (1903 - 1966).
  • Full Title

    A Handful of Dust.
  • First Published

    London: Chapman and Hall, 1934.
  • Form


Works Cited

Waugh, Evelyn. A Handful of Dust. (1934). Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1955.


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