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 Waugh's 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 Hetton's 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 Tony's 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 Hetton's guidebook and that of Tony's is obvious. Hetton's guidebook and the public basically mock the house while Tony praises it. Despite everyone's 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, "Isn't 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 Brenda's 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 Waugh's 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 else's.
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