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What Maisie Knew (Wordsworth Classics)
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
Maisie is somewhat different in style from James' other works, but this is not a lapse in quality but rather a testament to his versatility as an author - he was not stuck in one particular mould. The choice of subject matter is fairly unique - I don't know of any other novels that deal with these topics in quite the same way. Social mores may have changed since James' time, but the way children are effected by such events remains the same. The story is narrated, but we see the events unfold through the child's eyes. The numerous dialogues between Maisie and her various adults portray brilliantly the veiled manner in which children are spoken to about 'inappropriate' subjects, and the vague scarcity of key details which a child should not be allowed to know is left to the reader to be unraveled. In this unraveling the reader is given a tangible sense of the child's confusion, her struggle to comprehend these unexplained happenings with her lack of definite information. It is James' intention that the reader should share in this confusion - that there should be some struggle to piece together what is occuring out of the direct line of sight. This helps to create a connection between the reader and the little heroine.
Some criticize the novel for its consistantly dark tone - but this is hardly a basis on which to assign value to the work (or any work for that matter). Furthermore, what other tone could the novel have? This is after all an exploration of a group of supposed adults behaving very badly indeed towards a helpless child. The moral qualms are not all rooted in the Victorian age, many remain just as topical today as then - which is in itself quite an achievement.
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Good book, get it then the audible companion if you are not used to these kinda books (as i was not). Great story.Published 3 months ago by CfMoo
I've read that, at one time, Henry James lived as a neighbor of Joseph Conrad, H.G.
Wells, and Ford Maddox Ford. Read more
This is a very very sad look at how divorced parents can use a child as a pawn, and this was written about a century ago when divorce was significantly more rare. Read morePublished 10 months ago by Heather Angus-Lee
I read a lot of Henry James when I was young. I had not read this one and tried to read it, but gave up. Read morePublished 12 months ago by Nicholas Kadar
I have finally finished this book. I decided to read a second Henry James novel just to see if it was the book or if I just was not a fan of his work. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Chazzi
Interesting, different and a great read! If you wish to have knowledge of some privileged children's abandoned upbringing this delves a bit into it.Published 13 months ago by SwissModel
If one scans plot summaries of most of Henry James' novels, the surface plots themselves appear to be fairly conventional and unremarkable. Read morePublished 14 months ago by BOB
It just moved too slowly, and the end was anticlimactic.Published 15 months ago by Bonnie B. Phemister