This fourth volume of the Library’s ongoing edition of The Master’s complete novels includes four that immediately preceded his later masterpieces. The Other House (1896), a murky melodrama whose subjects include romantic agony and child murder, is notable as an illustration of James’s interest in dramatic technique and for its intriguingly conflicted villainess Rose Armiger. The Spoils of Poynton (1897) analyzes in fastidious, though not tedious, detail the relations among a son bent on marrying against his mother’s wishes, the latter’s resentful appropriation of disputed property, and the resourceful (if cruelly named) Fleda Vetch, whose intervention materially alters their three lives. What Maisie Knew (1898) is a technical tour-de-force depicting a sentient adolescent girl against a context of self-righteous parental failure and sexual irregularity. And The Awkward Age (1899), a display of high society banter presented almost entirely as dialogue, is a marvel of intricate wit and wry characterization, but an intermittently punishing reading experience likely to be finished (or, perhaps, even begun) only by committed Jamesians.
An uneven volume, then. But Maisie is not to be missed.