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The Edusites Guide to Evelyn Waugh’s ‘A Handful of Dust’

Richard Gent | Wednesday May 24, 2023

Categories: KS5 Resources, KS5 Literature

Excerpt from Background and Authorial Context

Waugh and his first wife, The Hon. Evelyn Gardner, divorced in the Autumn of 1929 on the grounds of her flagrant and open adultery with one of the couple’s ‘friends’, John Heygate. They had been married for little more than a year, almost entirely unhappily. She had come to detest him very rapidly and his infatuation with her class and good looks proved ephemeral. They were too young, hedonistic (at least in her case) and immature to make the marriage work.

Waugh was devastated at the loss of face it entailed, the suggestion that he had been an unsatisfactory bedroom partner and the disgrace he and his family felt it brought upon them, as members of middle classes. He was deeply unhappy as a result.

Waugh in 1940

In September 1930 he was received into the Roman Catholic Church. 

To quote his biographer, Selina Hastings, ‘In looking at the Roman Catholic Church and Catholic faith he was looking, he felt, at truth. The absolute, unarguable, historical truth of the universal Christian Church as established in Rome and founded by Christ in the person of St. Peter. He was convinced of the truth of the Catholic faith and that in it he must save his soul. Life was unendurable and unintelligible without God. A safe, solid, disciplined structure based on a rigorous, unrelenting orthodoxy’.

‘It was a choice between that and chaos’.

The chaos of an ungodly, barbarian, acquisitive world is what he delineates in ‘A Handful of Dust’.

'...I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning…

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