A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh
The chauffeur said, ‘Shall I have the big trunk sent on by train?’
‘There’s plenty of room for it behind the car, isn’t there?’
‘Well, hardly, sir. Her ladyship has a lot of luggage with her.’
‘Yes, sir. Her ladyship is waiting in the car. She telegraphed that I was to pick her up at the hotel.’
‘I see. And she has a lot of luggage?’
‘Yes, sir, an uncommon lot.’
‘Well… perhaps you had better send the trunks by train.’
‘Very good, sir.’
So Tony went out to the car alone, while his chauffeur was seeing to the trunks. Brenda was in the back, shrunk into the corner. She had taken off her hat – a very small knitted hat, clipped with a brooch he had given her some years ago – and was holding it in her lap. There was deep twilight inside the car. She looked up without moving her head.
‘Darling,’ she said, ‘your boat was very late.’
observations: If you know the book well, you might even be wondering why you don’t recognize this bit…
After the Dickens entry yesterday, we got to thinking about the end of A Handful of Dust, which features The Man Who liked Dickens - a desolating twist in the life of Tony Last. Imagine our surprise on finding an alternate ending in the new Kindle edition of the book. Apparently, Waugh wrote it for a US magazine which couldn’t use the first ending for copyright reasons, and it is added as an appendix – you can still have the original misery. This new one is very marginally more cheerful.
The book is considered one of Waugh’s masterpieces, and is, of course, extremely well-written. It’s generally thought that he wrote it out of despair at the breakdown of his own first marriage, and that Brenda is a mean portrait of his ex-wife (who, confusingly, was also called Evelyn). In fact Brenda is so awful, so shallow, so selfish that a) it is hard to believe in her, and b) you end up thinking Tony is a passive-aggressive idiot, not the putupon martyr that Waugh seems to intend. It is all reminiscent of a small American classic called Stoner, published 1965, with an equally miserable marriage and hurt hero – what we said on that book was that we’d like to read the wife’s version. Same applies.
The only nice characters are the stable-man, Ben, who tells the fated little boy John that he is an ‘ungrateful little bastard’, and the vicar who gives his congregation sermons written 40 years before in far-off places, talking of Victoria on the throne, the beating sun, and saying that ‘we have for companions’ tigers and camels.
Links up with: Evelyn Waugh has featured a lot on the blog – click the label below - often as a commentator rather than author. But this entry from Brideshead has another hat with a brooch, and a spot of Clothes in Books research.
The picture is from the site called, in a most self-explanatory way, Free Vintage Knitting.