According to Henry James in his preface to The Spoils of Poynton, he perceived the germ of the short novel in a friend’s casual mention of an acrimonious conflict between a mother and her son over the disposition of the family furniture following the death of the father. “There had been but ten words, yet I recognized in them, as in a flash, all the possibilities of the little drama of my ’Spoils.’” He continues, On the face of it, the “things” themselves would form the very center of such a crisis; these grouped objects, all conscious of their eminence and their price, would enjoy, in any picture of a conflict, the heroic importance.
The “things” alone, however, must not have been enough to provoke James to immediate creation, since he left the idea unused for almost two years. In 1895, however, needing a story to fulfill an obligation to the Atlantic Monthly, James returned to the “spoils” idea and added the necessary missing ingredient, the central character.
Thus, James found the two lines of action that give the story its final shape: the conflict between Mrs. Gereth and her son, goaded on by Mona Brigstock, over the furnishings of Poynton, and the romance between Owen Gereth and Fleda Vetch. The problem of who is to get the spoils dominates the first third of the book, but by chapter 8, the center of interest has shifted to the question of who will marry Owen. The two issues are completely...
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