What Maisie Knew by Henry Janes
Young Maisie’s parents, Ida and Beale Farange, are divorced. She at first lives with her mother but when her father decides to sue for custody, the court awards him custody…that is until it becomes clear that Maisie’s mother had paid her father not to sue for custody at the time of the divorce and that he could not now pay her back. The upshot is rather Solomonic…she will live half the year with each parent.
This sounds at first very modern…shared custody except that it turns out that neither really wants Maisie as much as they simply don’t want the other to have her. Its rather much for six year old Maisie but she quickly knew not to repeat the nasty things each says about the other.
As the years pass-with Maisie passing from one parent to the other as it suits them and not all in any regular way-Ida marries Sir Claude while Beale marries Miss Overmore, Maisie’s former governess. Her step parents show Maisie more affection than her parents and she truly comes to love Sir Claude.
But the idyll doesn’t last…
I couldn’t decide if I should laugh or cry at all that goes on. Poor Maisie-the only one she can really rely on is her elderly governess Mrs. Wix and she slowly comes to know it. While all the shenanigans are simply discreetly referred to, this 1897 novel is rather an eye opener on what really went on in the Gilded Age. It is really a very modern novel-in the issues it covers if not in style and I wonder if a modern author would have the same ending.
I was never very sure how old Maisie was after the beginning and that was a bit disturbing…is she eight, ten, fourteen at the end of the book?
I’ve never read any Henry James before (yes, shame on me, I’ve seen the movies!) so this was a first for me.