In his fourth novel, A Handful of Dust, Evelyn Waugh introduced a new style. He showed that, in addition to the satiric romp, he could write a “straight” novel that was realistic rather than stylized. Despite the differences between A Handful of Dust and its three predecessors, the story goes back to Waugh’s recurrent theme of the victim as hero. This theme of the civilized person’s helpless plight among “savages” had previously been developed through a tone of wry indifference. However, while A Handful of Dust is on the surface a comedy of manners, it is a very dark comedy in which, for the first time, Waugh forces his readers to identify with the victim as hero.
The protagonists of Waugh’s earlier novels are cardboard figures, whose passivity is thoroughly appropriate to the world of the novels—a world in which there is a crazy inconsequence to everything, even including infidelity, financial ruin, and violent death. Tony Last of A Handful of Dust has much in common with the earlier protagonists, and the things that happen to him will not be unfamiliar to readers of Waugh’s first three novels. However, whereas these earlier protagonists are farcical figures, Tony is a tragic one.
The novel’s motifs are familiar as well. The first motif is the great house. In the earlier novels, the once proud houses are either being thoughtlessly debased or consciously demolished. Tony Last loves his...
(The entire section is 1000 words.)
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