Wednesday, May 15, 2013

What Maisie Knew by Henry James

What Maisie Knew (Movie Tie-In) Henry James's novel is about the plight of Maisie, a child caught up in the bitterness and ongoing battles between and among her parents, stepparents and governess.  Her parents are Ida and Beale Farange.  At the beginning of the novel they are in the midst of a bitter divorce.  They fight over custody of Maisie, not because either of them loves or really wants her, but to deprive the other of something, to prove that they are the better half of the now separated couple.  Both parents take up with new partners. Beale marries his daughter's governess, Miss Overmore and Ida marries Sir Claude.  The fifth adult in Maisie's life is Mrs. Wix, another governess.  Maisie is shuffled between her two parents' households but rarely finds herself in their company, most of her time being spent with Mrs. Wix or her stepparents. 

Published in 1897 and given that divorce was far less common then than it is now, I wonder how Maisie was received.  The story seems more suited for today than for the late 1800s.  In fact, it reminded me of the movie Irreconcilable Differences, another story about divorcing parents who in their total and complete self involvement and desire to inflict as much pain on the other as possible, fail to notice, or perhaps just don't care, about the effect of their actions on their young daughter.  At least in Irreconcilable Differences when confronted with their wrongdoing, the parents eventually come to acknowledge and regret their actions, and take steps to repair the damage. Maisie's parents never really learn from their mistakes.

I picked this up after seeing a trailer for an upcoming movie adaption of the book.  The movie version will be set in modern times.  It is sad to think this story is as relevant today as it was in 1897.  In any case, I'm looking forward to the movie.  I wonder if it will end differently or will stay true to the book.

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