Henry James pp 222-235 | Cite as

What Maisie Knew: the Evolution of a ‘Moral Sense’ (1961)

  • James W. Gargano
Part of the Modern Judgements book series (MOJU)


Henry James’s What Maisie Knew presents from a complex point of view the initiation of a young girl into a world of vortical activities and emotions. The novel, moreover, as an example of James’s celebrated ‘dramatic’ method, contains ambiguities resulting from the special techniques (not to speak of stylistic eccentricities) he developed from 1896 to 1901, the period the The Awkward Age and The Sacred Fount. It is not surprising, therefore, to find critics in radical disagreement as to what Maisie learns from the disruptions, reunions, and chance encounters that nourish her consciousness. Does she, as Beach maintains,1 learn nothing, or does she, as Dupee declares, ‘know at last … that she is in fact an instrument of badness among [her parents and step-parents] and a not unwilling one so long as she goes along with them in her desire for support and affection?’2 Are we to adopt the ambiguous view of Pelham Edgar, who, after insisting that the novel traces the development of Maisie’s moral sense, confesses that ‘as we close the book we are in the same predicament as Mrs Wix, and ask ourselves what, after all, did Maisie really know’?3 Or is Canby right in assuming that in Maisie James, as a rather headstrong virtuoso, was concerned with ‘stage effects, not character and personality’ ?4


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  1. 1.
    Joseph Warren Beach, The Method of Henry James (Philadelphia, 1954) P. 239.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    F. W. Dupee, Henry James(New York, 1951 ) p. 192.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Pelham Edgar, Henry James: Man and Author (Boston and New York, 1927) p. 527.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Henry S. Canby, Turn,West, Turn East (Boston, 1951) p. 216.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Marius Bewley, The Complex Fate (London, 1952) pp. 96–544.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Harris W. Wilson, ‘What Did Maisie Know?’ in College English xvii(Feb. 1956) 279–81.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Limited 1968

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  • James W. Gargano

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