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In the Dark

Heartless Irony

What Maisie Knew
Produced by Red Crown Productions
Directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel
Screenplay by Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwright
Distributed by Millennium Entertainment 

 

Some people should not have children.  This is one way to read Henry James’s 1897 novel What Maisie Knew.  Another way, the way James preferred, is to marvel at his exquisite rendering of a child’s untutored sensibility dimly awakening to the world’s various treacheries.  James didn’t preach.  His game was hunting mental states in the private preserve he fenced round with his elaborately constructed syntax and endlessly subtle observations.

Maisie is another of James’s experiments in narrative point of view.  Could he, he wondered, tell a story of adult irresponsibility through the perceptions of Maisie (Onata Aprile) a young girl between the ages of six and early adolescence?

The resulting novel is distinguished by an ingeniously feline narration that at times seems to take pleasure in toying with the eponymous heroine’s ordeal as a daughter of divorced parents.  In the Preface to the novel, James discusses how he came upon the kernel of his story.  An acquaintance had told him of a separated couple who first used their daughter as an instrument...

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