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richardderus

Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud

What Maisie Knew - Henry James Book Circle Reads 43Rating: 3.75* of fiveThe 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 childhood, there is a savage comedy that owes much to Dickens. But for his portrayal of the child's capacity for intelligent wonder, James summons all the subtlety he devotes elsewhere to his most celebrated adult protagonists. Neglected and exploited by everyone around her, Maisie inspires James to dwell with extraordinary acuteness on the things that may pass between adult and child. In addition to a new introduction, this edition of the novel offers particularly detailed notes, bibliography, and a list of variant readings.My Review: Ida and Beale Farange, Maisie's parents, resemble Winter and Dick Derus, my own parents, very very closely. When I read this book in 1996, I was smacked in the teeth by the eerie similarities between the parenting styles of the adults. I'm still a widge unnerved by it. I am completely certain my father's never read the book since I've never ever seen or heard tell of him reading a novel, and I'm pretty confident that my mother wouldn't have read it, being as she was a thoroughgoing anti-Victorian in her reading preferences.But it's as if they absorbed it from the aether and used it as a how-to manual. Poor Maisie!My opinion of the book, then, is strongly colored by the coincidence of its resemblance to my own life. I rate it and respond to it based on that resonance; but that would, all other things being equal, put this much closer to five stars than I rate it here.I've cut a star off because I, unlike most of the professional critics who have discussed the book, find the long ending section set in Maisie's teenaged years (or so we all think, it's never made explicit) unconvincing and a lot too long to be anything by hamfistedly didactic and tendentious. Maisie faces a decision that no child should have to face and she handles it with an aplomb that I found convincing...for a while...because it was so clearly prefigured in the adults who surrounded her behaving so badly. But James was a moralist, and he grafted his Moral Point onto the logical, inevitable ruminations Maisie goes through to make her horrible decision, and ends up crashing the narrative car into the brick wall of Conviction.I do so hate that.As an unrelated aside, there's a movie version...the first ever, apparently...featuring the utterly gorgeous Alexander Skarsgard and the equally toothsome Julianne Moore! Yippee doodles!