A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh

By Evelyn Waugh

After seven years of marriage, the gorgeous woman Brenda final has grown tired of lifestyles at Hetton Abbey, the Gothic mansion that's the delight and pleasure of her husband, Tony. She drifts into an affair with the shallow socialite John Beaver and forsakes Tony for the Belgravia set. In a unique that mixes tragedy, comedy, and savage irony, Evelyn Waugh indelibly captures the irresponsible temper of the "crazy and sterile generation" among the wars.

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Suddenly the modern reader of the novel is made aware that the whole festive scene takes place under the fitful and unreliable illumination of pre-industrial light. In the provincial, genteel world of the early nineteenth century which Jane Austen depicts, lighting by candles and oil-lamps was so ordinary that it would be no more likely to be recorded than other features of that world, like servants waiting at table. Nevertheless, lighting in the broadest sense does play an imperceptible role in the novels.

Price in Mansfield Park holds between himself and the newspaper in Portsmouth, leaving his newly arrived daughter to sit in darkness (III, 7, 442). The circumscribed light of the candle is registered, but when, later in the scene, Fanny is able to admire the Lieutenant’s uniform her brother has donned, by what magic it has become visible is not mentioned, (though presumably more candles are supplied as darkness deepens). 19 Sir Thomas Bertram arrives home unexpectedly, late on an October evening, when the rehearsal of Lovers’ Vows is in full swing.

2). Occasions of overhearing are common in other plays which Jane Austen knew well—the most famous being the comic scene in which Sir Toby and his fellow conspirators, hiding in the box-tree, overhear Malvolio’s private musings over the fake letter (Twelfth Night, 2. 5). More pertinent perhaps is Romeo’s standing in the darkness in the Capulets’ garden and witnessing Juliet’s declaration of love (2. 1)—a scene which, transmuted, will play its role in Persuasion. But the stage origin of the incidents in these two early novels limits their effectiveness.

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