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What Maisie Knew by Henry James : Teaser Tuesday

Since a contemporary retelling of What Maisie Knew is coming out on film sometime this year, hopefully in May, I started reading Henry James' novel online via the free Gutenberg Project. It's on my list of Books to Read Before You See the Movie so I have no excuse.  I have to say I'm not loving reading it on the computer... the scrolling is tedious and it's way too tiring on the eyes. Oh woe is me, I sure don't want to shell out the big bucks for the movie tie-in edition!  

As I'm reading, I'm struck by how modern the basic premise is - a little girl is shuttled back and forth between her selfish, utterly irresponsible, divorced parents, spending six months with each.  While it was written back in 1897, there's something strikingly contemporary about the parental manipulations; using her as a foil, plying her for news of what daddy or mommy has been up to, each trying to gain the upper hand. 

Take a look at this passage where Maisie has just returned to her mother, Ida's from a stay with her father, Beale Farange. 

"And did your beastly papa, my precious angel, send any message to your own loving mamma?" Then it was that she found the words spoken by her beastly papa to be, after all, in her little bewildered ears, from which, at her mother's appeal, they passed, in her clear shrill voice, straight to her little innocent lips. "He said I was to tell you, from him," she faithfully reported, "that you're a nasty horrid pig!  "                   
The above teaser from What Maisie Knew is part of ShouldBeReadings Teaser Tuesday meme and Bibliophile by the Sea's First Paragraph Tuesday.

I can't include the entire opening paragraph but here's the opening line - "The litigation seemed interminable and had in fact been complicated; but by the decision on the appeal the judgement of the divorce-court was confirmed as to the assignment of the child."  

Having read that impossibly dull beginning you can understand why I can't post the entire paragraph. Normally it might have been enough to put me off except I'm looking forward to reading the original and to see the film and how they've revamped the story. I'm also looking forward to seeing Julianne Moore as Maisie's mother - an aging rocker they're calling Susanna (because how many Ida's do you know?), Steve Coogan as Beale, and Alexander Skarsgard as Lincoln, who looks like he may be a manny! Ah, as I read more deeply in the book, Lincoln is mostly likely Sir Claude - the man that Ida Beale marries. He is supposed to be handsome and loving and indeed, Skarsgard is that. The character's relationship with Maisie (Onata Aprile) - at least what I can glean from the trailer - looks warm; he seems to be one of the few to really care about the little girl.

Maisie also has two governesses, one for each household.  And we have another modern problem:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    
Could daddy possibly be having an affair with his own child's nanny? Hmmm, didn't Sienna Miller kick Jude Law out because he was having an affair with his child's nanny? Icky then. Icky now! 


  1. Sounds like a sad read. My teaser come from Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott.

  2. Hm, sounds a little sad. I hope you enjoy the read though.

    Visit my TT post.

  3. That is a very strange and sad intro, but I am curious since it will be a movie. Thanks for joining us Sim; I appreciated it.

  4. You're right...it does sound very contemporary...and I'm glad the movie will be a more updated version. You had me at Julianne Moore as the mother.

    I loved how innocently the child (in your excerpt) repeated the vile comment...lol.


  5. I'm not sure I could handle the florid prose that was common both in 1897 and in James' work. I think I'll wait for the movie. Check out my teasers for Mila 2.0 by Debra Driza and Rage Against the Dying by Becky Masterman. Happy reading!

  6. Great teaser (and nice blog). I think Henry James's work is very suitable to other media--I've enjoyed adaptations of Washington Square into film and play.

    Here's my teaser: http://www.bookclublibrarian.com/2013/03/first-chapter-first-paragraph-5-and.html

    I'm a new follower via GFC. Follow back?

  7. As horrid as the opening is, I love the teaser. I wonder if they'll have to change that. You know parents have to be much more subtle these days when using children as the harbinger of ill will. Here's Mine

  8. Your teaser definitely made me want to read more. Some things never change, do they? I'll look into the Gutenberg Project.

  9. The teaser has my interest. I visit the Gutenberg Project to download classics on audio. I listened to many chapters of War and Peace that way.

    1. That's a great tip Nise; I'll see if I can listen to this one since, as I said, it's hard to read a full book on the computer.


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