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Fleda Vetch and the Plot of "The Spoils of Poynton"

Nina Baym
PMLA
Vol. 84, No. 1 (Jan., 1969), pp. 102-111
DOI: 10.2307/1261161
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1261161
Page Count: 10
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Fleda Vetch and the Plot of "The Spoils of Poynton"
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Abstract

Henry James's notebook entries for "The Spoils of Poynton", compared to the novel, show that he began the book as Mrs. Gereth's story and created Fleda as a minor plotting device. Gradually she became more important; then James made the hero fall in love with her, an unanticipated development which threatened to deflect the story from its appointed denouement. Unwilling to alter what he had written or to change his ending, James evolved in the increasing complexity of his heroine a character who resolved the problems of his plot. In each entry Fleda is differently conceived; in none of them does she correspond to the novel's character. The notebook Fleda is a conventional Victorian romantic heroine, sacrificing love for duty; in the novel Fleda is ironically rendered and behaves far less straightforwardly. Thus the notebooks cannot clarify Fleda Vetch's character. The preface to the New York Edition is even less useful than the notebooks, for here James has recast Fleda entirely in terms of his later preoccupations. The free spirit who retains full consciousness because she does not act is not the Fleda of the novel who, confused and self-deluded, never attains full consciousness. Her awareness, and hence her freedom, are enormously limited.

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