Waugh’s “new” style, which is so closely associated with Brideshead Revisited (1945), was actually introduced in A Handful of Dust. This novel contains familiar elements, the most obvious of these being the victim as hero. The reader’s perception of the tone, or spirit, of the earlier novels is largely determined by a lack of identification with their protagonists. Adam Fenwick-Symes, for example, is a cardboard figure whose passivity is thoroughly appropriate to the world of Vile Bodies, a world in which there is a crazy inconsequence to everything, including infidelity, financial ruin, and even violent death. The things that happen to Tony Last in A Handful of Dust will not be unfamiliar to the reader of the earlier novels. Yet whereas Adam is a farcical figure, Tony is a tragic one.
Tony Last loves his ancestral home, Hetton. Each bedroom at Hetton features a brass bedstead and a frieze of Gothic text; each is named from Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur (1485). Tony has slept in Morgan le Fay since leaving the night nursery and his wife, Brenda, sleeps in Guinevere (a fitting bedchamber for the adulteress she is to become). Tony eventually loses Brenda to John Beaver, a despicable nonentity from London. His loss of Brenda is not amusing, as is Adam’s loss of Nina, but poignant. In A Handful of Dust, identification exists between the narrator-persona and the protagonist-persona. Thus, Tony engages the reader in...
(The entire section is 611 words.)