Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Hetton. Estate of the Last family, located between the villages of Hetton and Compton Last in the English countryside. Although the novel begins at a house in Sussex Gardens in London, where the man who will cuckold the central character lives, its most important place is Hetton. In this story of the disintegration of a marriage, Waugh uses Hetton, whose owner, Tony Last, is trying to rehabilitate and renovate it, to symbolize Last’s anachronism, since he, like his beloved estate, fits neither in medieval nor in modern England. In the Middle Ages the estate had been an abbey, where monks prayed, practiced penance, and sought God, but with England’s abandonment of Roman Catholicism Hetton’s religious character withered, and in the nineteenth century, during a revival of Gothic architecture, the ancient buildings were demolished and replaced by a Victorian edifice with battlements and towers, stained-glass windows, a massive clock with booming chimes, and bedrooms named after characters from Arthurian myth. In the twentieth century Hetton had become uncomfortable and unfashionable, somewhat like its proprietor, a naif who values his inheritance and wants to pass it on to his son but whose ignorance of the evil forces in both modern and savage societies leads to his and his estate’s horrendous fate.

From the perspective of Brenda, Tony Last’s wife, Hetton is big, ugly, and expensive. Brenda wants to refurbish its rooms with chromium plating and sheepskin, following the suggestion of Mrs. Beaver, with whose son John she is having an affair. At Hetton, Brenda and Tony sleep in separate bedrooms, and Brenda’s room is named Guinevere after a woman in Arthurian legend notorious for her infidelity. Brenda begins to spend more and more time away from Hetton, whereas Tony, who spent time in France and Italy when he was a young man, now finds that he is never happy away from Hetton.


*London. Brenda’s London, which, in the 1930’s, was suffering from the Great Depression, is populated with dismal flats, stores filled with trivialities, and private clubs that, despite their Georgian facades and paneled rooms, have neither the tradition nor the character of Hetton. Brenda’s flat is in Belgravia, a fashionable residential district of southwest London centered on Belgrave Square. Tony has sacrificed some of the funds needed to improve Hetton in order to provide his wife with a place to stay while she pursues her studies in economics. In reality the flat becomes the location of her infidelities. Unlike...

(The entire section is 1054 words.)