Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Poynton. English home of Mrs. Gereth and her son that is the focus of the novel. Mrs. Gereth lived in the house with her husband until his death and intends to remain there until her son marries. The novel describes the house only in bits and pieces, sometimes in contrast with other places, but these descriptions are all aimed at showing how important the house is to the novel’s meanings.

The house and its furnishings appear to be in the very best of taste. For example, the house is wainscoted—an expensive feature, but one that is subdued and not showy. The house has no wallpaper at all, as wallpaper is modern and vaguely commercial. The house gleams with old gold and brass ornamentation and also has “deep, old damasks,” a sofa of velvet brocade, a great Italian cabinet, and Louis Seize (sixteenth) French furniture and Oriental china. Especially important is the house’s Maltese cross. Although it is relatively small, it becomes almost a symbol of the house. In short, the house is fitted out with the best of the best ages. Equally important, it has neither a billiard room nor a conservatory, as at Waterbath, which are both fads of the moment.

The actual architecture of the house is not given, but it would seem to be an attractive place, whose design sets off its furnishings well. Still, in a hint at the thematic matter of how destructive good taste can be, Fleda Vetch thinks that Poynton, with all its treasures, inhibits artistic creativity.


(The entire section is 622 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Cargill, Oscar. The Novels of Henry James. New York: Macmillan, 1961. Explores the evolution of The Spoils of Poynton with careful consideration of James’s comments and provides an excellent summary of major contradictory criticisms of the novel.

Clair, J. A. The Ironic Dimension in the Fiction of Henry James. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1965. An excellent study of the irony in the novel. Sees Fleda Vetch as the center of action and examines her motives and her relationship with other characters in the novel.

Graham, Kenneth. “The Passion of Fleda Vetch.” In Henry James: The Drama of Fulfillment, An Approach to the Novels. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1975. Views the novel as a story of the conflicting passions of Fleda Vetch, examines James’s narrative mode, provides a detailed study of character relationships, and justifies the conclusion of the novel.

Hoffmann, Charles G. The Short Novels of Henry James. New York: Bookman Associates, 1957. A good introduction to the novel which argues that the work achieves its dramatic depth from James’s decision to emphasize character portrayal and, through that, to focus on possessions. Views Fleda’s actions as heroic and based on a code of high conduct but finds the conclusion of the novel unsatisfactory.

Sharp, Corona. The Confidante in Henry James: Evolution and Moral Value of a Fictive Character. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1963. Explores the unusual role of Fleda Vetch as simultaneously the center of consciousness for the novel and the confidante.