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The Spoils of Poynton

Henry James

Book Overview: 

The recently widowed Adela Gereth, a lover of beauty and passionate collector of fine objects, strikes up a friendship with the young Fleda Vetch, when both of them find themselves guests in the tasteless house of the Brigstock family. Mrs. Gereth fears that her son Owen, an honorable but somewhat unimaginative young man, may take up with one of the Brigstock girls, and indeed he presently announces his engagement to Mona, the eldest daughter. That means that Mrs. Gereth will have to leave Poynton, the beautiful house that she and her husband filled with the furniture, china, tapestries, and other objects that they lovingly collected over the years. It is not so much possessiveness that drives Mrs. Gereth to want to maintain control over them (or so she claims, at any rate), but rather the sense that she will have failed if Mona, understanding and appreciating nothing of what Poynton contains, should become Owen's wife and take charge. The story and its developing conflicts are seen largely from the point of view of Fleda Vetch, the young woman who, her moral and aesthetic sensibilities tuned perhaps as finely as any of James's protagonists, finds herself caught in the middle.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . . that she liked him so, and her insistence to his mother on the hatred perilously resembled, on one or two occasions, a revelation of the liking. There were moments when, in conscience, that revelation pressed her; inasmuch as it was just on the ground of her not liking him that Mrs. Gereth trusted her so much. Mrs. Gereth herself didn't in these days like him at all, and she was of course and always on Mrs. Gereth's side. He ended really, while the preparations for his marriage went on, by quite a little custom of coming and going; but on no one of these occasions would his mother receive him. He talked only with Fleda and strolled with Fleda; and when he asked her, in regard to the great matter, if Mrs. Gereth were really doing nothing, the girl usually replied: "She pretends not to be, if I may say so; but I think she's really thinking over what she'll take." When her friend asked her what Owen was doing, she could have but one answer: "He's waiting, dear lady, to see . . . Read More

Community Reviews

Even though the story isn't all that great, James uses lots of words in ways that make the book difficult to read. I'm not exaggerating. I've seem concrete examples that show how his revisions of sentences deliberately push the verb farther back and add pronouns that don't have an immediately ide...more

Virginia Woolf in a letter to Violet Dickinson, 25 August 1907 :

"Well then, we went and had tea with Henry James today…and Henry James fixed me with his staring blank eye — it is like a childs marble — and said ‘My dear Virginia, they tell me — they tell me — they tell me — that you — as indeed b...more

Leon Edel sees in The Spoils of Poynton "James's first attempt to use his scenic method and his playwriting techniques." Unluckily for us James was an indifferent playwright and such techniques--along with a laughably puritanical conception of character--are responsible for this suffocatingly min...more

I'm working on a theory that Fleda resists marriage to Owen because she doesn't want to end up another item in Mrs. Gereth's collection. Despite the fact that Fleda always comes when called, she certainly values her independence enough to make this plausible.

I don't know. I have trouble with Hen...more

Will the world end in fire or ice? In this novel, James gives us the answer.

Die Kostbarkeiten von Poynton, eines der Spätwerke von Henry James, wurde im Manesse Verlag in neuer Übersetzung von Nikolaus Stingl herausgegeben und hat darüber hinaus eine wunderschöne Gestaltung mit farbigem Buchschnitt und Leineneinband erhalten, die allein schon zum Sammeln seiner Werke wun...more

The Spoils of Poynton by Henry James is the story of a widowed woman name Mrs. Gereth who must give up her property to her son because the property is to be transferred to the son and his wife upon his marriage. Gereth is from Old Money, and she has meticulously collected all the fine pieces in h...more

The Spoils of Poynton (1897) is an object of high craftsmanship and beauty, as polished as the choice bibelots that fuel the novel’s plot through the acquisitive desires they stoke. James wrote it shortly after a traumatic episode in his would-be career as a dramatist, when he was booed off the s...more

Moral: the universe is cruel, so nothing much depends upon one's taste in interior design.

I read this because Nick Guest in *The Line of Beauty* is working on a film adaptation of it. Which is appropriate because both Nick and Fleda [heroine of *Poynton*] have highly cultivated aesthetic sensibil...more

This book probably represents James at his most annoying. Looking at it generously, there are 5 characters (though I think one of them does not actually make an appearance). Their world is cramped and claustrophobic. Their concerns, for the most part, seem to be petty. This is debatable, because...more

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