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Thursday, September 26, 2013

What Maisie Knew (1897) by Henry James

They made an updated movie of What Maisie Knew, starring Alexander Scarsgard from True Blood.  By all accounts a terrible movie.
Book Review
What Maisie Knew
by Henry James
p. 1897

Guide to 19th Century American Literature

Book Review: The Awakening by Kate Chopin ,1899,  9/26/13
Book Review: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, 1885, 10/15/13
Book Review: The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James ,1880 , 7/16/13
Book Review; Ben Hur by Lew Wallace,1880  6/13/13
Book Review: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott,1869, 3/9/13
Book Review: The Marble Faun by Nathaniel Hawthorne 1860, 9/19/12
Book Review: Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe 1852, 9/12/12
Book Review: The Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne,1851, 5/30/12
Book Review: Moby Dick by Herman Melville 1851, 8/27/12
Book Review: The House of the Seven Gables,1851,  6/21/12
Book Review: The Pit and The Pendulum  1842, 3/28/12
Book Review: The Purloined Letter by Edgar Allan Poe, 1844, 3/27/12
Book Review: The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe, 1839, 3/20/12
Book Review: The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper, 1826, 6/18/12
  What Maisie Knew is about the fall-out from a messy, messy divorce, written from the perspective of the daughter of the divorcing parents.  James starts What Maisie Knew with what must have then been a newish phenmenon: A split custody arrangement where she is to spend half her time with Dad and half her time with Mom.  Both Mom and Dad quickly remarry, and the first several chapters will ring true to anyone has been through a nasty divorce, with both parents jockeying for affection and trying to turn Maisie against the other parent.

 This, however does not last, instead first Mom loses interest, then Dad, and Maisie ends up spending time with her step-Parents, who have their own new relationships.  It's a sad but familiar plight, but James creates Maisie as a calm, thoughtful little person (it would be a stretch to call Maisie a child given her narrative prowess) who persists as a calm center in a maelstrom of failed relationships and sexual drama.

   Maisie's parents are thoroughly despicable people, feckless and "immoral" by the standards of the day.  Thankfully her step-parents are slightly better, particularly Sir Claude, who when he is not having an affair with Maidie's step-mother (Yes, the step-father and the step-mother hook up in What Maisie Knew) treats her with respect and dignity.

  In the end Maisie turns her back on all her assorted would-be step parents, parents and guardians and chooses the reliable Mrs. Wix and literally sails off into the sunset, leaving Sir Claude behind.

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