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What Maisie Knew

3.41  ·  Rating details ·  5,520 ratings  ·  634 reviews
After her parents' bitter divorce, young Maisie Farange finds herself turned into a 'little feathered shuttlecock' to be swatted back and forth by her selfish mother, Ida, and her vain father, Beale, who value her only as a means of provoking one another. And when both take lovers and remarry, Maisie-solitary, observant and wise beyond her years- is drawn into an entangled ...more
Paperback, 275 pages
Published January 7th 1986 by Penguin Group (first published 1897)
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Dan Snyder Yes, this thought kept coming up. I think that this was another horror lurking in the untold part of this story, which featured so much unspokenness.

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A wise old child lived among strange folk
The more she saw, the less she spoke,
The less she spoke, the more she cried,
What's to become of that wise old child?

Maisie, Maisie, sharp yet hazy,
How does your garden grow?
With jam suppers and boiled beef,
And pretty ladies all in a row.

There was a fine lady who had a girl child.
She had so many lovers, she didn't hear when she cried.
She gave her some broth without any bread,
Then whipped her right soundly and sent her to bed.

Hush-a-bye Maisie,
Paul Bryant
Sep 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 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 m ...more
Nov 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Henry James is a heuristic writer. Know what I mean?

In other words, he remained throughout his life a Seeker. The overarching priority of Being over Becoming meant little to him, as a truth he could hold on to.

So, impelled by his own tumultuous and impetuous cravings - the cravings that comprised his inner Daemon - he was driven “down, down - to a sunless sea:” the world of deep and dangerous introspection...

Tonight, after re-dipping deeply into Henry James’ convoluted introspections in this no
How to describe this book; different, unusual, even disturbing on some level. Young Maisie Farange has, possibly, the two worst parents in the history of literature, Dickens characters notwithstanding. Her two step parents, from opposite sides of the parental marriages, were somewhat better, but still lacking from my point of view. Her governess, Mrs. Wix, was the most responsible adult in the book, certainly the best one to have custody of Maisie. I would like to read about Maisie as an adult, ...more
Apr 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Years ago, I read somewhere, perhaps in Graves' Goodbye to All of That, or a biography on Ford Madox Ford, where it was recorded (a tricky word if it's Graves) that Ford, while out in the trenches, read and greatly admired Henry James' What Maisie Knew. What stuck in my mind was the fact that Ford (as I remember it) thought it a great treatment of evil and children. Ford, a quirky but fine critic, could be a critical bear when it came to James, so the fact that he singled this novel out for prai ...more
Richard Derus
Book Circle Reads 43

Rating: 3.75* of five

The Book Description: What Maisie Knew (1897) represents one of James's finest reflections on the rites of passage from wonder to knowledge, and the question of their finality. The child of violently divorced parents, Maisie Farange opens her eyes on a distinctly modern world. Mothers and fathers keep changing their partners and names, while she herself becomes the pretext for all sorts of adult sexual intrigue.

In this classic tale of the death of childh
Mar 12, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1001-books
When I saw that this book was about a young girl whose parents divorce and both remarry, and how she is shuttled between the various adults that have some reponsibility for her, I wondered why it wasn't in the Ultimate Teen Book Guide in place of 'Daisy Miller'. But the reason for that became clear as soon as I started reading it.

The language is very difficult, with sentences that go on for line after line without ever arriving at an obvious meaning. I was often getting to the end of a paragrap
MJ Nicholls
Aug 27, 2020 marked it as half-read
Spiralling into an end-of-summer reading and viewing slump, where my otherwise robust capacity for studied appreciation snaps into tethersnapping irritation. This novel abandonment preceded a narked abandonment of Bèla Tarr’s Werckmeister Harmonies, one of those tedious, lugubrious, Romanian black and white arthouse films that make people hate arthouse films, and cineastes consider life-changing masterpieces kissed by Yahweh. It seems that others found What Maisie Knew as unappealing as me, with ...more
Sep 27, 2011 rated it did not like it
I hate Henry James with an eternal and fiery passion. I rarely hate a book utterly; I hate this book. It's actually worse than The Bostonians, which I would not have imagined possible. It's just not necessary to write sentences two hundred words long with four semicolons and eight commas. It's just not. Especially not EVERY sentence.

It's like reading an impossibly uninteresting Jane Austen novel that's been babelfished into German and then back. I could only read it for ten minutes at a time, be
Jan 09, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: u-s-lit
My real life reading friends and I - a scant five of us - have, at my suggestion, and since 2014, attempted an annual group reading project (book, theme or author). That first year was Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus. In 2015, we pledged to read novels about WWI by authors from the participant countries. Last year was Anthony Trollope. For reasons you could guess as easily as I can, one of the five of us (not me), at the end of each year, has not read any book in the project. The rest of us have a ...more
Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.)
In the annals of classic fiction I have encountered some truly monstrous parents (some of the parents in Austen or Dickens certainly come to mind), but the mother and father of little Maisie Farange must surely be the worst. They are truly beyond despicable, and if I could reach into the pages of Henry James's What Maisie Knew, I'd throttle them both! Okay, now that I've gotten that off of my chest, perhaps I can provide an objective review of this novel. What Maisie Knew was written by Henry Ja ...more
Sep 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed, 1800-1900
What Maisie Knew is an exquisite, highly polished artifact, in a way that reminded me of The Spoils of Poynton, another of my favourite James novels. I was interested to see, after finishing the novel, that these two works were published back-to-back in 1897. Both feature tortuous, even brutal, family relationships—the stuff of tabloids—transmuted into beauty through James’s ethereal, allusive style.

In the case of Maisie, the novel’s chief subject is the havoc wreaked on children by acrimonious
I was angry while reading this book. Children forced to act as adults, because the adults in their lives act like children. Maisie learned at an early age how to survive divorce. Her parents stole her childhood from her, by making her a pawn in their disputes. Then they chose other people to influence Maisie who were just as bad. I liked the book, but had to get used to the dialogue of the times. Good book to read abôut how not to handle a divorce with children involved.
Nov 12, 2008 rated it it was ok
Try as I might, I just couldn't get into what I thought was going to be right up my alley. I blame that partly on circumstances -- I do much of my reading on the subway, and you just can't read James like that: a short trip alone will get you through a mere paragraph which you'll have gone over three or four times trying to even comprehend. So yes, I'll give James another chance when I can read him under more favorable conditions, but I also find his style needlessly cumbersome and obscure rathe ...more
Linda Robinson
Sep 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Thought I was over a mild obsession with Henry James, but not so much. Having bumped into the Toronto Film Festival and a movie adaptation of What Maisie Knew, I got the book. And was transported back to college and my infatuation with James and his marvelous voyeuristic peerings into emotional (sexual) repression. Freud was obsessed with it. James as well. I thought Turn of the Screw was the best example before today. Oh blimey, that marvelous scene when The Governess first conjures Peter Quint ...more
Apr 06, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Terence by: Steve's GR review
I read The Ambassadors and The Portrait of a Lady sometime in the early ‘90s, when I was in graduate school. They passed through my consciousness with nary a ripple; the impression that I carried away was…boredom. I wasn’t able to engage with any of the characters, and the elite social milieu of late Victorian/Edwardian England wasn’t of interest to me as such (give me a W. Somerset Maugham tale and it’s a different story). Recently, and after much mental to-ing and fro-ing, I picked up an audio ...more
Duffy Pratt
May 02, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: classic
James has a knack both for creating monsters and weaklings. This book seemed to contain nothing but, and depending on how you look at them, each its possible to see each character as being a bit of both. On the surface, it all drives towards a big moral choice for Masie. But I keep thinking that the choice is ultimately false. There's so much baseness underlying each of her options, that it was hard for me to see it as a moral choice at all. Did she do the right thing? Did she even end up with t ...more
Aug 05, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: classics, book-club
After finishing this book, I recognize, in retrospect, that it's a thorough and insightful look at the psyche of a young girl, fought over by her divorced parents and, ultimately, her step-parents, yet while I was still in the process of reading it, I could hardly stand to keep turning the pages, perhaps due, in part, to the sheer number of phrases and, by extension, commas that Henry James packed into every sentence. (See what I did there?) ...more
Mark Stephenson
Dec 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
A tough but very rewarding read. Maisie has the unenviable lot of being born to a handsome but worldly couple unready for either marriage or parenthood and is used by both parents as fodder for their contentious divorce and subsequent perpetual warfare. One might think that this would be a very dark book ( it was written just after The Turn of the Screw) but that would be without reckoning with Maisie, who is a comic marvel, a little genius and ultimately a heroine. Some say she is a bit of a se ...more
Oct 25, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dnf, 1001
I'm sorry Mr. James. I'm at page 175 and I just can't handle any more. I have no idea who "she" and "he" are referring to, and long long long long sentences where "she said" "he said" but absolutely nothing happens.

So I'll never know what Maisie knew.
Dec 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
During my tenure as a student at the university, I read my fair share of 19th century authors. While the 19th century was not my favorite time period—I took as many medieval literature classes as I could and devoured Viking/Icelandic sagas—Henry James was one of the authors that kept reoccurring. Many of my professors liked his work; however, without fail, we would always read Daisy Miller. So, even while I had a little experience with James, I never had the chance to read one of his novels. Whe ...more
Roger Brunyate
Apr 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: before-1900
Several Turns of the Screw

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.

This Penguin Classics paperback is crisply printed, comfortable in the hand, and well annotated. There is also an excellent essay by
An unsigned review published in the 1897 Manchester Guardian describes this book as "a study, not a story or a drama", "a work of art, but hardly one which we wish to hang on our walls."

I feel like these words perfectly capture the essence of Henry James' work. It is a study of a child's innocence amidst the entanglement of adult relationships and one can not help but feel a deep sense of compassion towards Maisie. Nothing of the situation she finds herself in -the ugly divorce of her parents an
This was very different to what I was expecting. A very young child Maisie Farange becomes a pawn between her waring, bitter parents and eventual step parents. All of the adults in this novel were found wanting. All were despicable in one way or another, emotional blackmailers, selfish beings.

I was left wondering by the exhausting end the psychological impact for Maisie in later years. The years of emotional abuse would surely have taken a toll.

Some darker themes hinted at here - the novel was t
Sep 13, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone.
I recommend this book to anyone who cares about the craft of novel writing--or the ability of a middle-aged man to imagine himself as a young girl.

I learned that James is brilliant. Maise has the hots for Sir Claude. And most parents are as awful as we always imagined them to be when we were children.
James Henderson
Dec 31, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novella
While some of James' fiction can be confusing to read, Maisie is relatively easy to follow, though you might find yourself going back over a sentence to get its full flavor. Reading some of James' sentences is like hang-gliding from the first word to the period—you take in so much information along the way that you're likely to get a bit giddy.
The story of the sensitive daughter of divorced and irresponsible parents, What Maisie Knew has great contemporary relevance as an unflinching account of
Jun 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019, audio
What to do with What Maisie Knew? I quite enjoyed the conceit, even while I didn’t love it the way I can best love James (looking at you Wings of a Dove and Portrait of a Lady). But I went from reveling in (and being horrified by) the sheer wickedness of parenting that creates our precocious Maisie to being a little bored by the morality play that caps it off.

And did the untouchable nearly perfect Juliet Stevenson make an unforced error here? I think she did, and I never thought I’d say that. T
Feb 14, 2011 rated it did not like it
Thanks, Henry James, for writing such a terrible book that I literally struggled to read this. I hated to pick it up, loved to put it down, had to check it out beyond the number of times allowed by the library, finally settling for becoming overdue, and now have something like $10 in library fines.

The only way we're even is if you send me my $10.

Another reviewer says: "Apparently, Lawrence Durrell posed this question: "Would you rather read Henry James or be crushed to death by a great weight?
Jun 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
An only child of divorced parents is passed around among half a dozen adults of varying relationships to her (nannies, parents' new lovers, second spouses), all of whom are unfailingly selfish and incapable of framing her well-being in any terms other than what suits them. Admittedly anyone in the world who claims to be acting in a purely disinterested manner on any occasion is probably not telling the truth but this presents a notably pessimistic view of human nature. Written in 1897, close to ...more
Will Miller
Sep 11, 2007 rated it it was amazing
If you think you might like late James, pick this up -- it will separate the curious from the James fanatics. Playing with his own "junior adult" style of writing for children, James refracts a sordid, petty adult world through precocious eyes. Beautifully sustained -- as satisfying as calculus. ...more
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Reading 1001: What Maisie Knew 2 11 Nov 28, 2020 05:45PM  
Classics for Begi...: June 2018: What Maisie knew 12 61 Jun 26, 2018 04:35PM  
Goodreads Librari...: add edition description ce-stia-maisie 2 11 Nov 26, 2015 08:57AM  
Huntsville-Madiso...: Staff Pick - What Maisie Knew by Henry James 1 4 Jun 22, 2015 06:13PM  
What Maisie Knew: general discussion 8 19 Feb 18, 2015 01:11PM  
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Henry James, OM, son of theologian Henry James Sr., brother of the philosopher and psychologist William James and diarist Alice James, was an American-born author, one of the founders and leaders of a school of realism in fiction. He spent much of his life in England and became a British subject shortly before his death. He is primarily known for a series of major novels in which he portrayed the ...more

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