February was a great reading month for me, but a re-read of What Maisie Knew by Henry James with smart friends was definitely the highlight of the month. I forgot how much I love James. Long, wandering, suggestive, indulgent sentences and all. If time and head space permitted, I could have stayed with the book for much longer. Now I find myself looking through all the shelves, gathering all James and James-related into one space, and entertaining a reading plan for the rest of the year. But before that, I want to share just a few more things that were of interest to me while reading Maisie.
- The 2013 movie adaptation of the book was entertaining in its own right, but could not create that same wonder and tension about what Maisie may know about her unkind circumstances that James created in the novel. Francine Prose wrote an insightful article about the adaptation, ending her piece with a point with which I strongly agreed - "On the one hand, it’s gratifying to realize that someone else has noticed how many New York parents treat their children like infants or like adult confidants, and remain inseparable from their cell phones even as they are, in theory, spending “quality time” with the kids. On the other hand, it’s striking that a novel written more than a hundred years ago seems so much more modern—in every way more daring—than a film that has only lately appeared in our neighborhood theaters." James was daring and so keenly in touch with dark possibilities.
- Henry James is really funny. No, really. Sometimes in a bitchy, cruel sort of way, but funny nonetheless. Mrs. Wix may take a bit of a beating in this book, but it is difficult to not at least smirk at the creepy dead daughter business or her unchecked lust for Sir Claude.
- "No themes are so human as those that reflect for us, out of the confusion of life, the close connexion of bliss and bale, of the things that help with the things that hurt, so dangling before us for ever that bright hard medal, of so strange an alloy, one face of which is somebody’s right and ease and the other somebody’s pain and wrong." I recommend taking a moment to read James' preface to the 1908 edition after you finish the book. His writing is not so compact in that introduction to the new edition but the expansiveness of his thoughts on the text after having gained some distance from it are delicious, and challenged my thinking about the book in a couple of ways.
Do you have a favorite Henry James novel? Or movie adaptation?