The Spoils of Poynton

by Henry James

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Last Updated September 6, 2023.

Henry James's novel The Spoils of Poynton is the story of a battle of deception and espionage between a mother and son in an attempt to gain control of the valuable inheritance which the mother, Adeleh, refuses to allow into the hands of Mona, her son Owen's fiancée. The novel follows Fleda Vetch, a young, upstanding woman who has gotten caught in the crosshairs of this family conflict. Here are a few quotes from the novel.

It was an ugliness fundamental and systematic, the result of the abnormal nature of the Brigstocks, from whose composition the principle of taste had been extravagantly omitted.

Mrs. Gereth mentally outlines all of her distaste for Mona early on in the story, but all the reasons she gives are entirely petty. She believes her to be of poor breeding and also extremely unfashionable. Her family's house and customs were apparently very tacky, and this, in her eyes, is the height of villainy, and she can't be trusted with their inheritance—lest it be squandered and made ugly. Additionally, she believes Mona to be too attractive and beautiful and as a result of this is rude and unkind. It is clear almost immediately that the unhappy, cruel woman is in fact Adeleh.

He hesitated, but he was not checked. "It's just for this reason that I'm free. Don't you know what I mean, Miss Vetch? I want you to marry me.

After some apparent separation from his fiancée, Owen professes a new love to Fleda Vetch. They have spoken at length about Mona's departure, and Owen has summarily convinced Fleda that Mona wants little else to do with him—as the matter has become too taxing. However, his attempts at explaining their separation got somewhat tripped up around the idea of the inheritance as they all know that Owen will receive his inheritance as soon as he and Mona are convincingly separated. It is clear that Owen has learned of his mother's receptiveness and is coming both to Adeleh and to Fleda to get his valuables.

There was a question that this imposed, but Fleda at first found no voice to utter it: it was the thing that was between them, since her arrival, had been so consciously and vividly unsaid. Finally she was able to breathe: "And if she is there—if she's already there?"

The book's closing puts Fleda and Adeleh on a train heading to Poynton after their defeat by the trickery of Owen and Mona. It is almost reminiscent of generals fleeing battle after a defeat. They are contemplating their defeat and are immersed in sadness that Mona is with Owen and that they also have already attained the valuables.

What's interesting is that here, at the end, Fleda has become something of a comrade to Adeleh. Having been caught up in the deception and tricked by Owen, Fleda's innocent, upstanding personality is now bending to become a companion and compatriot of Adeleh's: the master manipulator. Just like in real wars, innocent people are changed by their experience within a conflict.

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