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The recently widowed Adela Gereth, a lover of beauty and passionate collector of fine objects, strikes up a friendship with the young Fleda Vetch, when both of them find themselves guests in the tasteless house of the Brigstock family. Mrs. Gereth fears that her son Owen, an honorable but somewhat unimaginative young man, may take up with one of the Brigstock girls, and indeed he presently announces his engagement to Mona, the eldest daughter. That means that Mrs. Gereth will have to leave Poynton, the beautiful house that she and her husband filled with the furniture, china, tapestries, and other objects that they lovingly collected over the years. It is not so much possessiveness that drives Mrs. Gereth to want to maintain control over them (or so she claims, at any rate), but rather the sense that she will have failed if Mona, understanding and appreciating nothing of what Poynton contains, should become Owen's wife and take charge. The story and its developing conflicts are seen largely from the point of view of Fleda Vetch, the young woman who, her moral and aesthetic sensibilities tuned perhaps as finely as any of James's protagonists, finds herself caught in the middle.
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