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Mrs Beaver in 'A Handful of Dust'. It is fitting that Waugh should begin his novel A Handful of Dust by introducing his readers to the characters of Mrs. Beaver and her son John.

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Introduction

Mrs. Beaver It is fitting that Waugh should begin his novel 'A Handful of Dust' by introducing his readers to the characters of Mrs. Beaver and her son John. Although in terms of the amount of text devoted to Mrs. Beaver she appears, at first, to be a minor character, she is, in fact, in many ways central to the story. Her presence throughout the novel acts as a catalyst to many of the events which affect Tony Last, an evil spirit dominating the hero's life, while at the same time symbolizing the modern vulgarity, debased morality and self-interest of the "savages at home" which Waugh seeks to paint using ironic and satirical hues. In this initial chapter the reader is introduced to most of the main characters, including the Lasts by way of the opinions of Mrs. Beaver and her son. Waugh's favoured revelation of character through speech and dialogue is immediately apparent in Mrs. Beaver's account of a recent fire. She is revealed as an insensitive, ruthless woman who is quick to exploit other people's misfortunes. The ironic reversal of value and expectation in her comment on the fact that "no-one was hurt except two housemaids.....the fire never reached the bedrooms, I am afraid" is an indicator of Waugh's intentions to take an ironic detached look at human behaviour in general and of upper class society in London at that time in particular. ...read more.

Middle

She grasps any opportunity to add to her wealth, offering for sale to Brenda a plethora of objects to install in the tiny love nest. We learn that both mother and son are obsessed with money and have no shame in taking advantage of any situation which is presented to improve their finances or social ambitions. So both accept that John is invited to society events merely because of his availability and his mother advises him to send a telegram to confirm his visit to Hetton rather than telephoning to 'give them less chance to make excuses'. We later discover that many of the social events, central to the plot of the novel and instigated by Mrs. Beaver, offer some hidden financial reward, such as the promise of work in refurbishing Daisy's restaurant or the commission taken from the clairvoyant. In the same way, once it becomes apparent that Tony is not going to divorce Brenda and that there is little chance of John gaining any benefit financially or in terms of his status as Brenda's circumstances are now much reduced, she is quick to try to extricate herself and her son from the situation by arranging for them both to take a trip to America. ...read more.

Conclusion

Beaver's flats had a veneer of respectability in the first flight of marble stairs which quickly changed to the faded carpet which had been left behind. Perhaps one of the few instances of rightful justice is that at the end of the novel the heirs to Hetton thwart Mrs. Beaver's commercial ambitions in rejecting her plans for refurbishment and her offer to arrange for the building of Tony's memorial. Nevertheless, it was Mrs. Beaver who had suggested the memorial, claiming that she would know what Tony would have liked as she was one of his closest friends. The irony continues to the end. She has been present from beginning to end, exploiting the personal disasters of Tony's life as well as the circumstances of his presumed death so that the circular structure of the novel can be clearly seen through her presence. She has foreshadowed many of the events, beginning with her appraisal of Brenda and Tony's marriage, 'I should say it was time she began to get bored', and made the observation that many thought that Brenda and Jock would marry. This, as with many of her cynical predictions, comes true. Although there is little authorial description in the novel, Waugh's portrayal of Mrs. Beaver in her behaviour and dialogue is successful in not only realistically presenting her as a character but in offering perceptive comment on certain aspects of modern society at that time. ?? ?? ?? ?? ...read more.

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