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A Handful of Dustby Evelyn Waugh
Synopses & Reviews
Unsavory artists, titled boobs, and charlatans with an affinity for Freud—such are the oddballs whose antics animate the early novels of the late British master Anthony Powell. A genius of social satire delivered with a very dry wit, Powell builds his comedies on the foibles of British high society between the wars, delving into subjects as various as psychoanalysis, the film industry, publishing, and (of course) sex. More explorations of relationships and vanity than plot-driven narratives, these slim novels reveal the early stirrings of the unequaled style, ear for dialogue, and eye for irony that would reach their caustic peak in Powells epic A Dance to the Music of Time.
In Agents and Patients, we return to London with the newly wealthy, memorably named Blore-Smith: an innocent, decent enough chap . . . and a drip. Vulnerable to the machinations of those with less money and more lust, Blore-Smith falls victim to two con artists whose ploys carry him through to the art galleries and whorehouses of Paris, Berlin, and beyond.
Written from a vantage point both high and necessarily narrow, Powells early novels nevertheless deal in the universal themes that would become a substantial part of his oeuvre: pride, greed, and what makes people behave as they do. Filled with eccentric characters and piercing insights, Powells work is achingly hilarious, human, and true.
1935, London: Anthony Powell is honing the edge of his humor on psychoanalysis and the film industry.Two young London charlatans, an amateur Freudian analyst and an bully with “connections with the film industry” both get their claws into a young man with a small fortune to spend. The plot takes them to Paris and Berlin, art galleries and whore-houses. The women are moochers, the art dealers knaves, the wealthy Americans uncultured boobs, the action is lively, and the writing clever. A very funny period piece.
FROM A VIEW TO A DEATH (1933) is set at a dilapidated English country estate. It brings together a miscellany of country and city types: spoiled, shy Mary Passenger, whose father hopes she will marry into money to help support Passenger Court; ambitious Zouch, who imagines himself an “Ubermensch”; and Major Fosdick, secretly cross-dressing when not out riding. (V. S. Pritchett describes the book as “featuring the undesirable artist among the speechless fox hunters.”) Powell wrote this when he was 27 years old; he mocks with gusto the prejudices and mindlessness of English landed gentry. But as the story moves along, suffering adds humanity to his caricatures, even the “objectionable country squire.”
After seven years of marriage, the beautiful Lady Brenda Last has grown bored with life at Hetton Abbey, the Gothic mansion that is the pride and joy of her husband, Tony. She drifts into an affair with the shallow socialite John Beaver and forsakes Tony for the Belgravia set. In a novel that combines tragedy, comedy, and savage irony, Evelyn Waugh indelibly captures the irresponsible mood of the "crazy and sterile generation" between the wars.
About the Author
Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966), whom Time called "one of the century's great masters of English prose," wrote several widely acclaimed novels as well as volumes of biography, memoir, travel writing, and journalism. Three of his novels, A Handful of Dust, Scoop, and Brideshead Revisited, were selected by the Modern Library as among the 100 best novels of the twentieth century.
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