A Handful of Dust
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Devotion and compassion toward one another, a core reason why many relationships these days work out and last a lifetime. Trusting someone is essential and basically the backbone to all relationships. Evelyn Waughs A Handful of Dust is a satirical novel that involves the story of Tony Last and his wife, Lady Brenda. Tony is more in love with his house, Hetton Abbey, than with his wife. Brenda, bored with Tony and his apparent desire to live in the past, being the lord of the manor type of person, that she turns her attention to John Beaver, a twenty-five year old socialite. The personalities and character traits of Tony and Brenda contributed to the end of their relationship. Pompousness, conceit and the actions motivated by these traits affected their lives in and outside of their marriage.
Tony seems to be empty of any passion except for Hetton Abbey, which is listed in the guidebook. “This, formerly one of the notable house of the country, was entirely rebuilt in 1864 in the Gothic style and is now devoid of interest” (Waugh 13). Nevertheless Hettons grounds are open to the public and tours are available upon request. The intricate, but gloomy description of Hetton exemplifies the lack of interest to the public. Although, from Tonys perspective, Hetton is magnificent. The very involved description of Hetton, lists the aspects of it that Tony revels in. Aspects such as “the ecclesiastical gloom of the great hall were a source of constant delight and great exultation to Tony; things of tender memory and proud possession” (Waugh 14). The contrary description of Hettons guidebook and that of Tonys is obvious. Hettons guidebook and the public basically mock the house while Tony praises it. Despite everyones opposition Tony shows little or no care in what others think and justifies his neglect towards others including his wife Brenda.
The essence of Brenda is best summed up by Mrs. Northcote who is reading her future through examining the soles of her feet. “You are intellectual, imaginative, sympathetic, easily led by others, impulsive, affectionate. You are highly artistic and are not giving full scope to your capabilities” (Waugh 160). Brenda immediate reply is, “Isnt there anything about love?” (Waugh 160). This exemplifies her enormous fascination of love and relationships with others. After all, if there is not the excitement of the immediate feedback from a lover, Brenda is bored. Her life is shallow. Brenda is shallow. The immediate reply from Brenda evidently illustrates the relationships she is encountered in or will be encountered in the future are most crucial in her life. Also the selfishness and egotistical characteristics of Brenda are visible, by ignoring her “sympathetic and affectionate” qualities and focusing more on herself and her relations with others. Her disregard for the ones that are close to her soon become clear.
The “imaginative, sympathetic” Brenda waits until her fortune-telling session ends before she receives a message that John is dead. Brenda is stunned and shocked. Clues in the message reveal that it was her son John Andrew who was dead, not John Beaver. “John . . . John Andrew . .. I . . . Oh thank God” (Waugh 162). Then she burst into tears. Brenda is relieved that it is her only child who is dead and not her lover, John Beaver. In this moment of shock and grief she does not guard her words. “Oh thank God,” she says. Waugh has captured the essence of Brendas selfishness which is core-deep. The depth of her self-centeredness in this scene is so great that the one can feel the bite of Waughs savage satire in this portrayal of an immensely shallow woman, a woman who is not capable of love. Otherwise, she would never have even thought “thank God” that it was her son, and not her effete and lazy lover who was dead. Brenda not only thought it, she spoke the word. Therefore it is equivocal, Brenda is in fact living life for her own sake and no one elses.
Brenda is sociable, Tony is content to admire Hetton and has no need of company. From Brendas point of view, Tony deceived her into thinking he would be a good husband and betrayed her by being a dull and uninteresting man. When Tony reads the note that Brenda left for him, saying “You must have realized for some time that things were going wrong. I am in love with John Beaver and I want to have a divorce and marry him” (Waugh 172). Tony read the letter verbatim and took it literally. He interpreted it as the only reason for Brenda leaving, was her love for John. Obviously to Brenda, Tony was not showing enough affection and love towards her. Of course there were a variety of other events like the death of their son, her constant treks to London and their altercations about the flat Brenda was suggesting to buy. Mainly the fact that Brenda didnt get enough attention and affection from her husband was the reason why they departed and went their separate ways. The trouble was that Tony didnt really know what Brenda wanted.
The amount of trust Tony had in Brenda played a huge role in their relationship. “It had been an autumn of very sparse and meager romance; only the most obvious people had parted or come together, and Brenda was filling a want long felt by those whose simple, vicarious pleasure it was to discuss the subject in bed over the telephone” (Waugh 74). Implying that Tonys trust for Brenda is immense, he thinks that she is dedicated besides the fact she is miles away from him for weeks at a time. It is indicative of Tonys arid character that it took him several days to realize “He had gotten into a habit of loving and trusting Brenda” (Waugh 172). Tonys trouble was that he trusted Brenda too much. A marriage that lasts, however, has an abundant amount of trust. The trust Tony had for Brenda was the wrong kind of trust. Since the amount of trust was great, Brenda took advantage of it, by leaving the house for weeks at a time she found another man without Tony noticing any of it. Though confiding with a partner can be excellent for a relationship, if the amount exceeds over the top it can be detrimental for a relationship. His friends try to console him and say she will be back, quoting examples of silly affairs that were really nothing more than a diversion for the people that were involved in the affair and fodder for gossip for the rest of the circle.