Item description for What Maisie Knew (Green Integer) by Henry James...
Seen through the eyes of a young girl, we watch her divorced parents pursue their separate lives with different lovers-all the while competing for her affection and approval, using her, in part, to justify their behavior. Maisie, the young girl may perceive their world with a child's awareness, but she also has great wisdom and, as James reveals her, is the only stable and moral figure among the transgressing and confused adults.
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Release Date Feb 1, 2005
Publisher Green Integer
ISBN 1931243212 ISBN13 9781931243216
Availability 0 units.
More About Henry James
Henry James (1843-1916) is the author of such classic novels as Daisy Miller, The Golden Bowl, and Washington Square. David Bromwich is a Sterling Professor of English at Yale University.
Reviews - What do customers think about What Maisie Knew (Green Integer)?
Maisie, light of my life, fire of my loins Jun 16, 2007
Doh! I meant Lolita. Well, I think that Maisie is a protyope for Lolita. She adapts to being shifted around by her parents and their various lovers by becoming something of a nymphette herself with Daddy Claude. This is a must read for all of us Nabakov fans. I'm quite sure he read it too.
The Corruption of Maisie Aug 14, 2006
WHAT MAISIE KNEW is probably the weirdest novel by Henry James. He had already written of seamy themes before this, but now he writes a variation of one of his favorite themes--that of the corruption of the innocent. Maisie is a young female child, perhaps six years old whose parents are getting divorced. In the best of situations divorce hits hard, and this was far from the best. Maisie's parents, Beale and Ida Farange are morally depraved and care not a whit for the welfare of their daughter. Maisie is a good-natured child who wants only to be loved by the parents she loves. Maisie is the prototypical Jamesian innocent about to be plunged into a maelstrom of decay.
The terms of the divorce allow Maisie to live with each parent at six month intervals, and this she does. It is what she sees and happens to her that begin to cloud Maisie's moral universe. To begin with when she stays with her father, his friends paw her in ways that smack of sexual abuse. Maisie's mother, Ida, hires a governess, Miss Overmore, to care for Maisie. Soon enough Miss Overmore begins an affair with Maisie's father, Beale, ultimately marrying him. Ida follows suit by marrying her lover, Sir Claude. So now Maisie must adjust to a set of step parents. Claude's interest in his step-daughter verges on the incestuous--indeed later on when Maisie is thirteen, she outright propositions him. Ida hires a new governess, Mrs. Wix, to take the place of the erstwhile Miss Overmore. Mrs. Wix is a decent elderly woman who truly loves Maisie and tries to inculcate in her a moral center of goodness. This sense of goodness is put to the test immediately, when Maisie's remarried parents begin a new dance of musical lovers.
As Maisie ages toward young girlhood, she shows signs that she has well learned the lessons of moral depravity that abound. She has no problem adjusting to a series of new adults zipping in and out of her life as parents, step parents, and lovers of parents. Maisie even makes it easy for these newcomers to pull the wool over the eyes of their cuckolded partners by making suggestions to facilitate what is by now a familiar routine or illicit romances. By the end of the novel, a thirteen year old Maisie desires Sir Claude as her own lover. Mrs. Wix, when she hears of this, angrily demands of Maisie what has happened to the sense of moral decorum that she thought was by now firmly instilled in Maisie. The answer, of course, is that the sense of propriety was doomed from the start since Maisie early on learned the difference between words of decorum and deeds of decorum. The Maisie at the end of WHAT MAZIE KNEW suggests that children--or adults for that matter--need a ongoing foundation of goodness to show that the ugliness they may see unfolding around them need not envelop them.
Developing Moral Sense Jul 22, 2006
Henry James' 1907 WHAT MAISIE KNEW provides deep psychological insight into a young girl's predicament, as a result of her parents' bitter divorce in Edwardian England. Inspired by a friend's comments on the "shuttlecock" lifestyle of a divorced child in the vicious game of spousal revenge, this novel studies the harmful existence of an innocent victim of a joint custody dispute. Even at the tender age of seven, Maisie realizes the wisdom of playing dumb. Although she reports little back to the opposing sides, Maisie keenly observes and thoughtfully listens to all that occurs in both her uncomfortable biospheres. Eventually she adopts the simple policy of not telling--thus refusing to provide more fuel for animosity on either side.
As in THE GOLDEN BOWL--a lengthy novel dealing with the marital and emotional battles among a very limited cast of characters--this shorter work could easily be adapted for the stage, as the chapters fall naturally into Scenes. James' protracted dialogues between Maisie and the impassioned adults who dispute her parenting rights would be delicious to dramatize, although readers would lose the private psychological depth as Maisie copes with increasingly new information. She reconciles her maturing lucid udnerstanding to the empowered adults in her universe with private schemes to protect one or the other parent and later, step-parent.
These intense colloquies are designed both to elicit information re events which have occurred offstage, and to stir Maisie to the brink of definitive action--which will directly effect the five adults whom we assume are most interested in her welfare: Beale Farange, Ida Farange, Sir Claude, Miss Overton, and Mrs. Wix. Little Maisie unwittingly serves as a catalyst for adult passion, while she secretly exults in bringing her favorite people together. One of the great literary ironies of this novel springs from the unexpected separations which her warm-hearted meddling precipitates. To her childlike logic, being Free is the most desirable status for formerly married persons--free to love and marry whom they choose--free to make a cherished home for her and to ease their own heartache.
Maisie is further isolated from children, even girls her own age; thus she is left to puzzle out the world using only her keen observation of adult interactions. But how can the lonely girl truly develop a sense of morality--at least by Edwardian standards? Is she herself Free to choose her new and permanent step-parents? Does she have the right to demand that the adults who love her make extreme sacrifices--just to retain her presence and loyalty? Does Maisie at 12 know what is best for herself? Which path will she ultimately choose? Her final decision will impact the lives of three far-from-blameless but well-meaning adults. Maise at 12 is too worldy-wise to indulge in Child's Play. This absorbing work is truly Vintage James.
Several Turns of the Screw Apr 6, 2006
What hubris to review a work by such a major novelist as Henry James, even though WHAT MAISIE KNEW may not be one of his major novels! All the same, a review can perhaps be useful in two regards: by commenting on this particular edition, and by suggesting how the novel might appeal to those familiar with other James works but not this one.
The Penguin Classics paperback is crisply printed, comfortable in the hand, and well annotated. There is also an excellent essay by Paul Theroux. It gives too much away, I think, to be read as an introduction, but it does make a helpful afterword. If you do read the essay first, which is how it is printed, it may seem that Theroux has revealed virtually the entire plot, but in fact this is not so. James's narrative exposition is unusually swift in this book, and a lot happens very quickly, but his main interest lies in exploring the psychological depths of the situation that he has established; there is a distinct change of gear at roughly the halfway point of the book.
As Theroux points out, the novel is generally considered a transitional work between James's earlier style and his later one. Theroux also locates this gear-change at the point where James ceased writing in longhand and started dictating his novels to a stenographer -- a crisis described so well by Colm Toibin in his biographical novel, THE MASTER. The first half of the book shows a leanness of style and also a great sense of humor not often associated with the author. But the book's premise is intrinsically comic: Maisie, a five-year-old girl, observes the doings of the adults around her as she is shipped from household to household in consequence of her parents' divorce, as the parents take lovers and remarry, and then as virtually everybody else in the story takes other lovers. The humor comes from the fact that while Maisie understands so little at first, the adult reader quickly picks up what is going on. The spider symmetries of the expanding web of sex make a formal pattern as clear and intricate as a dance, illuminated by James's dry wit and his beautiful ability to see through childish eyes.
Several things change at the half-way point. Maisie becomes old enough to understand a little more. The adults whom she had previously observed from below now become more conscious of her as a potential ally and start using her unscrupulously to further their own ends. Twists of the plot which had at first seemed only amusing now appear as quite nasty turns of the screw, as Maisie's affections and loyalties are forced into the vise. Questions of morality come to the fore, and eventually dominate the action. The narrative tone also changes; although Maisie's knowledge and moral awareness develops considerably, James is forced into using his own voice to describe it, as though Maisie herself has lost the words to follow her own farewell to childhood.
The reference above to THE TURN OF THE SCREW is deliberate, for WHAT MAISIE KNEW (1897) seems almost like a preliminary draft for the more famous story, published in the following year. Yes, there are differences: this is comic rather than tragic, complicit rather than mysterious, and much less hermetic. The child heroine appears to come through with more wisdom and less trauma than the situation might have caused. But the final scene is astonishingly close to the ending of the later story: a struggle for control of a once-innocent child waged between a humble governess and two charismatic figures who exert a powerful hold both on the child and on each other. Only the ending is different, though no less worth waiting for.
What Maisie Knew.....Do I Really Care? Feb 2, 2005
I am not a Henry James fanatic, as a matter of fact, this is the first work of his that I have read, and with that I must say that this novel is horribly written and completely unrealistic in it's portrayal of the child, Maisie and especially her dialogue. I have been assigned to read this for an english class as an undergrad and I have tolerated many a badly executed idea...but never like this. Boring, boring, and more boring. And as a result, I am comnpletely turned off to James other works. I hear his other works are great.....read those first, you may fair better.