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The Spoils of Poynton (1896)

por Henry James

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652726,133 (3.5)37
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 thebattle-line.The power struggle that ensues between the three women leaves Owen vacillating. What is at stake is not the mere possession of tables and chairs; it is, for Fleda, a conflict between aesthetic ideals, ethical imperatives, and her innermost feelings, in which she risks betraying, and being betrayedby, all that she holds most dear.… (mais)

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Mostrando 1-5 de 7 (seguinte | mostrar todos)
technology and fashion may constantly change, but human nature isn't much different than it was two hundred years ago ( )
  booksandcats4ever | Jul 30, 2018 |
This is an extraordinarily intense novella: intense in its use of language and intense in its unremitting focus on just two or three characters. First and foremost in the cast list is Fleda Vetch, a young woman whose superior quick-wittedness and taste are balanced by her apparent plainness and moral rectitude; next is the manipulative Mrs Adela Gereth, a widow to whom the unmarried Fleda becomes a companion. Owen Gereth, Mrs Gereth's son, has lately inherited Poynton Place, thereby becoming a most eligible if rather vapid bachelor. Further down the cast list come Mona Brigstock, a philistine but strong-minded young woman, as manipulative as Mrs Gereth, and her mother Mrs Brigstock. Fleda's sister Maggie and a scant handful of other individuals have even more minor parts, either walk-on/walk-off or completely offstage.

I use the phrase cast list intentionally: James apparently used his failed attempt at writing for the stage to better effect here. We have set 'scenes', played out on a limited number of stage sets; and -- in the manner of Ibsen, for instance -- all the attention is placed on the psychological drama. The main crises of the narrative, and the final climactic incident, essentially take place 'offstage'; foregrounded are the ever-evolving to-and-fro of relationships and interactions.

And what are these relationships and interactions? Essentially they're founded on the fact that Mrs Gereth's impressionable son Owen has fallen for the pretty but rather vulgar Mona, who it soon becomes clear will have no intrinsic appreciation for the antique treasures that the elder Gereths have accumulated over a lifetime at Poynton. Under the terms of her late husband's will Mrs Gereth will be forever separated from both the house and its possessions unless she can persuade Owen to fall for a more suitable young woman, one with taste and sensitivity, one who can cajole Owen into letting his mother continue in residence; in short, one Fleda Vetch.

Let me start my brief commentary with a quotation from chapter XXII, at the end of the book, after Fleda has received from Owen a letter which ends with the sentence, "You won't refuse if you'll simply think a little what it must be that makes me ask."

Fleda read that last sentence over more times even than the rest: she was baffled -- she couldn't think at all of what in particular made him ask. This was indeed because it might be one of so many things.

This bafflement absolutely epitomises the veil of obscurity that permeates the novel, much like the pall of smoke that might come from a great conflagration. Here, however, it is the fire of passion. Passion takes many forms in The Spoils of Poynton, whether Mrs Gereth's for the 'spoils' themselves, the mutual attraction between Owen and Fleda that emerges only slowly, or the cupidity that Mona displays in seeking to have the 'spoils' return to Poynton -- for Mrs Gereth, to circumvent the possibility of Mona will obtain possession of the mansion's treasures, has removed them all to her dower house in another part of southeast England. The haze from all these passions hangs over the whole of the novella -- witness the way that we too, like Fleda, have to read some sentences over more times than the rest, such as when it is often not clear which woman -- Fleda, Mrs Gereth or Mona -- is being referred to by the casual use of "she" and "her". The author's long sentences, with their several subordinate phrases, only add to the opacity.

For me this obscurity of language made the start of the novel quite laborious but a little perseverance soon became its own reward, and I soon found following the cut-and-thrust of stratagem and countermove quite addictive. I was both amused and bemused by the thoughts and actions of the principal characters, Fleda and Mrs Gereth, alternately frustrated and cheered by what transpired next. The action flits between the mansions of Waterbath and Poynton, the dower house of Ricks and the homes of Fleda's family, between hotel and train station; the time scale ranges over several months (maybe as much as a couple of years) from seasonally pleasant weather to the baleful advent of winter.

These shifts and fluctuations are doubtless designed to parallel the changing fortunes of the protagonists. In many ways they are like the sudden settlings inside a bonfire that's slowly smouldering at its core before, all of a sudden, the whole thing violently bursts into flame.

One might hope for and expect a fairytale ending, perhaps with Fleda as Cinderella and Mrs Gereth as fairy godmother; or could it be a late 19th-century Pride and Prejudice, featuring Fleda as Elizabeth Bennet and Owen as the enigmatic Mr Darcy of Pemberley? But James is clearly aiming for a more realistic outcome, even if some might call 'foul!' at the way it is all wrapped up. (Here I am reminded more of the climax of Jane Eyre.) The fact is that everyone in the novel loses out to some extent, and all for different reasons -- some personal, some circumstantial. For all that very little appears to happen, two or three crucial actions determine which way the plot moves, and those moves prove decisive for the inevitability of the final resolution.

What I found quite delicious were many of James' turns of phrases, some authorial, others from individuals assessing others' characters. Owen, for example is typified (chapter VIII) thus: "He had his delicacies, but he hid them away like presents before Christmas." Mona Brigstock, when Poynton's treasures are moved out, is described as "moved not by the privation but by the insult."

Mrs Gereth in particular has some ringing judgements to make: of Fleda she says (XVII) "our situation is such that [Owen] communicates with me only through you and [...] you're so tortuous you conceal everything;" later she tells Fleda "You're not quite a saint in heaven yet." Of her son she says (XVIII), "Owen's a blockhead [and] disgustingly weak," to which Fleda the perennial rescuer can only say, "It's because he's weak that he needs me." Fleda herself notes (XXII) that Mona's "a person who's upset by failure and who blooms and expands with success." The tragedy is that many these incisive remarks are the result of characters' retrospective reflections.

This edition includes an insightful introduction by David Lodge which underlines the novel's deliberate ambiguities. I chose to read this after the main text, along with extracts from Henry James' own notebooks which outline the gestation of The Spoils of Poynton. Interestingly, the reader will find many of the familiar names originally in different guises -- Poynton was to be Umberleigh, for a start. Fleda Vetch was conceived as Muriel Veetch, Owen appears first as Albert and Mona Brigstock as Nora. In a way it's a shock to discover these individuals were not as we first meet them; but perhaps this only accentuates the ambiguities that Lodge writes about and the obscurities that I encountered.

http://wp.me/s2oNj1-spoils ( )
1 vote ed.pendragon | Jun 22, 2017 |
Ezra Pound felt that The spoils of Poynton was about a good deal of needless fuss and displayed Henry James' obsession about furniture, but it strikes me that the novel is really about how people get what they want. The Gereth family is torn by conflict over the contents of Poynton, a treasure house of wonderful antiques. On one side is Owen Gereth and his soulless, tasteless fiancee; on the other is his mother, who has collected the treasures of Poynton, and her acolyte, Fleda Vetch, who loves both Poynton and Owen. Each of the characters has much at stake and when Mrs. Gereth tries to manipulate the situation to her liking, she inadvertently brings about the solution she most fears.

Told from the viewpoint of young Fleda Vetch, the story is vintage James. Fleda's perceptions and sensibilities are fine but this puts her at a disadvantage in dealing with the others who have fewer scruples.

Because this is a fairly short novel, the tortured introspection that is typical of James is more abbreviated. I didn't exactly enjoy it, but I kept reading because I wanted to know what would happen. ( )
  Bjace | Dec 20, 2014 |
1 0f 23 books all for $10
  velvetink | Mar 31, 2013 |
I love this novel. Henry James is a genius at identifying some of the worst aspects of human behaviour. Especially when he looks at the lives of the rich and frivolous.

Mrs. Gereth is a recent widow. Because of custom, she must move out of her home to make way for the new owners, her son and his wife to be. The only problem is that the home, Poynton is a masterpiece. In fact, Poynton is her masterpiece and she is reluctant to be parted from her art.

What ensues is a battle of wits between the witless Owen, his fiancee Mona Bridgestock, his mother and her friend Fleda Vetch. ( )
  MsNikki | Apr 6, 2012 |
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» Adicionar outros autores (11 possíveis)

Nome do autorPapelTipo de autorObra?Estado
Henry Jamesautor principaltodas as ediçõescalculated
Edel, LeonEditorautor principalalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Richards, Bernard ArthurEditorautor principalalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Chase, William MerrittArtista da capaautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Lodge, DavidEditorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Lodge, DavidEditorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Lustig, AlvinArtista da capaautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
O'Brien, MaureenNarradorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Paredes, MartaTradutorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Pereira de Queiroz, Onédia CéliaTradutorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Tovar, Ricardo G.Tradutorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
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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.
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Things" were of course the sum of the world; only, for Mrs. Gereth, the sum of the world was rare French furniture and oriental china. She could at a stretch imagine people's not "having", but she couldn't imagine their not wanting and not missing.
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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 thebattle-line.The power struggle that ensues between the three women leaves Owen vacillating. What is at stake is not the mere possession of tables and chairs; it is, for Fleda, a conflict between aesthetic ideals, ethical imperatives, and her innermost feelings, in which she risks betraying, and being betrayedby, all that she holds most dear.

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