Places: What Maisie Knew

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1897

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: 1890’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Kensington Gardens

*Kensington What Maisie KnewGardens. Great London park in which Maisie and her stepfather, Sir Claude, discover her mother, Ida, with another man known as the Captain. This scene is one of several in the novel in which the adult characters are discovered with their lovers in public places. Much of what Maisie “knows” about her parents’ activities throughout the novel derives from visual observations. This scene enables readers to understand both how Maisie obtains her knowledge and how inadequately she interprets what she sees.

The scene is humorous in that, when Sir Claude and Maisie spot Ida at a distance, they speculate on which of several possible men her companion may be. Maisie herself does not find anything unusual in the situation and, when asked to sit with the Captain while her mother and stepfather argue, she is concerned mostly with trying to get the Captain to say he loves Ida. The outdoor public setting allows not only for the discovery to be made but also for the conversation between Maisie and the Captain to occur.


Exhibition. Carnival-like event in London that is the setting for another scene similar to that in Kensington Gardens. In this scene, Maisie’s stepmother discovers Maisie’s father with his mistress. Mrs. Beale takes Maisie to the event hoping to run into her own lover, Sir Claude, but instead sees her husband with the Countess. The exotic and chaotic setting, with crowds, noise, and diversions such as side shows, entices and frustrates Maisie as she and Mrs. Beale have no money to view the attractions. The crowded scene enables Sir Claude to slip away when he realizes that his lover has discovered her husband with another woman.

Countess’s house

Countess’s house. Home of Beale Farange’s mistress. There Maisie’s father renounces responsibility for her, trying to word the decision as if it were Maisie’s. Having finally lost interest in his former wife, Ida, he no longer feels that he needs his daughter. Awed by the exotic decor of the countess’s house, Maisie is inclined to sacrifice her father to its owner.


*Boulogne (bew-LOHN). Coastal city in northern France that Maisie visits with her stepfather, Sir Claude, and stepmother, Mrs. Beale. After losing interest in each other, her natural parents no longer need Maisie to argue over and leave her in her stepparents’ care. The excuse given for living in this city, rather than staying in London or going on to Paris as Maisie dreams of doing, is that it is inexpensive. The novel ends with Maisie and Mrs. Wix, her governess, leaving Boulogne to return to London. In Boulogne, Maisie realizes that Sir Claude can never give up Mrs. Beale for her. Maisie is left to be raised by her governess, the only adult in the novel who values Maisie above a competing lover.


Schoolroom. Place in Maisie’s mother’s home where Maisie spends most of her time. The lack of decoration or attention given to this room in Ida’s otherwise elaborately decorated home indicates her mother’s lack of interest in either Maisie or her education. The room’s most striking decoration is a picture of Ida’s husband, Sir Claude, symbolic of Maisie’s affection for this stepparent who shows an interest in her.

BibliographyCargill, Oscar. The Novels of Henry James. New York: Macmillan, 1961. A vigorous study of all of James’s novels. Cargill draws on the observation of several prominent literary critics and discusses James in the light of English and American literary history. Evaluates moral and artistic aspects of James’s work.Kaplan, Fred. Henry James: The Imagination of Genius. New York: William Morrow, 1992. A thorough narrative account of the life of Henry James. Kaplan considers American and English political history, literary history, and the personal life of James while discussing the complete oeuvre.Miller, J. Hillis. Versions of Pygmalion. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990. Miller’s work on the ethics of narration is difficult, but his chapter on What Maisie Knew is valuable both for its background information on the social climate in which the novel was written and for its clearly written examination of the complexity of the ethical dilemma in which James places his characters and readers.Mitchell, Juliet. “What Maisie Knew: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl.” In The Air of Reality: New Essays on Henry James, edited by John Goode. London: Methuen, 1972. A complete examination of the pressures that shape Maisie’s consciousness. Mitchell argues against reading a sexual undercurrent into the relationship between Maisie and Sir Claude.
Categories: Places