A Handful of Dust Characters

This Study Guide consists of approximately 49 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of A Handful of Dust.
This section contains 1,553 words
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Tony Last

Tony Last is the head of the household at Hetton Estate. He has acquired his estate from his family, turned over to him upon his father's death. He is married to Brenda Last for eight years and has one son, John Andrew. He loves the estate at Hetton, which includes a village and greenhouses and a church. According to contemporary times, Hetton is completely outdated, but it is the classic finery that Tony appreciates the most. Tony is very content with his life but has everything turned upside down when Brenda gets bored with their relationship and starts and affair.

The affair starts after Tony casually invites a young man he has drinks with to see Hetton. He enjoys it when Hetton is appreciated and often extends the same invitation. To Tony's surprise, the young man, John Beaver, accepts. Brenda is attracted to him and the idea of having a young man almost immediately. Tony is in the dark about the affair for the majority of its existence. He is under the impression that Brenda is taking an economic class in London while she carries on her tryst. Tony is patient as Brenda spends less time at Hetton and more time in London.

When Tony finds out that he has been deceived for months, he is distraught but still loves Brenda and tries to be patient. Tony even puts together a charade of infidelity on his part so Brenda won't be embarrassed in the divorce hearings. When Brenda becomes greedy and wants Tony to sell the Hetton estate in order to keep Beaver around, Tony finally draws the line. He completely cuts Brenda off and takes a trip to Brazil with a strange doctor named Messinger. The trip was intended to be for a few months to explore a lost city, but Tony falls ill, gets stranded there, and never returns.

Throughout the novel, Tony is the most sensible and level headed character. He has faith in people as a whole but is dogged because he never indulges in the social pettiness that surrounds all of his peers. His character is used as a tool to illuminate most of the wrong in the temperament of this social group.

Brenda Last

Brenda Last is the wife of Tony Last. Her sister is Marjorie, her brother is Reggie, and her mother is Lady St. Cloud. Brenda was a social woman before she met Tony, and in the beginning, Tony even ventured into her scene in order to woo her. She functioned in a circle of upper-class shallow people, mainly women whose lives revolve around parties and trends. She is a beautiful and charming woman and it was thought that she would marry within the circle; she could have any of the top choice single men around them. However, Brenda marries Tony and one weekend playing hostess to an acquaintance of Tony's leads her to infidelity. She is bored with her marriage, living on the Hetton estate. She misses the "in" scene, and the young man, Mr. Beaver, that she chooses for her affair is her ticket back in.

At the beginning of the affair Brenda is still a sympathetic character. Tony seems consumed with the estate at Hetton and she is understandably bored. She is that middle character stuck between Tony's sensibilities and the socialite absurdities. Everyone who meets Brenda remarks on her charm and grace. It is unfortunate when Brenda indulges too far; caring more for about partying and socializing than her husbands feelings, her character appears much less charming. She barely notices when her son is killed and is just happy that she now has a reason to be free of Tony. Brenda's sister and mother are the only ones who verbally disapprove of Brenda, but it is clear that her friends have more of a say in her actions.

Brenda becomes so consumed with re-entering this world that she no longer cares that she hurts a man who truly loves her, doesn't care about her family, and doesn't care that Beaver is completely using her. She becomes a commodity to Beaver, and when she is no longer of use to him, he leaves her. At Brenda's lowest point after Tony cuts off her finances, she is alone in her flat and doesn't even have enough money for a proper meal. After Tony is pronounced dead, Brenda marries her way back into social graces with her groom Jock Grant-Menzies, a former friend of Tony's. In the end, as Tony's relatives talk about her behavior leading up to Tony's death, it is clear that her callousness mindset outweighs her good side and others finally see it.

Jock Grant-Menzies

Jock Grant-Menzies is a friend of Tony Last. He holds a representative position in the government, noted by the speech on pigs that he has been planning the entire novel. He is attractive to the women characters in the novel and is a wanted commodity. Jock and Tony become closer friends when Brenda starts having an affair. He clearly doesn't approve of how she is treating Tony. Nonetheless, he marries Brenda once Tony dies.

Mr. Beaver

Mr. Beaver is a young man who will leech on anyone who will provide him a path to the upper class social society. His father was wealthy, but died and left him and his mother struggling. Before Beaver meets Brenda Last, he is only known for filling in for absent husbands on the social scene. No one really knows him and what they know they don't like. Brenda Last falls for Beaver, but from the start he doesn't care much for her. He spends the summer with her taking advantage of the fact that her closest friends are high society women and men. In the end, when Brenda has taken him as far as she can, he leaves her and takes some time away in New York.

Mrs. Beaver

Mrs. Beaver is a lady of all trades and an undeniable opportunist. She runs an antique business but is known for accommodating anything anyone might need for their home. Like her son, she is a social climber but no necessarily liked by anyone. Mrs. Beaver finds a way to insert her services in any situation. Her most tacky display of this trait is trying to use Tony's death to get a contract on work on the church and on his memorial stone at the Hetton Estate.

Polly Cockpurse

Polly Cockpurse is a friend of Brenda's who has married into money and is the social queen of the group. She always has entertainment and parties at her house, where everyone considered important is in attendance. Tony doesn't like her much, and when talking to his son compares her appearance to a monkey. From then on John Andrew refers to her as the monkey-woman.

Jenny Abdul Akbar

Jenny Abdul Akbar is a princess by a past marriage who rents the flat next to Brenda. She was abused by her husband, the prince of Morocco. She is the oddest character in their group but is very wealthy and is therefore accepted. She is known for the heavy aroma of her perfume whenever she enters a room. She is very pretty, so Brenda tries to get Tony to fall from her to release her from any blame for her affair with Beaver. Tony can't stand to be in the same room with her for very long, but John Andrew loves her and even flirts with her a little.


Marjorie is Brenda Last's younger sister. She is married to Allan, a politician who travels a lot for work. She is the only person who verbalizes her discomfort with Brenda's affair from the start. She sees right through Beaver immediately and thinks it's foolish to throw away a marriage with Tony for Mr. Beaver.


Allan, Marjorie's husband, plays the stereotypical female role. The women characters determine the social hierarchy so the men fall in where they are led. Allan is no different. When speaking of Brenda's affair, he says whatever seems right at the moment, agreeing with whoever the speaker may be. Later, when the affair is revealed to Tony, he advises that Tony just allow Brenda to do as she pleases for a while and hope that everything blows over. According to him, he has done the same in his own marriage.

Mrs. Rattery

Mrs. Rattery, also known as "the shameless blonde", is the only American character in the novel and distinctly different from them all. She lacks patience, flies her own plane, rides horses, wears overalls, gets dirty, and speaks her mind. She is apparently still beautiful and dates Jock Grant Menzies for most of the novel.


Milly first meets Tony in a seedy bar one late night when he and Jock are completely drunk. Tony spends the entire time he is with Milly talking about Brenda. Jock pays Milly and her friend Babs for her time, so when they are trying to find someone for Tony to have a fake affair with, they turn to Milly. She is well prepared for the job, having done it before, but she brings her daughter Winnie along. In the end it is the presence of Milly's daughter that gives Tony the legal upper hand in the situation between him and Brenda.

This section contains 1,553 words
(approx. 4 pages at 400 words per page)
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