This LoA volume contains 4 novels from the 1890s, from the years after James had tried to write for the stage, but did not succeed. This is not his best period, in my opinion. It seems that the man was desperate for genuinely interesting larger subjects. He expanded good stories into novels and did them no favor that way.
The Other House. This text was intended as a play, but was rejected. James rewrote it as a novel, but did not succeed very well. It is a forgettable effort and deserves its obscurity.
Among all of H. James's novels, it is the only one that deals with murder. It is not a mystery though. We follow the build up to the situation. We know who does it and why. Murder was not a subject that came easily to James. The story seems, for a long time, more about the usual. Manipulative mother trying to make her son shape up for the right girl, and doing her best to make him not go for the wrong one. In order to avoid the wrong one, she lays some bait to make that girl go elsewhere. Everybody else also meddles in other people's affairs. One wonders why. This is a most meddlesome and uninteresting bunch of people.
There is a contrast between the flippancy of style and the tragic error of its story. The deed goes unpunished, but also unrewarded. The evil of the deed is a mismatch to the overall frivolity of the tone.
The Spoils of Poynton. A typically Jamesian farce with a focus on social snobbery. Good fun. One of his mercifully short novels. However I think it might have been better as a long story, not a novel. It doesn't have enough complexity to be a novel. And therefore 200 pages are about 150 too many. It is amusing but not quite worth the effort.
A woman has spent her life collecting beautiful things, antiques, furniture, to fill her house in Poynton. When her husband dies, the son inherits...and he, to his mother's chagrin, chooses an artless uncivilized woman for his wife. A barbarian. Where she grew up, there is a billiard room. In Poynton she wants to add a winter garden. The horror!
A battle of nerves between the mother and the fiancée, with the son and another young woman between the front lines. Those quaint Brits!
What Maisie Knew sees James in the unusual position of speaking from the perspective of a child. Maisie is a divorce orphan. Her monstrous parents use her as a weapon against each other. The divorce court has taken the Salomonian route and decided to split the girl up evenly between father and mother, 6 months here, then 6 months there.
Both parents acquire new spouses. The tug of war changes face over the years. Step parents participate in the shuttlecock game. Governesses do too.
James handled the child's perspective quite well. After all, he was himself not so different, as permanent guest and outsider, as tourist and foreign observer trying to break through walls of communication. Still, as with Poynton, I would have liked it better as a novella, a long story.
The Awkward Age is another stage play in prose. It is set among a group of upper class Brits at the end of the 19th century. It may be artfully composed, but I failed to develop an interest in the people and their story.