Wednesday, May 04, 2016

A Handful of Dust

Evelyn Waugh's A Handful of Dust appears in Modern Library's 100 best books list and it is also one of the fifty classics I need to finish by March, 2017.  The New York Times describes it as a "vicious, witty novel" which is right up my alley, and indeed, I enjoyed it very much.

 

The novel is about the dissolution of the marriage of Brenda and Tony Last, and despite the dark humor, it's also desperately sad. It's the early thirties in England and Brenda and Tony live in a medieval behemoth of a house (wrecked by a Victorian renovation) and have a charmingly naughty young son and plenty of money. At the beginning, Brenda and Tony's marriage seems comfortable and happy, but then Brenda inexplicably engages in an affair with John Beaver, a caddish mooch. She also forges new friendships with horribly vapid society types who encourage her in her apparent desire to become one of the most loathsome wives in England. Events ensue, sad, tragic, and absurd. I was appalled, but also constantly entertained.

A Handful of Dust was made into a movie in 1988, starring Kristin Scott Thomas as Brenda, Rupert Graves as John Beaver, and Judi Dench as Beaver's poisonous interior-decorator mother. (James Wilby plays Tony Last, but I always associate that actor with unsympathetic characters, so it's hard to picture him in this role.) I would love to see it, but it doesn't seem to be available anywhere. (Possibly for view through Amazon but only by subscribing to something. I don't think I want to see it that badly.) Let me know if you've seen it and what you thought.


I tend to confuse Evelyn Waugh and E. M. Forester, so I thought I had read quite a lot of him, and actually I haven't. The only other Waugh novel I've read is Brideshead Revisited. A Handful of Dust has made me want to read his Decline and Fall, and Vile Bodies. Have you guys ever read Evelyn Waugh? What did you think?

6 comments:

  1. I've not ready any Evelyn Waugh, but think I need to, as I really like E.M. Forester. I'll see if I can't track down that movie somehow. If I do, I'll let you know!

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  2. Color me intrigued. Funny how a broken marriage always seems to involve more than only 2 people.

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  3. The DVD of the film is available at Jefferson-Madison library (also at Clemons, but I don't know the circulation policies for checking out DVDs for University employees).

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    1. Thanks! I will definitely check it out.

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  4. dear Patience - you will love reading more Waugh (I think)... Decline and Fall is so funny (in a rather spiky, 1930s way). Vile Bodies too. Also there's his Sword of Honour trilogy, set in WWII - currently on Radio 4 extra and you can listen in the US - it's good. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03c8nnf highly recommended for when you're cooking, or whatever... The film of A handful of dust is very good - i see it's on amazon or I bet you might find an old dvd on ebay...

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    1. Thank you! I have added Decline and Fall and Vile Bodies to my book list. It looks like my local public library has the movie, (hooray) so I am going to check it out. I really like Judi Dench and Rupert Graves.

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