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The Spoils of Poynton (Classics) [Paperback]

Henry James , David Lodge
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

29 Oct 1987 Classics
Mrs Gereth is convinced that Fleda Vetch would make the perfect daughter-in-law. Only the dreamy, highly-strung young woman can genuinely appreciate, and perhaps eventually share, Mrs Gereth's passion for her 'things' - the antique treasures she has amassed at Poynton Park in the south of England. Owen Gereth, however, has inconveniently become engaged to the uncultured Mona Brigstock. As a dramatic family quarrel unfolds, the hesitating Fleda is drawn in, yet she remains reluctant to captivate Owen, who seems as attracted to her as she is to him. Is she motivated by scruple or fear? In The Spoils of Poynton (1897), Henry James created a work of exquisite ambiguity in his depiction of three women fighting for the allegiance of one weak-willed man.

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The Spoils of Poynton (Classics) + Women Who Did: Stories by Men and Women, 1890-1914 (Penguin Classics) + Decadent Poetry from Wilde to Naidu (Penguin Classics)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reissue edition (29 Oct 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140432884
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140432886
  • Product Dimensions: 1.6 x 12.6 x 19.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 431,419 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Henry James was born in 1843 in Washington Place, New York, of Scottish and Irish ancestry. His father was a prominent theologian and philosopher and his elder brother, William, is also famous as a philosopher. He attended schools in New York and later in London, Paris and Geneva, entering the Law School at Harvard in 1862. In 1865 he began to contribute reviews and short stories to American journals. In 1875, after two prior visits to Europe, he settled for a year in Paris, where he met Flaubert, Turgenev and other literary figures. However, the next year he moved to London, where he became so popular in society that in the winter of 1878-9 he confessed to accepting 107 invitations. In 1898 he left London and went to live at Lamb House, Rye, Sussex. Henry James became a naturalized citizen in 1915, was awarded the Order of Merit and died in 1916.

In addition to many short stories, plays, books of criticism, autobiography and travel, he wrote some twenty novels, the first published being Roderick Hudson (1875). They include The Europeans, Washington Square, The Portrait of a Lady, The Bostonians, The Princess Casamassima, The Tragic Muse, The Spoils of Poynton, The Awkward Age, The Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors and The Golden Bowl.

Product Description

About the Author

Henry James (1843-1916) was born in New York and settled in Europe in 1875. He was a regular contributor of reviews, critical essays, and short stories to American periodicals. He is best known for his many novels of American and European character.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Mrs. GERETH had said she would go with the rest to church, but suddenly it seemed to her she shouldn't be able to wait even till church-time for relief: breakfast was at Waterbath a punctual meal and she had still nearly an hour on her hands. Read the first page
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
As David Lodge points out in his fine introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of Henry James’s short novel, critics have tended to be – pointlessly – divided in their estimation of the novel’s heroine, the curiously named Fleda Vetch. Some see her as honourable, sensitive, moral and high-minded; others, a neurotic, sexually-repressed mess. Whatever the merits of either position, neither does full justice to the intricacies of James’s story and the manner in which he brings the full-flowering of his stylistic talents to bear on the telling of it. As in almost all of James’s later novels, his highly sensitive and sensitised characters are all grappling with the ‘black-boxness’ that is Other People. How to interpret another's thoughts and words, actions and behaviours when none of these on their own, or all put together, can hope to give an accurate picture of that person? And because of this fundamental indeterminacy in our inter-personal relationships, James constructs narratives that can’t be anything but ambiguous.

Ambiguity is the necessary product of any genuinely creative process - as Nabokov would have gleefully reminded us, there is no external Reality against which to measure the creative product. All is self-referential (which is a ‘boo-ya sucks’ to those critics seeking to ground their interpretation of The Spoils of Poynton in any Freudian interpretive framework). Are we then to infer that James was less interested in positioning Ambiguity as something fundamentally Real, than in positioning it as a necessary telos to his art? I suspect the way to collapse that opposition is to say that for James, as for Nabokov, the creative act is a Real as any Reality. For any responsible, mature, sensitive adult, ambiguity is the very texture through which we negotiate the Ethical.
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1 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Anger in family ties 23 May 2000
By A Customer
How easy can it be for a son to tell his mother she has gone too far with her daughter in law? Who is the son supposed to believe? His mother or his wife? This a common problem, everyone may be confronted to this, but still a dilemma which stems from a problem about furniture is not exactly a real problem between mothers and sons - and yet it is in this novel and anger, jealousy are very well put. Very Jamesian.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.8 out of 5 stars  15 reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautifully made parable 17 May 1998
By Kelly - Published on
Fleda is gifted with sensitivity to beauty. She finds it in the "things" her friend Mrs. Gereth has spent a lifetime collecting and in Mrs. Gereth's son, Owen. If Fleda acted with even a touch of cunning -- or just acted, period -- she could possess both. James gives her many opportunities, but, for some maddening reason, she won't seize them. Why? James is at his enigmatic best in this tightly plotted tale written after his experiences as a playwright led him to show more and tell the reader less.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spoils quite a Prize! 24 Sep 1997
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Henry James' Spoils of Poynton is a jewel--quite a prize indeed. His shorter fiction and essays are among his most balanced efforts. He's a writer who is constantly obsessed with polishing his work. And the larger the piece the more cumbersome and tedious that polishing often becomes for him. This small work with few of the devisive distraction that seem to haunt his major projects, contains some his crispest and most telling dialogue. And you may feel in certain succinct instances that you have somehow entered profoundly into the pysche of that character for a moment Here, at least on those rare occasions, James' subtlety and charm counterbalance his observation of human cruelty with all the poise the author may have wished..
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nice piece of 1890s James 23 Jun 2005
By A Reader - Published on
Negative reviews of this small gem baffle me. The writing is so refined that in the best passages slide forth in a leisurely, ambling brilliance. Fleda Vetch, who dreams away the chance of marriage and ruins both her own and her loved one's prospects, in her indecision and her vanity, has a great Jamesian fineness and clearness. The dialogue is crisp and witty. The possessive, acute Mrs Gereth a wonderfully large creation; and the ending a satisfying moment of justice after a bitter climax. Recommended.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A pretty good novel, but not one of James' best efforts 26 May 2012
By Dirk van Nouhuys - Published on
There are no spoilers for The Spoils of Poynton in these comments, but there are spoilers for The Ambassadors and Portrait of A Lady.

I have great respect and admiration for Henry James, but this is not one of his best efforts. A pretty good novel, but not one of his best efforts.

The plot is set in motion by the following events: a mother and father have spent their lives collecting beautiful objects, which are housed in their dwelling at Poynton. They have a son who is a kind of jolly, well-meaning English upper class bloke, insensitive to the beauty of the objects. The father dies and, under English law, the son inherits everything. The son falls in love with a girl very much like himself. His mother fervently wants control of the objects and befriends another girl, our heroine, with the sensitivities the mother would like to see in a daughter-in-law who would cherish the objects.

The events and emotional entanglements that follow are quite tense. This book has a more active plot, more twisting, and turning, than you usually associate with Henry James. There is something closer to a physical love scene than I can recall in any other of his novels.

The ending is a bit of a deus ex machina.

Only the mother and our heroine, whose name is Fleda Vetch, are fully characterized. Henry James lavishes all his powers of witty, incisive, allusive, and complicated character description on these two. The other characters are cursory. The mother is energetic, aggressive, self-centered, and rather likable for her down-to-earth focus. Fleda is one of those self-defeating morally punctilious James protagonists, who snatches self-justification from the jaws of satisfaction time and again.

The prose is James' elaborate middle style, fun to follow but not easy, building up characters and situations with a million smart observations, but he is too fond of calling characters "magnificent" or 'luminous'.

I say I'm fond of Henry James, but I find myself angry with him when his protagonists damn themselves to mediocrity at the moment a rich life is within their grasp over what seems to me ridiculous moral compunctions. Lambert Strether in The Ambassadors could perfectly well settle down with Maria Gostrey in Paris to a rich and meaningful life if he didn't have a painful horror of having profited from others' mistakes. Isabel Archer in Portrait of a Lady could divorce her husband and have a passionate marriage with Casper Goodwood, if she would drop the obligation to suffer for her own mistakes. It is a measure of James greatness that I care enough about these people to be really angry with him.

Most of the characters of this sort in James are scrupulously honest; Fleda is a variation. She lies all the time. She is chronically dishonest with the other characters and with herself, but for the highest of motives, or at any rate the most self-defeating.

James aficionados will know that he is fond of dimly significant names. His notebooks are replete with several lists of such names and musings on what a person with such and such a name would be like. I understand about "Fleda" - she flees, literally running away from an admirer at one point, as does Isabel Archer. But "vetch" is an agricultural product like alfalfa that is fed to cattle and sheep. Fleda is a pert little thing, not in the least bovine or ovine.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Chandler liked it; so do I 25 Sep 2010
By James M. Rawley - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
This was one of Raymond Chandler's favorite Henry James books. He said he doubted anyone would ever do a better social evocation. That's why, he said, he wrote mystery stories: it was obvious someone could write a better mystery story than had yet been written.

I suspect the cruel older woman and the sensitive younger one in Chandler's THE HIGH WINDOW are based on characters from THE SPOILS OF POYNTON.

SPOILS is a straight love story, by the way, as short and intense as a Harlequin novel. One of James's great advantages over Harlequin novelists, though, is that you never know if a love story of his is going to end happily. Sometimes it does; sometimes it ends tragically; sometimes the lovers break up in an easygoing way; sometimes they marry for life. Because you can't be sure in advance how things are going to go, the suspense is much greater. Of course, lots of romance readers don't like any real suspense, but if you DO like it, you'll certainly get it here.

Henry James makes it perfectly clear in his preface, too, that his heroine is smarter than her lover and everyone else she has to deal with. He doesn't take any particular feminist stance: just creates a strong, brilliant woman and gets on with the story.

After POYNTON you get excerpts from Henry James's notebooks made while he was putting the whole story together. It's like a one-man Hollywood story conference, and the way he juggles the plot around is delicious. Only in the late nineteenth century could a short story writer be so commercial and so high-minded all at the same time. Twenty percent of the population was illiterate, but those who had enough time and education to consume fiction wanted a very high class of good entertainment.

The Penguin Kindle edition of SPOILS has the preface and his working papers, with good modern notes and a good introduction. For some reason this novel isn't available in all the Kindle collecteds. Completists and fans couldn't get a better ebook than this.
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