The Spoils of Poynton
Henry James
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The Spoils of Poynton

3.68 of 5 stars 3.68  ·  rating details  ·  596 ratings  ·  58 reviews
"Mrs Gareth, widowed chatelaine of Poynton, is fighting to keep her house with its priceless objets d'art from her son Owen and his lovely, utterly philistine fiancee. When she discovers that her young friend and sympathizer Fleda Vetch is secretly in love with Owen, she thrusts her into the battle-line." "The power struggle that ensues between the three women leaves Owen...more
Hardcover, 324 pages
Published by New Directions New Classics (first published 1896)
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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 being your fathers daughter - nay your grandfather's grandchild — the descendant I may say of a century — of a century — of quill pens and ink — ink — ink pots, yes, yes, yes, they tell me — ahm - mm — th...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 miniature novel.

There are no vistas beyond Poynton, the dowager cottage, and a few undifferentiated London streets and furnished rooms. The action, such as it is, takes place on the tensed communicatory wir...more
Duffy Pratt
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 everything with James at this point in his writing, seems to be pointing elsewhere - to something ineffable. The only problem is that things wouldn't seem so profound, mysterious, and ineffable, if only...more
Jeff St.onge
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 identifiable object. If you can get beyond that, or enjoy it as some people seem to, maybe perversely, there's a finely knitted yarn in there. Widowed Mrs. Gareth must vacate her home, Poynton, filled with...more
Robert Beveridge
Henry James, The Spoils of Poynton (Dell, 1897)

The Spoils of Ponyton is the first novel James wrote in his "later style," in other words, drawing-room satire that isn't really about much of anything at all. For some odd reason, later-era James is what's universally praised in lit classes around the globe, while the early stuff, which is actually worth reading, is largely ignored.

To be fair, James did get better at satire as time went on, but The Spoils of Ponyton has all the hallmarks of being a...more
Aug 03, 2007 Frederick rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those who enjoy clear delineation.
Shelves: james, fiction
This is, perhaps, the single most focused book I've ever read. Henry James can get very involved. (THE TURN OF THE SCREW is an example of that.) He can be obtuse ("The Great, Good Place," anyone? By the way, that story is beautiful. But what was he trying to convey?) He can be arch. (THE BOSTONIANS.)
But he understood the characters in THE SPOILS OF POYNTON. There is no murder, no adultery and no planning for either, but this is a deadly story anyway, depicting the warfare between a widow, her so...more
Lev Raphael
The world of art may seem above ordinary passions but they actually live there in not-so-rarified form. This brilliant short novel of James's is a study in obsession, and in fear to be oneself, contrasting several different women who stake out very different places in the world.

Here's my review on, a magazine every book lover should have an RSS feed to. :-)
Mar 14, 2012 Sarah rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of bitchy aristocrats
Shelves: read-in-2012
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 Henry James. I'm going to start reading one of his novels a year just to prove he's not the boss of me.

I need to stop trying to read James' later works with the hope of enjoying them.
Jul 10, 2008 Sarah rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: British Lit fans, Henry James fans
Shelves: classics
Successfully captures the painful contrast of appearing socially approporiate on the outside, and in painful anguish internally. Never before have I read a novel capturing a woman's torment as to whether or not to follow her heart, or what society deems necessary for her.

Mrs. Gereth is one of the frosiest villains I've come across in awhile. The bulk of the novel centers on the narrator providing readers with the internal thoughts of Fleda Vetch, in sharp contrast with how she reacts externally...more
I like Henry James, but this novella marks the beginning of his late period, when the prose grows more turgid. I remember absolutely LOVING this on Masterpiece Theater about 40 years ago, and it is a great story. It's just that he takes so long to get it out. This is not to deny that some scenes and expressions are wonderful. I loved the constant references to Fleda's father's "smutty maid." And I laughed out loud at the scene where Owen's fiancee's mother showed up (shown in by the smutty maid)...more
There are no spoilers for The Spoils of Poynton in these comments, but there are spoilers for The Ambassadors and The 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...more
Anthea Ilpide
Not the best by James, but still worth reading, if only for the famous, unique Jamesian style. The main problem with this book is the main character whom I frankly could not stand. Fleda Vetch is supposed to represent this sort of pure morality and innate goodness, but throughout the entire book, she came across to me as self-righteous and downright selfish. The contrast between the way James wished us to perceive the protagonist and how she appears to me has been commented upon at length by man...more
No, Henry James isn't exactly light summer reading. But after a dismal encounter with The Bostonians twenty years ago, I decided to give the Master another go (part of my mid-life project to read the classics I've missed to date). Good news: James has been much more rewarding this time around. Last summer, commuting on the Long Island Rail Road four hours a day, I ploughed through The Portrait of a Lady, which I utterly adored.

Now comes The Spoils of Poynton from 1897. I've been curious about i...more
Jen Crichton
Started so beautifully, about a collector's obsessive love for her things. But rather than drill deep into the heart of that love and the objects of her love, the novel shifts over to a more mundane love story, albeit one with the ambiguity and ambivalence one would expect from James. If only the book really had been about the spoils and not Fleda Vetch. Do you believe that name? No, I didn't either -- a schematized peculiar figure James shifts around on his chessboard of a short novel.
Only for fans of Henry James, really - if you're a newbie, then go for Portrait of a Lady or my favourite, Princess Casamassima. This is in typical later James style, but atypically there is not a single likeable character. So don't start here, but do read if you're a completist. It has a brilliant ending.
Jul 08, 2007 Frederick rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who can pay attention to the printed word.
Shelves: novels, james
This is, perhaps, the single most focused book I've ever read. Henry James can get very involved. (THE TURN OF THE SCREW is an example of that.) He can be obtuse ("The Great, Good Place," anyone? By the way, that story is beautiful. But what was he trying to convey?) He can be arch. (THE BOSTONIANS.)
But he understood the characters in THE SPOILS OF POYNTON. There is no murder, no adultery and no planning for either, but this is a deadly story anyway, depicting the warfare between a widow, her so...more
(2.7/5.0) "The great embarrassment was still immutably there, the odiousness of sacrificing the exquisite things one wouldn't take to the exquisite things one would. This immediately made the things one wouldn't take the very things one ought to, and, as Mrs. Gereth said, condemned one, in the whole business, to an eternal vicious circle."

Brought back some delightful memories of having to coax my senile grandmother from her home of sixty years: "I won't have it! Don't touch a thing! Not the lamp...more
Dianne Oliver
Love the title, love the plot, didn't love the book. Started out well, ended fine, but it dragged on in the middle.
This was actually a re-read; I'd listened to it years ago, recalling only that I'd liked the narration. Maureen O'Brien does a great job in bringing the self-pitying Mrs Gareth to life, as well as handling the cameo appearances of dippy Owen and arrogant Mona. Fleda, however, is the Achilles' Heel of the story ... she's just so ... weak - even Mrs Gareth admits she underestimated how much so. I didn't dislike the book, as I did The Golden Bowl, but it was a slog to get all the way to the ending;...more
"Knowing the church to be near she prepared in her room for the little rural walk, and on her way down again, passing through corridors and observing imbecilities of decoration, the aesthetic misery of the big commodious house, she felt a return of the tide of last night's irritation, a renewal of everything she could secretly suffer from ugliness and stupidity."

Learned great new (to me) French word:
"She would rather have perished than have looked endimanchée."
The word makes sense once you take...more
I actually read the New Classics edition with the beautiful Alvin Lustig cover and that's the one I would recommend. All of the Penguin James-es look alike and Poynton really ought to stand out. This is the darkest, most violent and relentless James I have read. I'm also pretty sure that this is the novel(la) that introduced sex into James work (The Turn of the Screw followed in a year or two and, of course, My Sexual Problem shortly thereafter).
It is difficult to talk about Henry James's work and not give something away. Mostly an explanation of the story, at least to me, insists that some major spoiler interrupts so there is some sense of what is happening. I liked this very much and put it on a par with Washington Square.
The Spoils of Poynton is about gains and losses and how people cope when plans go terribly awry.
It was a good book mostly about stuff we own, its life, its character, and the relationship of an older and younger woman because of the things. I enjoyed the book very much up until the ending (which I won't spoil). Still, the ending is short and you'll be left thinking about how you relate to the things you own, though my own things really aren't worth thinking about.
Alex Csicsek
This is a well-paced novel populated with some memorable characters that will keep you in suspense until the end. James has written two romances: one a typical love-triangle between human beings, another the profound love some people experience for objects.

I loved how a woman who is exalted for doing the "right thing" gets fucked over for doing just that.
Sep 19, 2007 Hillary rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who think they don't like James
This one I read for the first time earlier this year and really liked it. It's another interesting one to read after having read William James's _Pragmatism_, as that context sure makes Fleda Vetch seem crazy. There's something admirable about her stubbornness, though, at the same time that we should recognize its terrible and self-selected results. Also, fire!
Steve Good
This story nicely divides our sympathy, and antipathy, between its two main characters. It is a story about collecting, and about taste, and the meaning of art, and, as always in James, about moral choice. It is an extremely suspenseful narrative. And of course like a great deal of Henry James it is damn hard to follow and you better be wide awake.
this book is CRAZY. there is this really great, lurid, gossipy, sort-of-semi-gothic plot, and underneath it something incredibly bizarre going on. as usual, i like to think it is a critique of capitalism and patriarchy, but i suspect it is really about the futility of life and the terrible wrongness of all people, and all value systems.
For all of you enraptured by Downton Abbey -- ok, fine, for all of us -- This is the real deal. The Spoils of Poynton is rife with thick English lords and cunning English ladies, discerning taste and ignorant beauty deadlocked in the struggle for inheritance. It's all here, compellingly told by a master. And what of love, indeed?
Betty May
Impenetrable and not particularly enjoyable. Two members of our book club gave up on it as they just couldn't work out what he was saying half the time. His style of writing makes it particularly difficult to speed read it, and the prose itself doesn't seem to warrant the effort required. Glad it's over...
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Henry James, OM, son of theologian Henry James Sr., brother of the philosopher and psychologist William James and diarist Alice James, was an American-born author, one of the founders and leaders of a school of realism in fiction. He spent much of his life in England and became a British subject shortly before his death. He is primarily known for a series of major novels in which he portrayed the...more
More about Henry James...
The Portrait of a Lady The Turn of the Screw Daisy Miller The Wings of the Dove Washington Square

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“It's never permitted to be surprised at the aberrations of born fools.” 12 likes
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