The “Partagé Child” and the Emergence of the Modernist Novel in Henry James’s What Maisie Knew
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At the turn of the century, Henry James was inspired by the story of two divorced parents to write a novel centered on the consciousness and experiences of a child thus divided. But the “partagé child” provided James with more than a captivating central character; it also gave him a new idea for how to write the modern novel. What Maisie Knew initially purports to be a novel given to following the limited and evolving consciousness of this child, but the novel is most remarkable for the way that it changes course. In the end, Maisie’s strategies of coping—silence, secrecy, and diversion—also come to characterize the narrative technique of a novel that never, at last, reveals what Maisie knew.