Paul Bryant's Reviews > What Maisie Knew

What Maisie Knew by Henry James
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Sep 27, 2007

it was amazing
bookshelves: novels

Well, I told myself to review more of my 5 star books instead of taking the easy way out projectile sneering at some grisly two star efforts. but it's hard. There are some brilliant Henry James reviews dotted around, and this won't be one of those. I think there's a point in some of these long, long literary careers (it's true of long musical careers too) where you've followed the writer out of the early period into the majestic middle period and you know the late period is going to give you a migraine, and there are a couple of books in the middle period in which everything comes right, the focus, the point of it all (what's he actually on about? Ah yes, I see!!) and for me What Maisie Knew is HJ gambolling and turning handsprings and summersets in the brilliant July sunshine before the dementia of subjunctive clausitis set in for good and they took him away and you could only see him on Tuesday afternoons and then only if you didn't speak. So sad. Give the old fellow a bun and some typewriter ribbon.

HJ had this filtered-point-of-view thing, he banged on about that for his entire career, and here he filters viciousness through innocence, Maisie's rebarbative parents and their sophisticated internecine wars conducted through the medium of their little daughter's hapless life. It's brilliantly upsetting, much more so than any number of Dickens' pathetic put-upon Little Dorrits and Little Olivers and Little Miss Dombeys. Not to badmouth Dickens, you can't, it's actually illegal, but you don't go to CD for psychological finesse, you come to Henry James.

In my humble opinion you can stuff your Portrait of a Lady, that one's an unaccountably popular turkey. What Maisie Knew is second only to The Turn of the Screw in the HJ all time Top Ten, and that's just the simple truth.
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01/31/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-14 of 14) (14 new)

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message 1: by Jimmy (last edited Feb 20, 2011 02:53PM) (new)

Jimmy This review made me laugh. "What Maisie Knew is HJ gambolling and turning handsprings and summersets in the brilliant July sunshine before the dementia of subjunctive clausitis set in for good and they took him away and you could only see him on Tuesday afternoons and then only if you didn't speak. So sad. Give the old fellow a bun and some typewriter ribbon." HAHA, ok sorry for quoting you back to you, that's quite redundant no? This is one of the few HJ books I own, so it's good to know that it's a 5-star one instead of one of his lesser efforts. I've actually never read HJ, (though his brother WJ is quite good) so maybe I'll start with this one.


Steve Ford Maddox Ford really liked this one (amidst the shells and trenches at that). I haven't read it, but soon. Soon.


message 3: by Jessica (last edited Feb 20, 2011 05:40PM) (new)

Jessica okay, you've convinced me. Haven't read this one and I love 'Turn of the Screw'...


Paul Bryant Enjoy, friends! & thanks for the comments... one day I shall be brave enough for The Golden Bowl, but not yet, not yet.


Steve FMF didn't like The Golden Bowl. I think at that point James had started to dictating his novels, and FMF (as I recall) thought that was a mistake. But for all I know Maisie might be one of those dictated efforts.) Whatever the case, I'm steering clear of the Golden Bowl.


Paul Bryant The dictating started with the last three novels, I think. When you say "didn't like" did you mean "found impossible to read" ? I am still quite amazed that HJ was able to dictate all those endless sentences.


message 7: by Ian (new)

Ian "Marvin" Graye Paul wrote: "Well, I told myself to review more of my 5 star books"

I was just saying that.


message 8: by Sketchbook (new)

Sketchbook An updated movie version due this summer w Julianne Moore-Alexander Skarsgard.


Paul Bryant she's one of my favourites


message 10: by Sketchbook (new)

Sketchbook --AND she takes on v interesting indies. (A.S. plays the younger 2d husby, re-set in NYC). I'm bigo fan of The Awkward Age.


message 11: by Sara (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara So who on this thread has seen the movie? I thought it was very well done and it spurred me to read the book, but it doesn't hold a candle to the source.


message 12: by Sketchbook (new)

Sketchbook The movie is an "interesting attempt," but otherwise a failure. We were among the 50 people who saw it.


message 13: by Paul (last edited Jul 21, 2015 01:45PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Bryant I saw it and I thought it was pretty good, given the v dubious premise of modernising HJ. But then I really love Clueless.


message 14: by Sara (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara ah! I thought it got good reviews all around. But then I found this: http://bit.ly/1Jw4ulu. I don't entirely agree with Francine Prose's read of the book or the movie—but who am I to argue with her?


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