What Maisie Knew

Henry James’s What Maisie Knew (1897) is the story of a disintegrating marriage told in free indirect discourse from the perspective of a young child. The question implicit in the title, namely how much Maisie really understands about her parents’ mistreatment of each other, offered James great scope for the exploration of the limits of knowledge and self-knowledge that Ford Madox Ford would label impressionism. James’s concerns (both in this novel and in the “late phase” that follows it), including the divided self, moral ambiguity, and unreliable narration, made him a model for later modernists, including Joseph Conrad, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and Virginia Woolf.

This page has been adapted from Pericles Lewis’s Cambridge Introduction to Modernism (Cambridge UP, 2007), pp. 60-61.