A Handful of Dust is a book written by Evelyn Waugh in 193. The story mainly revolves around Tony Last, who is a gentleman that lives in his ancestral home, Hetton Abbey. He is married to his wife Brenda and has a son called John. However, his wife becomes bored with her life at Hetton Abbey and starts an affair with a man called John Beaver. Tony Last remains oblivious to his wife's affair. After Tony and Brenda's son is killed in a riding accident, Brenda distances herself from Tony and asks for a divorce so that she can marry John Beaver. Tony finds about Brenda's affair but agrees to divorce her and provide her. Brenda demands £2,000 per year maintenance but Tony disagrees with this and instead goes on an expedition. With no prospect of riches, John Beaver loses interest in Brenda, who is thus left in poverty. Tony wanders in a delirium during his expedition and is held by a man called Mr. Todd who nurses him back to health but Tony is actually being held against his will and is made to read books written by Charles Dickens to Mr. Todd indefinitely. Back in England, Tony's death is accepted; Abbey Hetton passes to his cousins and Brenda resolves her situation by marrying Tony's friend Jock Grant-Menzies.
The book was written by the author to describe how rich individuals can lose track of the most important things in life, such as their families and how this can eventually bring ruin upon them. The author also wanted to explore human selfishness in this book and this is how the character of Brenda is portrayed, as someone who is hellbent on achieving her own goals of wealth and happiness despite the death of her son and her husband's heartbreak.
The book was received well by critics and fans alike. Peter Quennell in the New Statesman found the book both painful and amusing and commented that "tragedy and comedy are interdependent". Also, the magazine Spectator described the book as "another of Waugh's cultivated pearls, economically written, holding the reader's attention throughout".