Maisie’s Moral Sense: Aestheticism in What Maisie Knew


  • Rebekah Lawler


 Despite being born American and being considered a major American author, Henry James spent the majority of his adult life in England, becoming a British citizen a year before his death. James lived in England during the fin-de-siècle–the end of the nineteenth century– a period when art and literature were at their height in upper-class London. The fin-de-siècle was also the height of the aesthetic movement–one in which James participated. Another author at the pinnacle of his career in the fin-de-siècle and a leader within aestheticism was Oscar Wilde. Though they ran in the same circles and shared similar beliefs, James and Wilde were not close friends. James thought Wilde was too flamboyant and likely felt ill feelings towards Wilde since he was a successful dramatist and James–despite his best efforts–failed in this genre. In this article, I will examine the ways in which both James and Wilde approached aestheticism and how James’s background as an American influenced his views of this idea. Although Wilde did spend time in America–albeit significantly less than James spent in England–Wilde remained overtly British in his mannerisms and opinions. While aestheticism is primarily a British ideology, this paper will discuss the ways that James and his role as an American influenced this movement.