"A Handful of Dust" is a novel by Evelyn Waugh, published in 1934. It is set in the 1930s, and contains the qualities typical of English novelist Waugh's satirical novels, which usually satirizes the upper class and the establishments.
The story focuses on the breakdown of the marriage of Tony and Lady Brenda Last. Tony, the proud owner of a Victorian gothic country house, Hetton Abbey, is so preoccupied with its maintenance. John Beaver, a self-interested and impoverished social climber, is invited to Hetton.
Frustrated and annoyed by his boring and old-fashioned ways, his wife Lady Brenda, becomes infatuated John Beaver. Soon afterwards, they begin to have an affair. Brenda decides to leave Tony and the family home at Hetton after their son, John Andrew, is accidentally killed during a hunting trip.
Brenda seeks a divorce from Tony but he refuses to grant her one, not necessarily because he does not want to let go of his wife but he is more concern with the high cost of alimony and the possibility of losing his endeared Hetton.
Tony departs for an extended trip to Brazil and goes up to Amazon with a casual acquaintance, Fr. Messinger. While there, Tony gets sick and Messinger drowns. Tony finds himself helpless and becomes very ill, to the point of dying. A certain Mr. Todd, who has lived in the jungle for many years, rescues him. However, Todd is somewhat a crazy recluse, a result of having been away from civilization for a long time.
Eventually Tony recovers. However, he is forced to become Mr. Todd's "companion" by spending the rest of his life reading aloud the works of Charles Dickens. Having been reported as dead in England, Brenda has married a politician by the name of Jock Grant-Menzies after her relationship with John Beaver soured. Hetton Abbey is relinquished to Richard Last, Tony's cousin.
Note: Interestingly, there's a later version of this novel with a happy ending. Tony Last returns to Hetton and to Brenda.