And you have to remember that some years after the 1888 in which he wrote the words I have quoted, Mr. James underwent an experience that completely altered his point of view, his methods, and his entire literary practice. His earlier stages, Mr.James the Second contrived entirely - or almost entirely - to obscure in a sort of cuttlefish cloud of interminable phrases. Until the middle nineties nothing could have exceeded the masculine firmness, the quiet force of his writing, and of no one else than himself could it more justly be written that “less than anyone did he beat the air, more than anyone did he hit out from the shoulder”.
Ford goes on to describe the demeanor of the earlier James, confident, firm, magisterial and contrasts it with a sad decline:
But about the later James, clean-shaven, like an actor, so as to recover what he could of the aspect of youth, nervous; his face for ever mobile; his hands for ever gesturing; there hung continually the feeling of a forced energy, as of a man conscious of failure and determined to conceal mortification. He had had two great passions - the one for a cousin whom he was to have married and who died of consumption while they were both very young, and the other for a more conspicuous but less satisfactory personage who in the end at about the time when the break occurred, let him down mercilessly, after a period of years. And the tenacity of his attachments was singular and unforgetting.
So then, a woman and a ‘personage’. Quite!
Ford considered The Spoils of Poynton a great example of the earlier firmer James and the nouvelle form at which he excelled. Thus counseled I read it and I agree. James himself was very fond of fine interiors as of course was another young pal Edith Wharton so the sense of the sacred trust of a collection, even if created by oneself, is perfectly believable.
It was not the crude love of possession; it was the need to be faithful to a trust and loyal to an idea.
Running the risk of creating a spoiler for ‘Spoils’ what of the ending? Is it the revenge of Owen and really Fleda might have been more brisk? James like a good cabinetmaker liked to line up the slots on his screws even with a final risky turn that might twist the head off them.