To see fully is to locate chaos, such a vision being more perilous than the liberating errors or fictions available to imaginative individuals who have discerned that ‘Chaos’ is the ‘law of nature’ whereas ‘Order’ is the ‘dream of man’ (The Education of Henry Adams 1132). By the time Maisie reaches Boulogne at the end of What Maisie Knew, she understands that ‘appearance’ and ‘illusion’ are the ‘necessary’ presuppositions of ‘art as well as of life’ (Vaihinger 343)1 and that ‘it isn’t knowledge’, but a vigilant ‘ignorance that—as we’ve been beautifully told—is bliss’ (James, ‘The Tree of Knowledge’ 224). But at Folkestone in the meantime, as the novel takes on apocalyptic dimensions, she begins to grasp the extent of her egregious misunderstanding of the relationship between her mother and a Captain now ‘the biggest cad in all London’. Imposed upon Maisie by a narrator who also silences her is a grammar of the sublime which collapses into incoherence:

There rose in her a fear, a pain, a vision ominous, precocious, of what it might mean for her mother’s fate to have forfeited such a loyalty as that. There was literally an instant in which Maisie fully saw—saw madness and desolation, saw ruin and darkness and death. ‘I’ve thought of him often since, and I hoped it was with him—with him—’ Here, in her emotion, it failed her, the breath of her filial hope. (What Maisie Knew 187)


Individual Mind Discursive Formation Conceptual World Human Intellect Incoherent Event 
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© Peter Rawlings 2005

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  • Peter Rawlings

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