From Pink to Yellow: Growing Up Female in What Maisie Knew and The Portrait of a Lady
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The account of childhood, orphaned in all but fact, that James offers in What Maisie Knew (1897) plainly derives not only from Copperfield, Oliver Twist, The Old Curiosity Shop, Little Dorrit, and Great Expectations, just to name the obvious instances in Dickens, but also from classic sketches of “the young idea” he had studied from Wilhelm Meister to Jane Eyre and The Mill on the Floss. Nor is Maisie a sport within the Jamesian canon itself, as the early chapters of Washington Square (1881), a tale such as “The Pupil” (1891), or a novella such as The Turn of the Screw (1898) amply attest. He was fascinated by examples of superior human consciousness—great intelligent seekers and finders from Isabel Archer in The Portrait of a Lady (1881) and Hyacinth Robinson in The Princess Casamassima (1886) to Lambert Strether in The Ambassadors (1903) and Maggie Verver in The Golden Bowl (1904)—and he could naturally be keen on discovering just where such sensibilities came from, and how they were cultivated.