Study Guide

What Maisie Knew Quotes

  • Family

    […] not for any good they could do her, but for the harm they could, with her unconscious aid, do to each other. (Preface.5)

    Whoa, James. Way to start this novel out with a bleak bang. Maisie's parents do not subscribe to the doctor's "first, do no harm" rule of thumb. They mean to use Maisie to do as much damage to each other as possible.

    The child was provided for, thanks to a crafty godmother, a defunct aunt of Beale's, who had left her something in such a manner that the parents could appropriate only the income. (Preface.6)

    Again, this is James at his most cynical. Maisie's parents use the monetary inheritance left to Maisie—but at least they can't touch all of her inheritance. This aunt was "crafty" enough to know how scummy her nephew is, apparently.

    Her first term was with her father, who spared her only in not letting her have the wild letters addressed to her by her mother: he confined himself to holding them up at her and shaking them, while he showed his teeth, and then amusing her by the way he chucked them, across the room, bang into the fire. (I.2)

    Nice, Dad, nice. This dude doesn't let his daughter have the letters her mother has written to her. He chucks them into the fire instead. To be fair, these letters were probably pretty nasty.

    "The truth about me is simply that I'm the most unappreciated of—what do you call the fellows?—'family-men.' Yes, I'm a family-man; upon my honour I am!" (VIII.35)

    Here's another chestnut from Sir Claude, who defines himself this way during his first conversation with Mrs. Beale. By the end of the book, we understand that he wishes he were a family man, but he's not quite there yet. So here, James is practicing a tricky kind of foreshadowing that uses irony.

    It was while this absence lasted that our young lady finally discovered what had happened in the house to be that her mother was no longer in love. (XI.4)

    Family is such a sordid affair in What Maisie Knew that Maisie is aware, eventually, of every twist and turn of her parents' private passions. James is showing us the dark side of parents being too open about their feelings.

    She therefore recognised the hour that in troubled glimpses she had long foreseen, the hour when—the phrase for it came back to her from Mrs. Beale—with two fathers, two mothers and two homes, six protections in all, she shouldn't know "wherever" to go. (XII.1)

    Here, we see again what an unconventional family Maisie has. But this sentence also shows James's interest in radically redefining family as the terms "father" and "mother" start to sound hollow when it becomes clear that these parents really don't offer protection to Maisie.

    Mrs. Beale was again amused. "Why you're just the person! It must be quite the sort of thing you've heard at your awful mother's. Have you never seen women there crying to her to 'spare' the men they love?"

    Maisie, wondering, tried to remember; but Sir Claude was freshly diverted. "Oh they don't trouble about Ida! Mrs. Wix cried to you to spare me?" (XIV.22)

    Mrs. Wix is working overtime to preserve the sanctity of the family unit; Mrs. Beale and Sir Claude frankly don't care. This is one of our first hints that Mrs. Beale and Sir Claude are up to no good—they insult Maisie's birth mother to Maisie's face and make fun of the idea of fidelity. This, by Victorian standards, ain't cool at all.

    "What's more unusual than for any one to be given up, like you, by her parents?" (XXX.71)

    Sir Claude asks Maisie this question, which sums up the poor girl's predicament and really drives home the idea that there's an absence where Maisie's family should be. This makes times tough, as we've seen, but in another sense, it's a positive since it means that Maisie is free to choose a family of her own eventually.

  • Youth

    The child was provided for, thanks to a crafty godmother, a defunct aunt of Beale's, who had left her something in such a manner that the parents could appropriate only the income. (Preface.6)

    Here, in the preface, we see how important it is to James (and really, all sane people) that children be provided for financially. However, James is making the point (again, it's a totally sane one) that monetary security hardly guarantees emotionally supportive security. The aunt is crafty … but the evil parents still get their grubby little paws on part of Maisie's inheritance.

    The child was provided for, but the new arrangement was inevitably confounding to a young intelligence. (I.1)

    Here's how James sets up the main conflict in his plot. Over and over again, Maisie has to confront things that confuse her young mind. But by the same token, difficult as they are to face, these things make Maisie even smarter. That's not quite a silver lining, but it's something since it means she's equipped to keep overcoming obstacles.

    She puzzled out with imperfect signs, but with a prodigious spirit, that she had been a centre of hatred and a messenger of insult, and that everything was bad because she had been employed to make it so. (II.2)

    Here, we see one of the saddest elements of Maisie's situation—she believes that she is the cause of everything that is bad in her life instead of seeing that her parents are total dirtbags. She's young enough to still think her parents are the best people on earth.

    She had conceived her first passion, and the object of it was her governess. (III.6)

    Children have passion, too—only theirs is nonsexual. Maisie is passionate about her pretty governess, Miss Overmore. Her passion sets up the passion that her father and Sir Claude will later have for the same Miss Overmore. Of course, theirs is a pretty carnal passion.

    Neither this, however, nor the old brown frock nor the diadem nor the button, made a difference for Maisie in the charm put forth through everything, the charm of Mrs. Wix's conveying that somehow, in her ugliness and her poverty, she was peculiarly and soothingly safe; safer than any one in the world, than papa, than mamma, than the lady with the arched eyebrows; safer even, though so much less beautiful, than Miss Overmore, on whose loveliness, as she supposed it, the little girl was faintly conscious that one couldn't rest with quite the same tucked-in and kissed-for-good-night feeling. (IV.3)

    Children, in James's book (and his novel—hey-oh!), are more likely to see past outward shlubby looks and focus on inner beauty. Especially when that inner beauty has to do with being "soothingly safe."

    Everything had something behind it: life was like a long, long corridor with rows of closed doors. She had learned that at these doors it was wise not to knock—this seemed to produce from within such sounds of derision. Little by little, however, she understood more, for it befell that she was enlightened by Lisette's questions, which reproduced the effect of her own upon those for whom she sat in the very darkness of Lisette. (V.4)

    This is one of the most heartbreaking scenes in James's whole novel. In it, Maisie treats her doll, Lisette, the way the adults in her world treat her. It's striking that we hardly ever see Maisie playing games—she has an awful lot of serious business to attend to, after all, including the business of survival. She's mostly shown engaged in serious conversations with different adults. This fact makes the scene when she plays with Lisette that much more striking. That we hardly ever see Maisie do anything truly childish means that when we do see just that, it's a painful reminder of the fact that Maisie is just a little girl.

    The only mystification in this was the imposing time of life that her elders spoke of as youth. (X.16)

    Here, Maisie realizes that she doesn't understand what "youth" means since she hears adults use it to speak of one another as well as of young people like Maisie herself. This is a touching example of the way James communicates what Maisie knew by highlighting the limits of what her young mind can know.

    Her reflexions indeed at this moment thickened apace, and one of them made her sure that her governess had conversations, private, earnest and not infrequent, with her denounced stepfather. She perceived in the light of a second episode that something beyond her knowledge had taken place in the house. (XI.4)

    Maisie's youth keeps her from understanding everything that is going on around her, but it doesn't stop her from knowing that something is going on. This is James's way of showing us that children lack knowledge, but they don't lack intelligence. Maisie is whip-smart.

    It was while this absence lasted that our young lady finally discovered what had happened in the house to be that her mother was no longer in love. (XI.4)

    "Our young lady" is neither too young nor too ladylike to understand that her mom is no longer in love. James doesn't think that innocence (which Maisie certainly has) means that it's impossible to be observant and recognize the presence or absence of emotion.

    "Isn't he sympathetic?" asked Mrs. Wix, who had clearly, on the strength of his charming portrait, made up her mind that Sir Claude promised her a future. "You can see, I hope," she added with much expression, "that he's a perfect gentleman!" Maisie had never before heard the word "sympathetic" applied to anybody's face; she heard it with pleasure and from that moment it agreeably remained with her. (XI.20)

    Here, James makes two statements: 1) That young people absorb knowledge quickly. 2) That young people take great pleasure from learning new things.

    Full of charm at any rate was the prospect of some day getting Sir Claude in; especially after Mrs. Wix, as the fruit of more midnight colloquies, once went so far as to observe that she really believed it was all that was wanted to save him. This critic, with these words, struck her disciple as cropping up, after the manner of mamma when mamma talked, quite in a new place. The child stared as at the jump of a kangaroo. "Save him from what?"

    Mrs. Wix debated, then covered a still greater distance. "Why just from awful misery." (XI.20-22)

    A lot of what James suggests about youth suggests that youth does not equal obliviousness. The young are super-aware of their surroundings and especially pick up on people acting in similar fashions. Maisie is spooked that Mrs. Wix is talking like her mamma—this is probably extra spooky because of how awful her mom is.

    This was the second source—I have just alluded to the first—of the child's consciousness of something that, very hopefully, she described to herself as a new phase; and it also presented in the brightest light the fresh enthusiasm with which Mrs. Beale always reappeared and which really gave Maisie a happier sense than she had yet had of being very dear at least to two persons. That she had small remembrance at present of a third illustrates, I am afraid, a temporary oblivion of Mrs. Wix, an accident to be explained only by a state of unnatural excitement. (XVII.4)

    Young people not only are aware of beginnings and endings— here, Maisie knows that she is entering a new phase—but they also can chart their own happiness. James thinks that kiddos have almost as well-developed an understanding of themselves in relation to their past as old fogies do.

    "And for your keeping in with them?" Beale roared again; it was as if his spirits rose and rose. "Do you realise, pray, that in saying that you're a monster?"

    She turned it over. "A monster?"

    "They've made one of you. Upon my honour it's quite awful. It shows the kind of people they are. Don't you understand," Beale pursued, "that when they've made you as horrid as they can—as horrid as themselves—they'll just simply chuck you?" (XIX.35)

    This exchange is brutal. Beale is being a real jerk to his daughter. He's also showing how much he believes that children can be molded into monsters. Maisie's daddy clearly believes that action can make kiddos into creeps, but inaction (his mode of parenting) has no ill effects.

    Still they didn't separate; they stood smoking together under the stars. Then at last Sir Claude produced it. "I'm free—I'm free."

    She looked up at him; it was the very spot on which a couple of hours before she had looked up at her mother. "You're free—you're free."(XXI.35)

    One of the attributes of little kids is that they have a tendency to repeat what they hear adults say … which can lead to some embarrassing/hilarious moments. Maisie may not understand the nuances of what she's repeating, but she'll repeat it anyhow.

    "Well," said Mrs. Wix, "nobody, you know, is free to commit a crime."

    "A crime!" The word had come out in a way that made the child sound it again. (XXV.12)

    This quote shows not only that little kids love to repeat phrases they hear from adults, but why they love it so much. Even though kids have limited vocabularies, they get a thrill out of the way words are uttered. They might not understand vocab, but they understand intonation.

  • Education

    Her first term was with her father, who spared her only in not letting her have the wild letters addressed to her by her mother: he confined himself to holding them up at her and shaking them, while he showed his teeth, and then amusing her by the way he chucked them, across the room, bang into the fire. (I.2)

    James is a sly, subtle writer. He describes Maisie's visits to her father as a "term" which could describe either a) a prison term or b) a school term. Both are accurate: she's both imprisoned by her parents and getting an education by splitting her time between them.

    She puzzled out with imperfect signs, but with a prodigious spirit, that she had been a centre of hatred and a messenger of insult, and that everything was bad because she had been employed to make it so. (II.2)

    Maisie's education has nothing to do with reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic and everything to do with puzzling out the nasty, coded relationship between her two deadbeat parents.

    They dealt, the governess and her pupil, in "subjects," but there were many the governess put off from week to week and that they never got to at all: she only used to say "We'll take that in its proper order." Her order was a circle as vast as the untravelled globe. She had not the spirit of adventure—the child could perfectly see how many subjects she was afraid of. She took refuge on the firm ground of fiction, through which indeed there curled the blue river of truth. She knew swarms of stories, mostly those of the novels she had read; relating them with a memory that never faltered and a wealth of detail that was Maisie's delight. (IV.3)

    Here's what going to school looks like when your teacher happens to be Mrs. Wix. Sounds fun, right? Well, yes and no. James's narrator is a little judgmental about Mrs. Wix's lack of education, and here he pokes fun at her impatience with difficult school subjects. But, of course, Mrs. Wix does turn out to be a life-changing teacher, so James's poking of fun at her is countered by his appreciative depiction of the way she comes to Maisie's rescue in the end.

    Yes, there were matters one couldn't "go into" with a pupil. (V.4)

    Remember Lisette, Maisie's doll? Well, here she is again, acting as Maisie's pupil rather than her playmate or pretend daughter. Maisie is imitating her governesses and showing that she's already aware of adults' tendency to keep secrets from children. For better or worse, adults like Mrs. Beale, Sir Claude, and even Mrs. Wix will keep fewer and fewer secrets from young Maisie as the novel progresses.

    Her reflexions indeed at this moment thickened apace, and one of them made her sure that her governess had conversations, private, earnest and not infrequent, with her denounced stepfather. She perceived in the light of a second episode that something beyond her knowledge had taken place in the house. (XI.4)

    The vocab used in this quote—"reflexions," "perceived," "knowledge"—lets us know again that her messed-up family life is serving as her unofficial education. Maisie goes to the School of Familial Hard Knocks.

    "Isn't he sympathetic?" asked Mrs. Wix, who had clearly, on the strength of his charming portrait, made up her mind that Sir Claude promised her a future. "You can see, I hope," she added with much expression, "that he's a perfect gentleman!" Maisie had never before heard the word "sympathetic" applied to anybody's face; she heard it with pleasure and from that moment it agreeably remained with her. (XI.20)

    Check out Maisie learning new vocabulary. Instead of learning via flashcards what "osmosis" and "eloquent" mean, she learns from Mrs. Wix that "sympathetic" can be used to describe a person's physical appearance. Use it in a sentence, Maisie!

    It brought back to the child's recollection how she sometimes couldn't repeat on Friday the sentence that had been glib on Wednesday, and she dealt all feebly and ruefully with the present tough passage. Sir Claude and Mrs. Beale stood there like visitors at an "exam." (XXXI.80)

    How great is this? At the climactic moment of Maisie's decision, James compares her to a student completing school exercises and then taking a test. This is a way of emphasizing the contrast between Maisie's school-of-hard-knocks education and the kind that other schoolchildren receive. Maisie's lessons have been learned the hard way.

  • Innocence

    This was odd justice in the eyes of those who still blinked in the fierce light projected from the tribunal—a light in which neither parent figured in the least as a happy example to youth and innocence. (Preface.2)

    This sentence appears in the second paragraph of James's novel, which already predicts that it's going to be a challenge for Maisie to hang onto her innocence. The law administers "odd justice," which is just James's funny way of saying injustice. And James's point here is that injustice poses a threat to innocence, making it hard for the innocent to flourish when even the law sets a bad example.

    […] not for any good they could do her, but for the harm they could, with her unconscious aid, do to each other. (Preface.5)

    The fact that Maisie is "unconscious" of the harm her parents intend to do to each other shows just how innocent this little girl is.

    Her first term was with her father, who spared her only in not letting her have the wild letters addressed to her by her mother: he confined himself to holding them up at her and shaking them, while he showed his teeth, and then amusing her by the way he chucked them, across the room, bang into the fire. (I.2)

    Daddy Beale helps preserve his daughter's innocence only by not allowing her to read the letters her mom sends her. Nice work, Dad. He doesn't think about what kind of experience she's gaining by seeing her dad set fire to those very same letters.

    Then it was that [Maisie] found the words spoken by her beastly papa to be, after all, in her little bewildered ears, from which, at her mother's appeal, they passed, in her clear shrill voice, straight to her little innocent lips. "He said I was to tell you, from him," she faithfully reported, "that you're a nasty horrid pig!" (I.4)

    Note the marked contrast between Maisie's innocence and the message that is made to pass through her "innocent lips." Maisie's parents are actively corrupting her, this early moment suggests. James highlights yet again how hard it's going to be for his small heroine to protect her childish ways in a "beastly" and cruel world. 


    She had conceived her first passion, and the object of it was her governess. (III.6)

    This sentence says two very interesting things about Innocence According to James. The first is that innocent children can feel passion and stay innocent. The second is that there are different kinds of passion, and that a child's emotional passion is purer than an adult's sexual passion.

    Neither this, however, nor the old brown frock nor the diadem nor the button, made a difference for Maisie in the charm put forth through everything, the charm of Mrs. Wix's conveying that somehow, in her ugliness and her poverty, she was peculiarly and soothingly safe; safer than any one in the world, than papa, than mamma, than the lady with the arched eyebrows; safer even, though so much less beautiful, than Miss Overmore, on whose loveliness, as she supposed it, the little girl was faintly conscious that one couldn't rest with quite the same tucked-in and kissed-for-good-night feeling. (IV.3)

    One of the lovely things about Maisie's innocence is the fact that it allows her to look past outward homeliness and see inner beauty. Experience in the world is shown to be a clouding influence—you can see more clearly through innocent eyes.

    "Isn't he sympathetic?" asked Mrs. Wix, who had clearly, on the strength of his charming portrait, made up her mind that Sir Claude promised her a future. "You can see, I hope," she added with much expression, "that he's a perfect gentleman!" Maisie had never before heard the word "sympathetic" applied to anybody's face; she heard it with pleasure and from that moment it agreeably remained with her. (XI.20)

    Another awesome thing about innocence is it gives great pleasure. Maisie isn't just happy about the fact that Mrs. Wix thinks that Sir Claude is sympathetic. She's happy with the word "sympathetic" being used to describe a person's appearance.

    Full of charm at any rate was the prospect of some day getting Sir Claude in; especially after Mrs. Wix, as the fruit of more midnight colloquies, once went so far as to observe that she really believed it was all that was wanted to save him. This critic, with these words, struck her disciple as cropping up, after the manner of mamma when mamma talked, quite in a new place. The child stared as at the jump of a kangaroo. "Save him from what?"

    Mrs. Wix debated, then covered a still greater distance. "Why just from awful misery." (XI.20-22)

    Of course, innocence has its downsides. Maisie is shocked when she realizes that the saintly Mrs. Wix sounds like her horrible mother. This comparison comes up because Mrs. Wix is talking "after the manner of mamma when mamma talked," which probably means that Maisie is picking up on Mrs. Wix's attraction to Sir Claude.

    "You'll never know what I've been through about you—never, never, never. I spare you everything, as I always have; though I daresay you know things that … would make me—well, no matter! You're old enough at any rate to know there are a lot of things I don't say that I easily might; though it would do me good, I assure you, to have spoken my mind for once in my life." (XXI.2)

    This passage illustrates why it's so difficult for Maisie to preserve her innocence—and so remarkable that she does. Maisie's mother, Ida, is speaking here, and she's telling lies, both to herself, it seems, and to Maisie. The truth is that she hasn't spared her daughter anything at all but only burdened her with lies and insults and guilt and shame. This is why Ida's departure from the novel is more of a relief than a tragedy: to the end, Ida is mean as can be. And that Maisie manages to fall far from that tree means that she's one of a kind.

  • Home

    The child was provided for, thanks to a crafty godmother, a defunct aunt of Beale's, who had left her something in such a manner that the parents could appropriate only the income. (Preface.6)

    Home ain't just where the heart is, however. It's also where the money is. Luckily, Maisie has money and therefore doesn't lack for a home. If she were poor, this story would probably be a lot bleaker.

    Neither this, however, nor the old brown frock nor the diadem nor the button, made a difference for Maisie in the charm put forth through everything, the charm of Mrs. Wix's conveying that somehow, in her ugliness and her poverty, she was peculiarly and soothingly safe; safer than any one in the world, than papa, than mamma, than the lady with the arched eyebrows; safer even, though so much less beautiful, than Miss Overmore, on whose loveliness, as she supposed it, the little girl was faintly conscious that one couldn't rest with quite the same tucked-in and kissed-for-good-night feeling. (IV.3)

    The #1 reason that Mrs. Wix wins out in the end is that she is "peculiarly and soothingly safe." She gives Maisie a sense of being home. She, unlike Miss Overmore/Mrs. Beale, gives Maisie a "tucked-in and kissed-for-good-night feeling." And that feeling is better than pretty much anything.

    Her reflexions indeed at this moment thickened apace, and one of them made her sure that her governess had conversations, private, earnest and not infrequent, with her denounced stepfather. She perceived in the light of a second episode that something beyond her knowledge had taken place in the house. (XI.4)

    Here, we see a stark divide between "house" and "home." A house is a cold structure, and a home is defined by a sense of warmth. Maisie understands that her parents' houses are not homes.

    It was while this absence lasted that our young lady finally discovered what had happened in the house to be that her mother was no longer in love. (XI.4)

    Again, this quote underlines the fact that there is a huge difference between a house and a home. Maisie's mother's house is not homey.

    She therefore recognised the hour that in troubled glimpses she had long foreseen, the hour when—the phrase for it came back to her from Mrs. Beale—with two fathers, two mothers and two homes, six protections in all, she shouldn't know "wherever" to go. (XII.1)

    Notice that this quote makes "home," like parents, equivalent to "protection." No wonder Maisie, who's lived in multiple houses, remains in search of a home.

    "For the wretched homeless child. Any roof—over our heads—will do for us" (XII.21).

    These words are spoken by Mrs. Wix, who's addressing Sir Claude. Maisie is only called "homeless" once in the novel, but the description haunts her for all of the pages that follow. Homelessness is the disaster that has to be averted.

    Could they but hold out long enough the snug little home with Sir Claude would find itself informally established. (XII.48)

    Here's how Maisie and Mrs. Wix think about the life they'll set up with Sir Claude: the three of them will make a "snug little home." That this doesn't come to pass is sad, but James leaves open the possibility that Maisie and Mrs. Wix will establish a different "snug little home" on their own.

  • Abandonment

    The child was provided for, thanks to a crafty godmother, a defunct aunt of Beale's, who had left her something in such a manner that the parents could appropriate only the income. (Preface.6)

    There is a difference between being provided for and being taken care of. Maisie has been left some cash, but that is only a band-aid on the gaping wound produced by being effectively abandoned by her parents.

    She was abandoned to her fate. (Preface.6).

    There you have it, folks, plain and simple in Maisie's preface: this heroine's on her own.

    Her first term was with her father, who spared her only in not letting her have the wild letters addressed to her by her mother: he confined himself to holding them up at her and shaking them, while he showed his teeth, and then amusing her by the way he chucked them, across the room, bang into the fire. (I.2)

    This quote is so painful. Both parents are abandoning Maisie here—her mother sends her letters that include mostly spiteful words addressed to her father, and her father chucks these letters right into the fire. Where is the parental love?!

    She puzzled out with imperfect signs, but with a prodigious spirit, that she had been a centre of hatred and a messenger of insult, and that everything was bad because she had been employed to make it so. (II.2)

    Oof. This quote hurts, too. Maisie cannot believe that her parents would abandon her, so she comes to the conclusion that it is her fault that everything is so dysfunctional.

    It was while this absence lasted that our young lady finally discovered what had happened in the house to be that her mother was no longer in love. (XI.4)

    Sly Jamesian double-meaning alert. Maisie's mom is not only no longer in love with Sir Claude; Maisie's mom is no longer in love with Maisie.

    "[…] he therefore recognised the hour that in troubled glimpses she had long foreseen, the hour when—the phrase for it came back to her from Mrs. Beale—with two fathers, two mothers and two homes, six protections in all, she shouldn't know "wherever" to go. (XII.1)

    This sentence underscores the idea that Maisie's isolation isn't absolute. Which is just a fancy way of saying that she's not really alone, just blocked from accessing the "protections" that are theoretically available to her. Why? Well, because with the exception of Mrs. Wix, the adults in Maisie's world don't offer the protection they're supposed to.

    Mrs. Beale was again amused. "Why you're just the person! It must be quite the sort of thing you've heard at your awful mother's. Have you never seen women there crying to her to 'spare' the men they love?"

    Maisie, wondering, tried to remember; but Sir Claude was freshly diverted. "Oh they don't trouble about Ida! Mrs. Wix cried to you to spare me?" (XIV.22)

    Here, we see Mrs. Beale's and Sir Claude's selfish sides come through. They're talking about Maisie's mother's exploits, and they think it's okay because she abandoned Maisie. But they're effectively abandoning Maisie as well by talking smack about her parents and her beloved Mrs. Wix. Abandonment isn't just physical. It's also about emotional trust, and Mrs. Beale and Sir Claude are breaking Maisie's.

    This was the second source—I have just alluded to the first—of the child's consciousness of something that, very hopefully, she described to herself as a new phase; and it also presented in the brightest light the fresh enthusiasm with which Mrs. Beale always reappeared and which really gave Maisie a happier sense than she had yet had of being very dear at least to two persons. That she had small remembrance at present of a third illustrates, I am afraid, a temporary oblivion of Mrs. Wix, an accident to be explained only by a state of unnatural excitement. (XVII.4)

    Kids can be so cruel. Maisie has been abandoned so often that she's quick to bond with anyone who's around. Unfortunately, her bonding with Mrs. Beale and Sir Claude forces her to abandon the memory of Mrs. Wix.

    "And for your keeping in with them?" Beale roared again; it was as if his spirits rose and rose. "Do you realise, pray, that in saying that you're a monster?"

    She turned it over. "A monster?"

    "They've made one of you. Upon my honour it's quite awful. It shows the kind of people they are. Don't you understand," Beale pursued, "that when they've made you as horrid as they can—as horrid as themselves—they'll just simply chuck you?" (XIX.35)

    Ugh. Ugh, ugh, ugh. Beale is being a jerk here: he's telling his daughter that the kind Sir Claude and Mrs. Beale have turned her into a monster. However, he kinda has a point. Sir Claude and Mrs. Beale are acting in a way that is immoral (by Victorian standards). If Maisie is left with them, her sense of (again, Victorian) morality will be warped.

    "Can you find your way alone?" (XXI.34)

    Here, Sir Claude sends Maisie off. But notice that, taken out of context, this question also exemplifies the way all of Maisie's would-be parents treat her. Abandoning her, again, to her fate, birth parents and stepparents alike send her on her way, trusting that she'll be able to fend for herself. Luckily, this trust isn't totally misplaced—Maisie is the smartest of smart girls, as we've said. But one moral of this story is that even smart girls need adult protection, which is where the widow Mrs. Wix comes in.

    Still they didn't separate; they stood smoking together under the stars. Then at last Sir Claude produced it. "I'm free—I'm free."

    She looked up at him; it was the very spot on which a couple of hours before she had looked up at her mother. "You're free—you're free."(XXI.35)

    Abandonment is just another word for nothing left to lose. Detaching yourself from toxic relationships can be freeing. This exchange foreshadows the fact that Maisie will be cutting herself loose from Sir Claude relatively soon.