ANDROGYNE IN HENRY JAMES'S WHAT MAISIE KNEW:
SIR CLAUDE AS MALE NURSE
Patricia Hogan Sloan
B.A., University of Colorado, Colorado Springs,
A thesis submitted to the
Faculty of the Graduate School of the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
^^1994 by Patricia Hogan Sloan
All rights reserved.
This thesis for the Master of Arts
Patricia Hogan Sloan
has been approved for the
Department of English
Shi/rley White Johnston
Sloan, Patricia Hogan (M.A., English)
Androgyny in Henry James's What Maisie Knew: Sir Claude
as Male Nurse
Thesis directed by Professor Joel Salzberg
Sir Claude, a young Victorian British aristocrat,
makes a startling confession to Ida Farangue, one of the
principal characters in What Maisie Knew; "I'm an old
grandmother...I like babiesI always did. If we go to
smash I shall look for a place as responsible nurse," for
that vocation ultimately defines the essential role he
assumes for Maisie. James's verbal play on Sir Claude's
name and avocation as "nurse" teasingly cues the reader
to his androgynous role. Indeed, Sir Claude fulfills
every connotation of the word "nurse" as it appears in
the Oxford Universal Dictionary on Historical Principles.
As a result of the traditionally feminine role that he
assumes in his relations with Maisie, Sir Claude begins
to lose the respect of those with whom he is in closest
contact. Moreover, Ida Farangue and Mrs. Beale's
assumption of a masculine behavior ironically complement
James's development of Sir Claude's androgynous
characterization. The result of Sir Claude's
ministrations to Maisie is her acquisition of a maturity
that makes Sir Claude, at the end of the novel,
expendable and irrelevant. Finally, several points of
contact between the author and his character suggest that
James used aspects of his own personality as the "germ"
for Sir Claude.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the
candidate's thesis. I recommend its publication.
To KObert, who nourishes me in all ways, always,
To Jamie, whose richness adds essence to my life
and to this work,
To Tom Napierkowski, who nurtured my spirit and
taught me discernment,
To Jeffrey Rubin-Dorsky, who kept my feet on the
ground and my eyes on the unlimited,
1. ANDROGYNY IN A PATRIARCHAL SOCIETY .............. 1
2. SIR CLAUDE AS NURSE ....................... 24
3. CONCLUSION...................................... 52
Joel Salzberg's insight into the character of Henry
James, as well as Joel's masterful direction, make this
thesis possible. Without his guidance, Sir Claude would
still be a weak and obscure fop; with Joel's nurturing,
Sir Claude has been given a three-dimensional life, and
stands as an androgynous male archetype.
Mary Rose Sullivan's intelligence and wisdom give
this thesis spirit, for she knows intuitively the
direction in which my thoughts are taking me. Mary
Rose's support of a beginning writer is a profound
influence in my life.
Joan Klingel Ray's distinguished instruction and
research techniques give me a paradigm to which
aspiration is possible but attainment a dream.
with deepest respect and gratitude
ANDROGYNY IN A PATRIARCHAL SOCIETY
"I'm not an angelI'm an old grandmother," Sir
Claude declared. "I like babiesI always did.
If we go to smash I shall look for a place as
responsible nurse [my emphasis]."1
This declaration by a young, male, British
aristocrat of the Victorian period might seem especially
suggestive to a knowing and contemporary reader of James
sensitive to the implications of gender embodied in
language. For such a reader, the language of men (or
their characterization) may reveal a feminine
sensibility-that is, a sensibility given over to
maternal impulses. When the marriage of Sir Claude and
Ida Farange does "go smash," he "look[s] for a place as
responsible nurse," for that vocation ultimately defines
the essential role he assumes for Maisie in the novel.
From the early through the late James, as we shall
see, James represented some of his male and female
characters as androgynous, but critics have overlooked
the androgynous characterization of Sir Claude in What
Maisie Knew. By androgyny, I mean a temperament that
incorporates behavioral traits from both the "masculine"
and "feminine" roles that were traditionally assigned to
each sex: "masculine" as aggressive, independent,
dominant, with a strong personality; "feminine" as
sensitive to others' needs, childlike, compassionate,
nurturing, and sensual. At no time in English history
was this societally prescribed separation by gender more
strictly enforced than in the Victorian era. Ross
Posnock, in his article on "Genteel Androgyny: Santayana,
Henry James, Howard Sturgis," notes
their [the Victorians'] eluding of fixed
identity.... Its richest manifestation is
expressed in their personal and later their
literary efforts to diffuse Victorian gender
polarities. They work elements of the invalid,
lady, and fop into new forms of sexual
identity, new configurations of mastery and
passivity, femininity and masculinity. In
short, the androgynous becomes an alternative
model of behavior. (58-59)
It is essential to follow how James's verbal play on
Sir Claude's name and avocation teasingly cues the
discerning reader to his androgynous role, for name
selection throughout the Jamesian canon often holds
character connotations. James furnishes Claude with the
title of "Sir," which has ironically androgynous
connotations.2 To underscore further the fact that Sir
Claude is psychologically androgynous, and make this fact
crystalline, James confers the name of "Claude" upon him,
which also has a history of androgynous ramifications.3
It seems inconceivable that James selected this name
randomly. The purpose of this work is twofold: first, to
establish Sir Claude's androgynous nature, and, secondly,
to illustrate how James utilizes every connotation of the
word "nurse" as listed in The Oxford Universal Dictionary
on Historical Principles in Sir Claudes relationship
with Maisie. In addition, there is an exploration of the
possibility that Sir Claude is a mask for Henry James.
Because androgyny is the defining characteristic of
Sir Claude's personality, it is important here to discuss
its meaning and implications. An "androgyne" is defined
as "a being of both sexes, a hermaphrodite, an effeminate
man, a eunuch.1,4 Although Sir Claude is not a eunuch, he
does contain qualities often ascribed to women. As a
term, "androgyny" can be traced to Ephraim Chambers who,
in 1728, stated that "many of the rabbins [rabbis] are of
the opinion that Adam was created androgynous."5 In An
Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols,
"androgyne" is defined as "primordial perfection,
wholeness... the reunion of the primordial male-female
forces...the all-father, al1-mother...mankind restored to
wholeness" (Cooper). It is this positive perception of
androgyny that I believe Henry James is portraying, and
one which indicates his modernity.
Androgyny, or the blending of sex-role
characteristics, represents the modern psychologically
sound individual, according to Dr. Ellen Piel Cook in her
book, Psychological Androgyny. Dr. Cook says that "an
important assumption concerning the androgyny concept is
that androgyny represents an ideal of human functioning,
blending the best of masculinity and femininity. This
ideal runs counter to traditional values, which upheld
masculinity for men and femininity for women as the
ideals" (67). A pertinent fact to James's portrayal of
the androgynous male, and most relevant to Sir Claude's
characterization, is noted by Dr. Alfred B. Heilbrun, who
says "deviation from stereotypic masculine sex-role
expectations for the male is a more serious matter in our
culture than is female deviation from femininity" (67).
Dr. Cook says that "traditional views of sex roles
portrayed the sexes to be as psychologically different as
they were physically different" (2), a fallacy that James
recognized as such in his desire to overturn traditional
gender roles in What Maisie Knew, as well as in several
of his other novels. Dr. Cook notes that "sex is innate,
but sex role for a person is learned"; interestingly,
"individuals' self-descriptions do not appear to be
strongly related to the stereotypes they hold about the
sexes" (3). Indeed, Sir Claude's self-description as
"nurse" is in direct opposition to the male stereotype.
This feminine self-description by a male suggests Sir
Claude's loss of power in the novel through the non-
observance of traditional patriarchal values and
To delineate further Sir Claude's androgyny, James
consciously uses feminizing language to describe him.
The defining adjective that Maisie uses for Sir Claude's
face is "lovely" (64-65), which is a word used almost
exclusively for women, not men. Mrs. Wix says that he is
"sympathetic" (64), thereby indicating a fellow-feeling
between herself, Maisie and Sir Claude, in contrast to
the insensitivity toward females that is often attributed
to Victorian males.
Nowhere is his androgyny any more strongly stated
than when Maisie says that Sir Claude is "wonderfully
various; he [is] much more various than anything else"
(241). "Various" means to be "characterized by variation
or [a] variety of attributes or properties; [to be]
varied in nature or character." Of course Sir Claude is
"varied in nature"; Sir Claude is "varied" in having a
masculine name and physiology, and yet feminine
personality traits. He is portrayed as a "poor plastic
and dependent male" (202), who "has no strength" (233),
and who is "so often afraid" (241). To be fearful is
"feminine"; to be self-confident is "masculine."
"Plastic" cannot be overlooked, for it has specific
connotations: "In the neuter and passive sense, readily
assuming a new shape, impressionable, pliable,
susceptible to influence": to the Victorians, this
plasticity is exactly the weakness in females.
These are not the adjectives for a virile, handsome
man, such as Basil Ransom in The Bostonians, who
challenges, dominates, and sweeps Varena Tarrant off her
feet. Rather, terms such as "lovely" and "sympathetic"
for Sir Claude delineate a feminine nature, a man who has
more in common with the female than the male. These are
qualities that Maisie has never known in her own mother,
but to which she responds immediately in this step-father
who becomes her surrogate mother. The reader assumes
that this young male aristocrat will behave in a manner
consistent with the traditional "masculine" role; in
actuality, he functions primarily in a female role for
Although Tony Tanner in his Reicm of Wonder is
usually perceptive in discussing What Maisie Knew. I do
not agree that Sir Claude is "kind but spineless," nor is
he "a weak-minded, if pleasant man, who can be distracted
from Maisie's plight by the well-turned leg of a
fisherwoman" (288-89). Part of Sir Claude's personality
is that he is attracted momentarily to the physical
charms of a most sensual fisherwoman, as most young men
would be, but he never truly neglects Maisie's plight.
Tanner perceives Sir Claude's weakness and kindness, but
does not delve enough into the portrayal to ascertain why
these obvious traits exist, as well as why they are in
such contrast to the traditional perceptions of the
gender roles of men and women of that period. It must be
considered, in fairness to Tony Tanner, that The Reign of
Wonder was written in 1965, when androgyny had not as yet
emerged as a major issue in modern literary studies.
Perhaps our contemporary viewpoint is more sensitive to
the androgynous role, although Henry James explored the
male androgynous role one hundred years ago. I believe
that James used androgyny as the example of a more
complete humankind, thus affirming his modernity of
The reversal of the expected is demonstrated in Sir
Claude's powerlessness in contrast to the determination
of the novel's two strong women, who underscore Sir
Claude's feminine nature. Elizabeth Allen, in A Woman's
Place in the Novels of Henry James, addresses this role
In a strange inversion, the men of the late
period novels become the spoils, the prey,
because it is they who can validate the
existence of the various women struggling for
social identity and the communication of love.
Women become competitors with each other for
the beloved man, who is often morally weak in
Ida Farange, Maisie's mother, covets Sir Claude because
of the "Sir" before his name, and for his pretty face.
With true Jamesian subtlety, Ida is never referred to as
"Lady Ida," but always with a lower case "1," as in "her
ladyship," suggesting that perhaps Ida does not contain
the qualities of a true lady. In fact, she is
aggressively masculine, which is the opposite, also, to
Mrs. Beale, formerly Miss Overmore (Maisie's
governess), is a nurse of sorts, who begins the story as
a "Miss," quickly becomes a "Mrs.," and would like to be
a "Lady," for these labels are the paths to power.
Surely she should not be censured, for there were
virtually no socially "acceptable" occupations open for
an unmarried woman of the 1880s through the turn of the
century, except as underpaid governess, lady's companion,
or teacher. The character of Mrs. Beale does not suggest
a young woman who would work, for instance, in a sweat
shop as a seamstress, for such a job would exempt her
from "polite" society, and she means to rise in class.
Sir Claude is never a match for Ida or Mrs. Beale (except
when he attempts to protect Maisie's interests), and his
qualified masculinity contributes to his androgynous
characterization. The profile of the androgynous male as
well as the homosexual of Sir Claude's temperament is
that he is often attracted to a dominating partner, such
as Ida or Mrs. Beale.
The paradox is that the man with seemingly the most
powera "Sir," a member of the aristocracy, a manis
unable to assert himself to keep Maisie in the end, and
yet all the women who also step over the boundaries of
conventional female behavior gain everything. All the
women become assertive, a distinctly "masculine" trait;
consequently, in a reversal of roles, Sir Claude's own
seat of power dwindles to that of the undervalued woman
in this chauvinistic society.
To make Sir Claude's alienation explicit, James gave
to every character in the book a surname, designating a
past and history that is defined or implied, whether male
or female, except to the two nurses, Sir Claude and
Moddle. It is essential to follow James's thought in
doing so. In the mid-nineteenth century, when nursing
became a profession, "in England and many other
countries, nursing was looked upon as a menial employment
requiring no special gifts or training" ("Nurse"
Encyclopedia Americana). The vocation of "nurse" was not
a truly approved profession for young women, for the
"sensitive," "delicate," "easily-traumatized" woman would
be exposed to naked body parts, which could compromise
her morals; likewise, a man as "nurse" to a woman was
unthinkable. That a nurse was menial help and the
vocation of little value were views still held by most of
society at the time of James's writing. Because of this
devaluing, both the novel's nurses lack societal power.
All the women, except the nurse Moddle, gain
psychological or societal power by the end of the book;
all (except Moddle, who precedes Sir Claude) gain through
their connection to Sir Claude; Sir Claude does not gain,
but loses instead.
James never uses a word idly, nor without full
cognizance of its meaning: he never fails the discerning
reader who will search put his intent, and that is why a
considered study of Sir Claude is essential to grasp the
depth of his characterization. The isolation and
alienation that Maisie experiences are tragic beyond
doubt, but Sir Claude's awareness of isolation is far
greater than Maisie's and more tragic, for he has an
adult's realization. No character achieves genuine,
lasting happiness in the novel; however, Sir Claude is
completely emotionally isolated, a fact that is made more
horrible by his being entrapped by Mrs. Beale at the end.
To be wretched alone is difficult enough, but to be
wretched in locked company with a detested partner is
worse. Sir Claude is the most vulnerable, in fact the
one truly vulnerable character, in the novel.
Sir Claude, however, achieves growth because of his
androgynous traits which allow him to nurse Maisie; in
fact, his un-Victorian, un-masculine side is his saving
grace, for it allows him to function more completely.
Importantly, Sir Claude functions fully in the novel only
when he is fulfilling his role of nurse to Maisie;
Maisie, on the other hand, does not display
vulnerability, which is an indication of the abused
child. She is never frail, although too much is demanded
of her; in fact, she often assumes the role of mother,
thereby having to offer too much to the adults around
her. The contrast between Sir Claude's sensitivity and
spontaneity with Maisie's isolation, and her near
emotional invulnerability, is one of the many role
reversals James uses to underscore Sir Claude's
It is enlightening at this point to read an excerpt
from a contemporary guidebook on appropriate behavior for
both sexes of James's time; nowhere is the perspective
toward both sexes from which the Victorians drew
inspiration more succinctly described than by Reay
Tannahill in her book, Sex in History:
When the...gentlemen of the Victorian era, in
the grip of strange medieval nostalgia,
cultivated the stilted and excessive courtesy
toward "the ladies" that they fondly believed
reflected the chivalric ideal, they also
though without malice aforethoughtreduced
them once more to the status of spectators at
the tournament of life. It was a game that two
could play, and wives were urged to reciprocate
by treating their husbands as a cross between
God and Sir Galahad. As Mrs. Sarah Ellis said
in a book addressed to the women of England in
1842, it was essential to recognize "the
superiority of your husband simply as a man....
In the character of a noble, enlightened, and
truly good man, there is a power and a
sublimity so nearly approaching what we believe
to be the nature and capacity of angels,
that...no language can describe the degree of
admiration and respect which the contemplation
of such a character must excite.... To be
admitted to his heartto share his counsels,
and to be the chosen companion of his joys and
sorrows!it is difficult to say whether
humility or gratitude should preponderate in
the feelings of the woman thus distinguished
and thus blest. (349)6
This attitude of worship toward the "god" of the house
attempted to render women essentially powerless, except
in the domains in which the "masculine" men were not
interested: housekeeping and the nursery, and the nursery
is, one must remember, Sir Claude's domain.
From the number of androgynous characters created by
James, covering at least a quarter century of his writing
career, including all of the high period, it is evident
that James was fascinated and absorbed by the androgynous
nature, and perhaps even identified with it. By adopting
this "woman's" responsibility of nurse, a responsibility
traditionally assigned by physiology, Sir Claude takes on
the role of society's powerless sex, and thereby becomes
It is apparent that James was familiar enough with
androgynous, as well as homosexual men and women, to
portray them in complex characterizations. Henry James
insinuates androgyny ironically in certain
characterizations to give the character added dimension;
at the same time, the traits of this very androgyny
undermine the fulfillment of that character in society.
The men in James who are androgynous relinquish societal,
and sometimes even physical power; the androgynous women
range from the woman-hero, like Isabel Archer in Portrait
of a Lady, to the grotesque as presented in Ida Farange.
Throughout the Jamesian canon there is an abundance of
characters, men as well as women, who do not fit
society's traditional, prescribed sex roles.
A prototype of this androgynous nature in James's
male characters is seen in Martha's godfather in "The
Last of the Valerii." He is never named: a significant
and recurrent Jamesian device to denote a character of
lesser societal power (as with Sir Claude, whose surname
is never given). In "Valerii" the godfather, akin to a
step-father, deviates from "masculine" traits. After
Martha's marriage to Count Valerio, the godfather stays
on with the newlyweds while Martha's mother returns to
America. This fussy, "elderly" man, with a "grizzled
beard" (32) acts as counselor to the couple and
confidante to Martha in the mother's place. He has
insight and discernment/ realizing that "a sensitive
woman, disappointed in marriage, exhausts her own
ingenuity before she takes counsel" (31). We see him
give Martha a "useless blessing in a silent kiss" to
comfort her (32). Any blessing could be termed of
benefit, but James terms it "useless" to underscore this
godfather's inadequacy in the patriarchal, "masculine"
world of turn-of-the-century Italy. This older, single
man, who exhibits intuition and tenderness, is a stock
character in many of James's works.
James creates a male who appears to be androgynous,
and to some critics homosexual, in Lambert Strether in
The Ambassadors. Reginald Abbott addresses this point by
the first hint of Strether's feminine (read
inactive) identity is his name: Strether as
opposed to the arguably more common and
expected Strethem. The homoerotic
undercurrents that quite rightly have been
detected in The Ambassadors have more to do
with Strether's relationship with Chad....
James's reversal of gender roles, including the
manipulations of males, is made complete by the
language that surrounds his male characters.
The vocabulary, particularly in reference to
Strether, is traditionally associated with
female characters, particularly submissive
female characters who have been seduced by
active males.... (179, 184)
An example of Strether's androgynous role is in the scene
where he puts Waymarsh to bed one evening by "lowering
the lamp and seeing to a sufficiency of blanket. It
somehow ministered for him to indulgence to feel
Waymarsh...as much tucked in as a patient in a hospital"
(33). This scene presents Strether in the role of
"nurse" as he fusses with details and bedclothes.
Reginald Abbott identifies in Lambert Strether some of
the characteristics I have discerned in Sir Claude; Sir
Claude was the earlier creation, so it can be argued
that, in some ways, Sir Claude was a prototype for
Another comparison between What Maisie Knew and The
Ambassadors is that the male characters of Sir Claude, as
I define him, and Lambert Strether, as Reginald Abbott
delineates him, are used "at the hands of women in a
society in which the forms of male power and control are
still observed as a camouflage for real female power and
control" (180). In Maisie. James gives real power to the
women; Sir Claude and Beale Farange, the males, grow more
powerless as the novel progresses.
Indeed, James's most compelling psychological
portraits are of women; certainly one of his finest is
Isabel Archer in Portrait of a Lady (1881), who is also
androgynous. Ellen Walker Glenn, in her dissertation,
"The Androgynous Woman Character in the American Novel"
finds that in Portrait Henry James "supports the
androgynous development of his character insofar as the
norms will allow that development. The result is a novel
which illuminates the severely restricted possibilities
for a woman who is unusually intelligent or independent."
In Portrait. James experiments with portraying a
number of men who all revolve around the woman hero,
Isabel Archer. The real archetype for Sir Claude is
Ralph Touchett: a male who is nurturing, compassionate,
tender, and sensitive to Isabel Archer1s needs and
dreams; physically he is non-athletic, his personal
habits are of a sedentary nature, and in fact, this young
man is dying. Interestingly, Ralph and Sir Claude play
the role of fairy godmother to their two female heroes,
for one mother is dead and the other is the antithesis of
The early model for Ida Farange is Ralph's mother,
Mrs. Touchett, who is the reverse of a wife.and mother,
as she spends eleven months of the year in Europe
pursuing her own interests in tomb-like medieval
surroundings: an essentially emotionally dead soul in a
funereal habitat. Ironically, this dead European
ambience is where Ida Farange will settle. When Ralph,
Mrs. Touchett's only child, is dying, she demonstrates no
grief; Ida Farange, too, does not care if her child is
dead or alive.
Janet Sayers, in her book Sexual Contradictions.
states that "in Victorian times the sanctions against
women being 'masculine' in their behaviour were clearly
conveyed to them. Thus, for instance the sexologist
Krafft-Ebbing then wrote uncharitably of women who think,
feel, or act like men as thereby evincing an 'extreme
grade of degenerative homosexuality'" (28). Sayers goes
on to say that "one reads of women at the beginning of
this century learning to avoid 'manly games because they
are unwomanly and unbecoming [unlike Ida Farange!],'
never cultivating their minds 'because men dislike clever
women,' and instead learning 'to sew and knit and keep
house and talk prettily' to attract men" (28). Because
such conventional behavior is so opposite to the Jamesian
female hero, it is interesting to explore why James
created such characters.
Carolyn Heilbrun in Toward a Recognition of
Androgyny sheds some light on James's fascination with
The birth of the woman as Hero occurred,
insofar as one may date such an event, in 1880,
when almost at the same moment Ibsen and James
invented her. The woman hero in this period
became the embodiment of the male writer's
artistic vision. (61) She was different from
the earlier female central character for two
reasons: she conformed to the definition of
hero, and she was exclusively the imaginative
creation of male writers. During the period Of
the modern historical phenomenon I have called
the Woman as Heroa period encompassing
roughly twenty years on either side of the turn
of the centurymen were forced, possibly
against their habitual inclinations, but by the
demands of their artistic vision, to use a
woman as hero. (91) But the Woman as Hero is
more frequent in great literature precisely
because the peculiar tension that exists
between her apparent freedom and her actual
relegation to a constrained destiny is a
tension experienced also by men in the modern
world. (93-94) Here it is the woman [Isabel]
who, through the vision of the androgynous
artist, speaks for modern man: "I know that
nothing else expresses me." (96)
It is significant to understand how James looked at
women in general, for his attraction to them influenced
the characterization of his androgenous heroes. Carolyn
Heilbrun says "that a man [Mr. Natal] who saw much of
James in London was sufficiently fascinated by James's
great attractiveness to women to attempt to determine the
essential reason for it. James, he discovered, 'seemed
to look at women rather as women looked at them: women
look at women as persons; men look at them as women'"
(97). This statement sums up James: he looks at men and
women differently than most of his contemporaries, for he
is quite modern in his perception of women as people, not
objects; his objectivity extends to men as well, for
James seeks to free man from the bonds of being a "god"
in the household to being a fulfilled human being.
The confrontation between society's demands and
human nature is evident in other writers of the era
writers whom James admired. Frances Lynn Bergesen wrote
her dissertation on "'The Mill on the Floss': George
Eliot's Emerging Vision of Androgyny." Bergesen finds:
Struggling with the conflicting demands of an
androgynous nature in a rigidly gender-defined
society, Mary Anne Evans eventually actualized
her powerful intellect and ambitions in her
career as George Eliot, a female writer using a
male pseudonym and, in the beginning, a male
persona as narrator. She reached beyond
restrictive social mores through creative
explorations of androgynous consciousness.
Three French Romantic authors, among others, created
androgynous characters. Eric Smith, in his dissertation,
"Romantic Androgyny: Sexual/Textual Subversion in
Selected Works of Latouche, Balzac, and Gautier," states:
Strong historical precedents determined
nineteenth-century attitudes towards sexual
differentiation. For him [Balzac] the
androgyne became something of a muse and a
spiritual ideal to which he aspired in his
personal relationships. Romantic androgyny
functions as a signifier which referent can be
seen as the subversive and revolutionary spirit
of a generation of authors who sought to escape
literary conformity and to expose the
injustices of a society that depended on an
unstable belief in political and intellectual
Parallel to the issue that I raise of psychological
castration as a theme in Henry James, because of a male's
androgynous nature, Gail Marie Schwab sees the same theme
in Flaubert. In her dissertation, Schwab speaks of the
androgyne-archetype in Flaubert's works, saying that the
"myths of the hero's coming to terms with authority
crystallize around the archetype of castration. The
failure of the hero, his castration by a higher
authority, are images so universally present in Flaubert,
that they lead one inevitably to the sacrifice of the
hero...." It is to be pointed out that James admired
Flaubert; in fact, Leon Edel says in Henry James: A Life
that when James first met Flaubert, he felt "that he was
indeed being transported to some Olympus" (185). James
was thirty-two years old, Flaubert fifty-four, and James
sought inspiration from his elder. Later, James reviewed
Flaubert's letters, as well as wrote essays on Flaubert.
Clearly, it seems reasonable to assume that James might
have borrowed the idea of the androgyne-hero being
psychologically castrated (rendered powerless) by society
from his own literary master.
Carolyn Heilbrun states that "it is tempting to call
the eighteen forties the decade of the Victorian
androgynous novel, particularly if we expand the range of
discussion to include the great American novel The
Scarlet Letter" (62) which explores how the remarkable,
androgynous Hester Prynne functions in a most repressive
society. Interestingly, Henry James wrote "the book [The
Scarlet Letter1 was the finest piece of imaginative
writing yet put forth in this country" (qtd. by C.
James allows his androgynous characters to generally
meet unfulfilled ends to depict, through irony, society's
flaws. Subtly, James stresses the fact that few human
beings, if any, truly correspond to society's polarized
sex roles. The theme of castration is certainly
consistent with the alienation of that hero from society.
The reader begins to wonder at the events in James's life
that might have some impact on the writing of Maisie
particularly, what sense of loss or alienation he might
feel. Leon Edel theorizes that
He still tried to face society as the
"personality" he had been. He had had his good
years; he had had his fame. And now he was
vulnerable. One had hot "lived" if one had not
loved. James's work had never dealt with love,
save as a force destructive ofor in
competition withpower and aesthetic beauty.
Now, at the very last of the century, when in
his loneliness in Lamb House he reached out to
his younger friends and mourned the absence of
the bright young sculptor when he saw in the
mirror the grey streaks in his once glossy
brown-black beard, he attained a new awareness,
a new insight. (509)
What Maisie Knew is a pivotal work in the Jamesian
canon, for it was written when Henry James returned to
the writing of fiction from a disappointing attempt at a
career as a dramatist. Barbara Everett in "Henry James's
Children" states that "James was received in his own time
with a neglect and even hostility earned by few novelists
of his gifts; and in this sense he became as a writer as
solitary as we see the child Maisie become" (326).
Everett says that "It is hard not to guess that through
the profound disappointments that came to a climax in his
preceding theatrical years, the writer reached some
definitive ending of illusion....He turned back to the
fictive medium with a toughness and clarity dependent on
lack of hope...[and] indignant defence of the vulnerable"
(324). One of Henry James's underlying implications in
Maisie is this very "lack of hope" in Sir Claude; indeed,
there is a suggestion that James develops a subtle,
ironical "defence of the vulnerable" man who mothers
With great relevance to this thesis, Everett says
that James "began to discover how to delineate boldly his
most private themes. As a result, What Maisie Knew and
The Awkward Age initiate Henry James's last phase...they
serve a new irrealism, which in its turn expresses a
newly naked inward consciousness" (325). I suggest Henry
James, whether consciously or unconsciously, uses Sir
Claude as a mask through which to reveal his own
Paul B. Armstrong states that "Maisie's situation
may be unusual, but her dilenuna is not simply her
own....the rampant carelessness with which she is
treated, for example, is typical in its very uniqueness
as a sign of breakdowns in the Victorian family" (20,
24); indeed, Maisie's dilemma is not "simply her own,"
but Sir Claude's, as well. Paul Armstrong makes an
interesting observation when he says that James is
"engaged in an extravagant denial of limits" (24). Henry
James is breaking these "limits" by creating a character
with those traits that this society views darkly, and
who, interestingly, mirrors himself.
Lee E. Heller says that a "contingency of identity
pervades Maisie...the structure of What Maisie Knew
depends on shifts in character roles that do not point to
a clear line of reconciliation but multiply impossible
possibilities" (78). These "shifts in character roles"
are the premise of this work: the "impossible
possibility" is Sir Claude as "nurse."
SIR CLAUDE AS NURSE
Chapter One of this thesis has attempted to
demonstrate James's method of portraying Sir Claude as
androgynous chiefly through name selection; Sir Claude's
self-definition as "nurse" intimates his interaction with
Maisie. In other words, "Sir" and "Claude" reflect
characterization; "nurse," in all of its connotations,
depicts his interaction with Maisie. Some of these
connotations are astonishing, but carefully controlled,
as James brilliantly adapts them to the story's plotting
(see connotations of "nurse" in Notes).7 This
relationship between "nurse" and charge is paramount, for
I suggest that it is Sir Claude's relationship to Maisie
that propels the story: Maisie is the observer and Sir
Claude is the performer.
Significantly, the profile of a mother who loves her
baby more than her own needs appears on the first page of
the novel when the narrator mentions that the court does
not have Solomon's wisdom in settling the divorce of the
battling Faranges. In the climax Sir Claude allows
Maisie to leave with Mrs. Wix, rather than harm the
child, thereby demonstrating the love of the "true"
mother who will nullify her own desire to be with her
child for that child's well-being.
Sir Claude fulfills the paternal as well as the
maternal roles that Beale and Ida Farange (as well as
their nurse-governess representatives) abrogate, and
thereby Sir Claude assumes the androgynous stance of both
parental roles to Maisie. Twice in the novel he reminds
Maisie of his role as nurse. The first is in the nursery
when "he caused Maisie to remember what he had said to
Mrs. Beale about his having the nature of a good nurse"
(94) at their initial meeting. Later, he helps Maisie
"to disengage her from her coverings while Mrs.
Beale...smiled at the hand he displayed. 'There's a
stepfather for you! I'm bound to say, you know, that he
makes up for the want of other people.' 'He makes up for
the want of a nurse!' Sir Claude laughed. 'Don't you
remember I told you so the very first time?'" (116). By
having Sir Claude make the equivalent statement in his
first scene in the novel, and then reinforce his self-
description of "nurse," James meant to make clear his
relationship to Maisie.
Maisie seeks only to find a polestar to which she
may direct her love, but is surrounded by characters who
nullify or abuse both their roles and Maisie. It is to
rescue this child that Sir Claude assumes the capacity of
"nurse"; it is important to realize the function of
"nurse" that Sir Claude fulfills is made possible only by
When Maisie first meets Sir Claude, she responds to
him immediately, completely, and genuinely, as she never
does with any other character. With her first look at
Sir Claude her heart opens, and he assumes a succoring
He was by far the most shining presence that
had ever made her gape, and her pleasure in
seeing him, in knowing that he took hold of her
and kissed her, quickly throbbed into a strange
shy pride in him, a perception of making up for
her fallen state. It was as if he had told her
on the spot that he belonged to her.... No,
nothing else that was most beautiful ever
belonging to her could kindle that particular
joynot papa when he was gay, nor mamma when
she was dressed, nor Lisette when she was new.
The joy almost overflowed in tears when he laid
his hand on her and drew her to him.... (70)
Significantly, James's narrator says that Sir Claude
"belongs" to Maisie, thereby foretelling the novel's
climax in which she has more power than he: they achieve
complete role reversal, for he becomes the observer and
she the performer. However, at the start of their
relationship, Sir Claude, as step-father, becomes
Maisie's "nurse-father" through his immediate acceptance
of this role, and her acceptance of him. "Nurse-father"
is a legitimate compound word of historic meaning,
denoting "a foster-father." Just as James makes a
biblical reference by using Solomon on the novel's first
page, there is another such allusion in "nurse-father."
In Numbers 11:12 Moses says to the Lord, "Have I
conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that
thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a
nursing father beareth the sucking child....?" Inherent
in this biblical text is the conflict in the physical
male, without lactating breasts, who must "suckle" the
child. And that is exactly what Sir Claude accomplishes
in his role as "nurse": he is more mother to Maisie than
the "natural" (unnatural) mother.
The last connotation of the term "nurse" is in the
context of billiards: this is the centerpiece of the
juxtaposition of Sir Claude and Ida, and therefore will
be addressed first. It is essential to recognize that
all of the other definitions become a sub-text to this
example of "nurse," for if Ida fulfills the nursing roles
of caring, nourishing, cherishing, and promoting growth
in Maisie, Sir Claude, as "nurse," would be unnecessary;
the lack of nurturing traits in the other characters
would be relatively unimportant.
James was not averse to punning, and that is why he
elected to bring to the reader's attention, in an adroit
manner, the differences between Ida, the birth mother,
and Sir Claude, the surrogate mother, through the use of
billiards. Ida is masculine in figureabnormally tall
for a woman of that timeshe and Beale Farange "made up
together...twelve feet three of stature... the sole flaw
in Ida's beauty was a length and reach of arm" (37). It
is clear that Ida's "length and reach of arm" is a
physical symbol of her grasping nature. In addition,
Ida's proficiency and fame at the traditionally masculine
sport of billiards are clearly defined in the work: "a
game in which she showed a superiority...billiards was
her great accomplishment and the distinction her name
always first produced the mention of" (38). Ida,
therefore, is more of a man than most men, and certainly
more of a man than both of her husbands. As stated
previously, sex-role reversal is one of James's devices
for underscoring Ida's masculinity and Sir Claude's
The very components of billiards have male sexual
connotations. The cue, a phallic symbol, knocks balls
into holes on a horizontal surface: surely the
implications of phallus, balls, and holes do not have to
be elucidated. Ida could be said to "have balls," for
her persona is aggressive, sensual, and demanding, as
perceived in the Victorian male stereotype. It is
implied that she "nursed" the balls together "to make a
series of cannons," which is certainly symbolic of male
ejaculation, thereby underscoring her masculine traits.
However, Sir Claude, the "nurse," "has balls" also,
literally and symbolically, for at the end of the novel
he says "I've produced life" (260). This "producing of
life" is one of James's many shrewd allusions to "nurse,"
for Sir Claude accomplishes the beginnings of Maisie:s
new life in an asexual manner, and yet James puns also,
for Sir Claude would never have acquired the almost
emotionally embryonic Maisie had it not been for his
marriage to, and carnality with, Ida.
The surface on which billiards is played holds great
significance. Not only is the table geometrically akin
to a bed upon which sexual acts occur, but this field of
green baize, symbolic of regeneration and rebirth,
represents the youthful Maisie who craves nurturing, yet
who is the eight-ball between her natural parents.
Paradoxically, this green bed represents the aggressive,
seemingly nymphomaniac, Ida. Like billiards, the Farange
conflict is played out for society to referee; it is to
be remembered that the society in which ail of these
characters move reckons the value of an individual by
appearances. Out of a concern for appearances, and
appearances only, Ida retains proprietorship over Maisie
until she is bought out by Sir Claude. Sir Claude, then,
becomes the nurturer and protector of Maisie, and stops
Maisie's use as the eight-ball in the unnatural contest
between her parents. The price he pays by becoming the
"eight ball" to be banged by Ida, rather than Ida's
slamming of Maisie, is not to be overlooked.
By Sir Claude's affirmation of his "duty" of love to
Maisie, the other main characters have less focus in
relation to Sir Claude and Maisie, just as a nursing
mother and her baby are united in a bond that excludes
all else. As a mother-figure, Sir Claude is not required
to physically "suckle" Maisie, of course, but he does
fulfill the role of "dry nurse." In fact, Maisie says
"He makes me his dutyhe makes me his life" (115), for
he gives her his love, and provides the only authentic
love she has known. His acceptance of this role is
undoubtedly noted by society, as evinced by the number of
acquaintances he encounters even when he and Maisie are
in France. It is significant that continental France is
freer from gender role strictures than Victorian England,
for a mistress to an aristocrat is accepted. Perhaps Sir
Claude feels freer also from these strictures, for
nowhere does he more fulfill the role of "mother" as when
he assumes the guise of "dry nurse" as he cares for the
novel's two youngsters.
In one of the most endearing scenes in the novel,
Sir Claude, Maisie, and Susan Ash (Mrs. Beale's little
maid, and sometime-colleague of Maisie in youthful
pursuits) are crossing the Channel on a ferry to France.
Anyone who has made this crossing knows the perils of
seasickness, and its attendant hazards, particularly to
the apparel. In this scene, "he [Sir Claude] sociably
sat with his stepdaughter's head in his lap and that of
Mrs. Beale's housemaid fairly pillowed on his breast"
Unlike the model of the chauvinistic Victorian
father, this gentle man is nursing and nurturing the only
two children in the novel, and accomplishing it in an
experienced and easy manner. The position of the little
maid "fairly pillowed on his breast" is indicative of not
only his maternal, "dry nurse" posture, but his
egalitarian attitude, as well: the true "nurse" knows no
class lines. Sir Claude never exhibits a "god of the
household" bearing with the servants (Mrs. Wix and Susan
Ash), but rather speaks to Mrs. Wix as a compatriot who
cherishes Maisie, and to Susan as another child in his
care. Sir Claude, ever solicitous, even flaunts all
aristocratic male practice as he escorts Susan, who is
fearful, back to England. Sir Claude is the archetype of
the nurse, who is "usually a woman, who attends or waits
upon the sick." In this one scene, Sir Claude
exemplifies the "dry nurse" as well as the "nurse" who
"attends to the sick."
To demonstrate that Sir Claude, a male, is the only
character in the novel who truly fulfills the role of
"nurse," it is essential to address the lack of true
"nursing" by the three females employed to discharge this
duty: Moddle, Mrs. Beale, and Mrs. Wix. In addition,
Beale Farange, the natural father, fails in any nurturing
of Maisie, which is a role not only of the "nurse" but of
a natural parent. All of the characters, except Sir
Claude and Beale's Countess, demonstrate forms of abuse,
or lack Of care, in varying degrees, toward Maisie. Sir
Claude seeks "to foster, tend, cherish...to bring up
[Maisie] with care."
The contrast, and also the comparison, between
Moddle and Sir Claude is significant, for Moddle is the
first substitute mother that Maisie has in the book.
Moddle (certainly a perversion of "molly-coddle""to
nurse overmuch"a Jamesian pun) makes no attempt to give
the small, three-year-old Maisie any sense of security or
self-esteem. Moddle impresses upon Maisie that "Your
papa wishes you never to forget, you know, that he has
been dreadfully put about" (40), thereby engendering in
the child a sense of her lacking value to her truly
abusive parents. When Maisie tells her nurse that the
other children refer to her legs as toothpicks, Moddle,
who "was terribly truthful," says, "Oh my dear, you'll
not find such another pair as your own" (40). There is
no attempt to soften the verbal blows of other children;
it is only Sir Claude who gives Maisie self-esteem.
Obviously, and ironically, Moddle does not molly-coddle
Maisie by "nursing overmuch," and the next woman in
Maisie1s life is worse.
Miss Overmore, the governess, eventually becomes
Mrs. Beale. As the natural father's representative, Mrs.
Beale uses Maisie to attempt to hold Sir Claude to her.
In the final scene, Mrs. Beale's impersonation of a
loving and caring step-mother is unmasked when she calls
Maisie an "abominable little horror," with a "dreadful
little mind" (264). Mrs. Beale says, "Have you been a
hideous little hypocrite all these years that I've slaved
to make you love me and deludedly believed you did?"
(264). Succinctly, Tony Tanner sums her up as "a
plausible bitch" (288).
Throughout this closing scene, "Sir Claude had
rescued Maisie and kept hold of her; he held her in front
of him, resting his hands very lightly on her shoulders"
(263). James uses the word "rescued" here, which means
"to deliver from the attack of...assailants or enemies;
to liberate by unlawful force from legal custody; to
deliver or save from some evil or harm; to afford
deliverance or safety." Again, James's use of precise
language is evident, for Sir Claude does "deliver
[Maisie] from the attack of assailants or enemies"
namely, her parents. He "liberates" Maisie by "unlawful
force from legal custody," because no matter how well
Mrs. Beale makes a case for a legal contract in Sir
Claude's buying Maisie from Ida, it is not truly "legal."
He exactly fulfills the definition of "rescue," for his
entire aim is to "deliver Maisie from harm or evil," and
thereby "afford her deliverance and safety." Sir Claude
gives Maisie the security no other character will grant
When Maisie first meets Sir Claude, "he belonged to
her." When Sir Claude and Maisie are united in France,
he opened his arms to her. With her culpable
lightness she flew into them and, while he
kissed her, chose the soft method to silence to
satisfy him, the silence that after battles of
talk was the best balm she could offer his
wounds. They held each other long enough to
reaffirm intensely their vows.... (201)
At this point in the novel, their roles are reversing,
for she nurtures him. Maisie loves only Sir Claude, as
she says several times in the novel; Sir Claude
unconditionally loves this little girl. Sir Claude, the
"nurse-father," is Maisie's whole world; she is his only
observed family in the novel. From this reciprocal love,
we turn to a confused one.
Mrs. Wix and Maisie live in Mrs. Wix's past. At the
end of the novel, when Mrs. Wix desires to have Maisie
live with her, it is to bestow a moral sense on Maisie.
There is no positive emotion in this relationship, no
sense of joy or life or even youth: it is emotionally
dead. In contrast, through Sir Claude's nurturing, there
are larks to be taken, books and treats to be enjoyed,
and caresses that are not clinging or suffocating.
Society, and Mrs. Wix, will attempt to stifle all
positive emotion and exploration in Maisie. By
comparison, Sir Claude's affectionate, nourishing
attentions set him apart from all other characters.
In contrast to Sir Claude who exhibits gentle
affection, Beale Farange, the natural father, allows his
friends to abuse Maisie, holding Maisie on their laps:
"some of these gentlemen made her strike matches and
light their cigarettes; others, holding her on knees
violently jolted, pinched the calves of her legs till she
shriekedher shriek was much admired" (40). Farange and
his friends verge upon child molestation; Sir Claude
truly "cherishes a feeling" in his heart for Maisie. Sir
Claude, therefore, acts out the authentic role of a
father abrogated by her biological father.
James plays subtly but dazzlingly with the word
"nurse" in its connotation "to sit close to, as if taking
care of a fire." "Fire" is the determining word here,
for it relates to the ritual of smoking in Maisie's
presence by both Sir Claude and Beale Farange. When
lighted a cigarette and begun to smoke in her
face it was as if he had struck with the match
the note of some queer clumsy ferment of old
professions, old scandals, old duties, a dim
perception of what he possessed in her and
what, if everything had onlydamn it!been
totally different, she might still be able to
give him. (149)
In contrast, after Maisie and Sir Claude have dined
she [Maisie] smoked with her friendfor that
was exactly what she felt she didon a porch,
a kind of terrace, where the red tips of cigars
and the light dresses of ladies made, under the
happy stars, a poetry that was almost
intoxicating. They had no need of talk-there
were a sense and a sound in everything to which
words had nothing to add. They smoked and
smoked, and there was a sweetness in her
stepfather's silence. (180)
There is Jamesian humor here in the image of this
little girl "smoking and smoking," for although smoking
was almost a fetish for English gentlemen of the time,
smoking for females of any age was against all custom.
It is an astonishing and humorous image, but James meant
it to be so to demonstrate the difference in "smoking"
between the natural father and the true father. In the
above textual example, Farange "smokes in her [Maisie's]
face"an assault; "old professions, old scandals" can be
interpreted as the "oldest profession" of prostitution in
conjunction with the "old scandal" of incest between
father and daughter. In contrast, the communion between
Sir Claude and Maisie during their smoking scene contains
the words "happy," "poetry," "sweetness." This "fire"
between them can certainly be interpreted as their mutual
love, their emotional union, which is something Maisie
achieves genuinely only with Sir Claude.
Concordant to this communion is the feeling of trust
engendered in Maisie by Sir Claude. Sir Claude promotes
two conditions necessary for emotional growth in an
individual: safety and freedom. Only through a sense of
safety and freedom can the child learn to trust and be
emotionally independent, arid this lesson is of primary
importance at the end of the novel. The word "safe" is
used in describing Maisie only when she is with Sir
Claude, or when Mrs. Wix is acting upon his behalf. In
the novel's final scene, Sir Claude has won Maisie's
independence from Mrs. Bealethe natural father's
representative. Sir Claude tells Maisie: "You're free
you're free" (261). Safety and freedom for Maisie from
her monstrous parents are possible only through the
intervention of Sir Claude.
Nowhere is this intercession by Sir Claude for
Maisie more poignant or significant than when Sir Claude
"purchases" Maisie from Ida, the natural mother. Mrs.
Beale tells Maisie that
She isn't your mamma any longer...Sir Claude has
paid her money to cease to be. She lets him off
supporting her if he'll let her off supporting you.
Take the whole bother and burden of you and never
let her hear of you again. It's a regular signed
Sir Claude assumes not only Maisie's financial support,
but the maternal role, thereby fulfilling another
implication of "nurse": one who "takes care of, looks
after, and advises"a mother's roles to her daughter.
Sir Claude has, in fact, assumed not only the father's
role, but that of the mother and her three substitutes.
The definition of "nurse" that means "a sexually
imperfect member upon whom devolves the care of the
young...an individual in the asexual stage" hints at Sir
Claude. The psychologically androgynous state of Sir
Claude is akin to being psychologically castratedthe
condition of having "no balls," as James wants us to
understand in his extraordinary linking of Sir Claude,
and Ida, to billiards. Sir Claude is characterized
throughout the book as being afraid of women, as well as
being afraid of himself in regard to his passions. He is
an "imperfect" male in this Victorian society, for his
actions are propelled by the three most important females
in his lifeMaisie, Ida, and Mrs. Bealerather than the
reverse. All of the societal power that he had through
being a "Sir," and a male, is gone.
Not only does Sir Claude assume much of the "female"
role, but in addition the word "nurse" connotes a lack of
direction toward procreation. Instead of stating that he
wants to be a father, he says that he wants to be a
"nurse" and that he is a "grandmother"a role that one
usually plays after sexual reproduction is out of the
question, or at least out of mind, but it is definitely a
female function. The use of "grandmother" and "nurse" by
Sir Claude denotes a barrenness. This unproductive state
represents his emotional isolation and alienation, but
like the nurse who focuses her energies on her charges
rather than on bearing children of her own, Sir Claude
shines in the one area peculiarly allotted to such a
Through assuming the feminine stance, Sir Claude is
the only character who has power initially to sponsor the
activities of the nursery. He overshadows any influence
by the natural parents, or Mrs. Wix, or Mrs. Beale.
Symbolically, his picture stands on the mantle, an
allegorical reminder of his influence in the nursery and
on Maisie's first positive emotional life. His gifts of
music, cakes, and books are traditionally "feminine"
gifts. Interestingly, James puns again, for the guardian
of the nursery is customarily the governess under the
direction of the mother, but in What Maisie Knew the
governesses (Mrs. Wix and Mrs. Beale) are infatuated with
the man in the role of surrogate mother, creating a
comically grotesque sexual triad. But this is not the
only web in the sub-text, for there is the tangle of
Maisie's finances to which Sir Claude applies himself.
To a greater or lesser extent, all of the
characters, except Sir Claude, live off of Maisie's
inheritance. "To put to nurse" is a well-known saying in
financial matters, meaning to deal with an estate in the
hands of trustees, and the "trustee" in this case has
been Beale Farange, who has idled away twenty-six hundred
pounds of Maisie's inheritance (a sum of significance in
the late 1800s). The child would have been less of a
victim had she been financially independent. Sir Claude
tells Mrs. Beale and Mrs. Wix that Maisie "has
means.... X'11 get them back....I'll look into it" (264).
Once again, this is fulfillment of an example of "nurse":
"to assist a business house so as to prevent its
bankruptcy." Maisie has been in a state of undeserved
financial bankruptcy, but Sir Claude will "assist" Maisie
to "prevent" her future "bankruptcy."
There is a double entendre related to this
definition, for not only does Sir Claude seek to prevent
Maisie's financial "bankruptcy," but he is sensitive to
her possible moral "bankruptcy," as well. Sir Claude
recognizes this danger, and it is to this state that he
addresses himself in the novel's climax. All of the
qualities of "nurse" are prevalent in Sir Claude because
of his cherishing and unconditional love of Maisie.
Throughout this difficult final scene we see Sir Claude's
domination by Mrs. Beale, as well as his great love for
Maisie, for he gives her up for her own sake.
It must be remembered that Sir Claude "owns" Maisie,
as he had "purchased" her from her perverted mother. Sir
Claude caresses Maisie to give her support: "Sir Claude
had continued to pat her...[but] Maisie, with Sir
Claude's hands still on her shoulders, felt...the
surrender in them" (264). Here is the explicit statement
of Sir Claude's love for Maisie In his "pats," and his
"surrender" of his little girl, in juxtaposition to the
two women (Mrs. Beale and Mrs. Wix) in the scene. Sir
Claude and Maisie's farewell is poignant, for "their eyes
met as the eyes of those who have done for each other
what they can" (266). They each give up the only person
they unquestionably love. Sir Claude says:
I think I've produced life. I don't know what
to call itI haven't even known how decently
to deal with it, to approach it; but, whatever
it is, it's the most beautiful thing I've ever
metit's exquisite, it's sacred. (260)
Indeed, the mission of the "nurse" is to contribute
to, and nourish, life, which Sir Claude has done. Again,
this is why James presents on the first page of the novel
the parable of Solomon, and the two mothers who argue
over possession of the baby. One mother would have the
baby killed rather than give up her rights; the true
mother desires life for her baby, and willingly renounces
her right to it so that it can live. By beginning with
the Solomon parable, James subtly directs the reader to
observe Sir Claude's unconditional, maternal lovea love
that will renounce his "child" for her own well-being.
Sir Claude, the loving "nurse," the loving surrogate
"mother," sends Maisie away with Mrs. Wix, rather than
have her tainted by living with him; and Mrs. Beale in an
arrangement that would have meant societal "death" for
Throughout the linear structure, Sir Claude, as
"nurse," changes the direction of each of the other
female characters because of their love (in varying
forms) for him, making him the novel's catalyst for its
action and Maisie the recorder. Sir Claude's presence
becomes known in Chapter Seven through the introduction
of his picture, and he meets Maisie and Mrs. Beale in
Chapter Eight. Until this point in the novel, James has
merely set the scene for all the other characters, as
well as for Sir Claude's entrance. Ida marries, and
loses, Sir Claude, leaving this "selfish and brutal"
(173) woman (Ida) prowling the world into oblivion,
obviously no "lady in the end. Mrs. Wix comes out of her
living in the past with the dead to fall in love with Sir
Claude. Power-hungry Mrs. Beale goes from a "Miss" to a
"Mrs.," and then hopes to be a "Lady" through an alliance
with Sir Claude. Maisie's life is changed, for she gains
financial independence, as well as a knowledge of
unconditional love. As catalyst, the sweet and life-
giving qualities of "nurse" in Sir Claude are the
opposite of the personalities of the three strong women,
for it is to these life-giving traits they are attracted;
through their association with him, their lives are
altered. In the end, all of the characters leave Sir
Claude's world for their own ends, except Mrs. Beale who,
it is hinted, will bring Sir Claude unhappiness.
Sir Claude does not have the strength to change his
own direction; indeed, he is often indecisive ini regard
to his own happiness. A conventional Victorian man would
have left with Maisie for parts unknown. Sir Claude has
become "the angel in the house," the "nurse," the
"mother," with all of the nurturing, feminine qualities
that these terms imply. And like the sweet woman of this
period, he has the tragic flaw of powerlessness; as in
the perceived Victorian woman, he is a "poor, plastic,
and dependent" personality (202), "he has no strength"
(322), he is "so often afraid" (241). He has the
strength to let go, but not to take action. In addition,
it must be remembered that Sir Claude and Maisie are
often seen as equals in their talks and rambles, and this
is not the case between Maisie and any other character.
Typically, the Victorian father would never have seen his
child as an equal.
Like the women of his time, Sir Claude has no
restrictions, except the ones within himself and society:
he cannot deny society's limits. The very quality of
"nurse," of sweet nurturer, which makes him the most
powerful character in Maisie's change of circumstances,
leaves him powerless to change his own life. This
paradox is most prevalent in the fact that Sir Claude, as
"nurse," hides behind Maisie, who has more strength than
he at the end.
Maisie, at times, is Sir Claude's comforter. We see
this when Maisie flies into Sir Claude's arms in France,
and she "chose the soft method of silence to satisfy him,
the silence that after battles of talk was the best balm
she could offer his wounds" (201). In the climax of the
novel, in a raging "battle of talk," Sir Claude stands
behind Maisie not only to comfort her as the "mother" and
"nurse," but to demonstrate Sir Claude's final
relationship to Maisie. The sweet "nurse" cannot leave
his charge, but she is able to leave him; the "mother"
will not leave the child, but the child, if normal, will
leave the mother.
Unlike our expectation of a minor aristocrat, Sir
Claude is self-defined as a man who seeks to live through
his nurturing of the young, and like the mother in the
Solomon parable, he will give his "baby" life by stepping
out of the way. He is truly the Victorian definition of
"a sexually imperfect member of a community...upon whom
devolves the care of the young," for this defines his
role to Maisie. Perfectly reflecting the extraordinary
connotation of "nurse" in regard to billiairds, Sir Claude
is able "to keep the balls together in, or to make a
series of, cannons" in regard to bettering Maisie's life.
At this point, it is speculative, but worthy of
consideration, to look at one more meaning of a word
involving "Claude." In naming Sir Claude, it is possible
that James also adopted the name of "Claude" because of
its very connection to a mirror, which is a reflective
surface. "Claude-glass" is "a somewhat convex dark or
coloured hand-mirror, used to reduce the proportions of a
landscape." This definition cannot help but to raise
questions. Is it not conceivable that the reason that
the reflection is seen as "dark or coloured" is that
James hints gently to the reader that there is a
reflection of himself in Sir Claude's androgyny, but he
does not choose to show it blatantly? Can it be that he
sought to "reduce the proportions," to hide to an extent
(but not completely) his androgynous nature? And,
further, is it possible that there is more, perhaps, of
James reflected in Claude than he realized?
It is true that the meaning, or even recognition, of
"Claude-glass" might have been somewhat obscure in
James's time, for it came into usage approximately one
hundred years before Maisie, just as "Claude" and its
legitimate "nurse" implications are obscure to the reader
of today: obscure but not out of sight. James has been
diligent throughout Maisie in adhering to Oxford
Dictionary definitions and connotations for "Sir,"
"Claude," and "nurse"; it is implausible to me that
James's naming of Sir Claude is merely coincidence, or
that he neglected one of the uses of "Claude."
Therefore, at this point it is useful to shift focus to
an examination of Sir Claude as a possible, and to me a
most probable, alter-ego for James.
A number of points of contact between Sir Claude and
James invite attention. Sir Claude is androgynous in
character; James's orientation is clouded, but is
presumed to range from a celibate androgyne to a
homosexual. David Kirby says that "Henry's sexual
behavior will continue to fascinate scholars since
sexuality takes so many forms (mostly indirect) in his
fiction yet was so noticeably absent from his personal
life" (60). The psychological androgyne and even a type
of castration in Sir Claude is comparable to Henry James
in the "obscure hurt" that seems to have rendered James
psychologically and/or physiologically castrated. Kirby
notes that James "lived at a time when sexual desire had
to be confronted indirectly"; he also observes that "sex
works like everything else in the Master of Indirection:
Leon Edel has the following statement about the
homoeroticism Henry felt for his elder brother, and which
William sensed and feared:
Henry's hedonism and his androgyny suggested a
possible homosexuality that deeply disturbed
the elder brother. By taking a wife, William
unknowingly opened the way for Henry to face
his own androgynous nature. The novelist
seemed ready now to accept the feminine side of
his artist self. (246)
In reaction to William's marriage, Henry James wrote
Confidence, in which Edel says "Henry brings off his own
marriageto his androgynous self. A distinct rite of
passage is buried in the psychological and sexual content
of Confidence, one of James's minor works by which, in
later years, he set little store" (ctd. by Edel 245)
perhaps because he is uncomfortable with having revealed
so much of himself. Confidence begins with the
androgynous male who later is reflected in Ralph Touchett
in Portrait, and finds fruition in Sir Claude in Maisie.
James's letters and friendships with the four men with
whom there is some link to homosexuality are a matter of
More comparisons arise. Sir Claude fulfills all of
the definitions of "nurse"; James was nurse and keeper to
his sister, Alice. David Kirby says that "Alice had
strong views on men; she saw sex and childbearing not as
facts of nature or positive female functions, but as
evidence of male cruelty and may have had a lesbian
relationship with the companion Katharine Loring" (63).
Henry James doted on his non-traditional sister; it is
reasonable that her convictions had an influence on his
Millicent Bell says that "Henry James's seeming
affections for younger and older women are still a matter
of surmise; his dearest feminine friends seem to have
remained just that" (20-21). James was a wonderful
friend to women; Sir Claude's only actions in the novel
are with women: he avoids completely male interaction,
which is another comparison to Henry James. In fact, Sir
Claude seeks relationships with domineering women, a need
characteristic of the less powerful (or sometimes
homosexual) man. Leon Edel makes a similar observation:
His inveterate choice of women who were strong
and domineering and had in them a streak of
hardness, sometimes even of cruelty, was
probably because such qualities were distinctly
familiar: Mary James and his Aunt Kate had been
quite as hard, firm, and sovereign. (232)
This profile relates specifically to Ida Farange. James
is drawn to such a female, and so is Sir Claude.
Another comparison between the two men and the type
of woman they encountered is evident. Edel says that
Finally, when he came to younger women, the
full contradiction asserted itself: they were
charming, they were sometimes beautiful, soft,
clinging, intense, and James could only ask
himself... could they really be trusted. (232-
The physical and psychological description here is that
of Mrs. Beale, the "plausible bitch," as Tony Tanner
designates her. Just as Henry James did not really trust
this type of woman, he made Mrs. Beale "untrustworthy" in
the end of the novel, when her grasping, manipulating,
false nature becomes evident.
Another issue uniting Sir Claude and Henry James
relates to society's values, of which James is skeptical.
Sir Claude is upset with the manner in which society and
its courts of "justice" have treated the helpless Maisie;
James has obviously implied a dissatisfaction with the
land of his birth through renunciation of citizenship, as
well as disillusionment with his land of adoption.
James's alienation can be seen in Sir Claude's alienation
from society, as well as the sarcasm with which James
presents English society.
Leon Edel says that the series of James's novels
about "The Little Girls" is autobiographical in a sense
In his imagination he moved from infancy to
childhood, from childhood to adolescence and then to
young adulthood....we can discern within the total
record an extensive personal allegory of the growing
up of Henry James...[he] was intuitively questioning
his own unconscious experience, reliving the long
ago 'education' of his emotions. (480)
This "act of unconscious self-therapy" (317), as Barbara
Everett terms it, seems as much through the character of
Sir Claude as Maisie.
It is not the purpose of this thesis to explore in
depth the ramifications of psychological androgyny in its
definition by some psychologists as the Oedipal Complex
(often including psychological castration), although it
would be remiss not to note such a correlation as noted
Before little Henry's observant eyes there was
this ever-present picture of ambiguity and
reversal of relation: a father strong, manly,
yet weak and feminine, soft and yielding,
indulging his children at every turn; and a
mother, strong, firm, but irrational and
contradictory. The future novelist accepted
the queenship of his mother and her authority;
it was less easy to understand the strange
light in which a reversal of parental roles
placed the father. (15)
The correlation is that the father is the mother, the
mother the father, and therefore it is this "manly, yet
weak and feminine, soft and yielding" father with whom
the young Henry James identifies; the mother, rather than
being a "saint," is reproached for creating a consummate
Victorian sex-role reversal. This perception of confused
gender roles in James1s past is a part of James that I
believe he never intended to imply in What Maisie Knew,
and yet it is what makes the novel so powerful.
Sir Claude is a psychologically castrated hero by
the end of the book. In 1889, William James wrote home
to his wife, after seeing Henry, that he is "the same
dear old, good, innocent and at bottom the very
powerless-feeling Harry remains, caring for little but
his writing, and full of dutifulness and affection for
all gentle things" (Edel 357). These qualities are
identical to Sir Claude's: the "powerless-feeling" is
significant, but so is the "affection for all gentle
things." These words by William James are as appropriate
for Sir Claude as they are for Henry James.
Sir Claude is unique in the Jamesian canon. He is
not like the aristocratic princes, such as are in "The
Last of the Valerii" and The Golden Bowl. Yet neither is
he truly like the other men in James's novels, most of
whom have surnames, whatever their sexual profile. This
sense of not-quite-belonging, of isolation, which
underscores What Maisie Knew, could very well portray
James's "lack of hope, [his] ending of illusion" (324)
that Barbara Everett finds in the novel, and which sums
up Sir Claude's state at the novel's end. As Everett
formulates, James comes to the "defense of the
vulnerable" (324). Everett defines the vulnerable as the
children, but I suggest that the vulnerable that James
defends, in addition to the children, are humankind of
androgynous character. It is reasonable that the
vulnerable include James himself, as mirrored in the
character of Sir Claude.
James is certainly piqued with the androgynous
character throughout his writing career, for such
profiles are in many of his works. I propose that this
could be due to the fact that he is part of each such
character, whether male or female, whether Isabel Archer
or Lambert Strether, George Stransom, or Sir Claude. At
this point, we come to the question of why Henry James
defends the vulnerable.
Henry James, Jr., was very much his father's son.
Edel says in regard to Henry James, Sr., that "evil for
him were the constraints which civilization put upon the
individual" (9). I suggest that this is one of the
concerns for James, Jr. in What Maisie Knew; a denial of
limits set by a society that dichotomizes behavior by
gender rather than human nature. We begin to understand
how modern James is in realizing that the androgynous
nature is the healthiest, as demonstrated by today's
Lee Heller says that, in Maisie, "the literary model
is an important one, especially for a writer like James,
who imagines fiction as a profoundly social phenomenon"
(80). James recognizes the conflict between societal
standards and human patterns, as noted by Heller: "Sir
Claude's parental, appropriative pride takes us back to
James, who has his story and his characters act according
to an ideal that is without a referent in moral meaning"
(83). Leon Edel insightfully states:
Maisie illustrates to an extraordinary degree
the way in which the adult mind and
professional skill can create a work in the
face of inner bewilderment. Maisie's
bewilderment and isolation is James'sit is
the bewilderment he had felt since the collapse
of his world in Guv Domville: but the world's
cruelty and hostility are refashioned...we can
discern James's own confusion before the
collapsing Victorian moral facade. (457-58)
It implies also the explorer of spiritual
values in human conduct. The battle he chose
to observe was the struggle within society for
values and standards....by his embrace and
stoic acceptance of reality, James lifted his
work into the realm of psychological truth.
The sub-text, the counter-point, of Maisie's end of
childhood is the price that Sir Claude pays: Sir Claude
is the microcosm of the alienated male androgyne in
Victorian society. The aberrations of the almost
archetypal, ironical characters throughout the book are
images of what is wrong with this society. Henry James
seeks a reader response that will enlarge the societal
consciousness to appreciate the androgynous male.
Barbara Everett says that What Maisie Knew "is a
cooler and tougher novel as well as an incomparably more
brilliant one [than his earlier works]; it gains this
power and this detachment from a pervasive and thorough
irony" (327). "James invents a glittering legend of
emotional making and breaking" (330). This "emotional
making and breaking" is exactly Sir Claude's experience.
Sir Claude, I believe, is the catharsis for, and the
alter ego of, Henry James. Philip Weinstein says that
"it is difficult to describe precisely what changes occur
in James's fictive world between the eighties and the
nineties, but anyone...will agree that something radical
has happened" (72). In short, Weinstein says that James
addresses "the concerns that make up the oppressive
'outside' world in the novels of the nineties" (73), and
nowhere is this treated more vividly by James than in
What Maisie Knew, where he confronts the psychological
and emotional levels in human nature. As Leon Edel says
Men and women are physical as well as moral
beings, that love and passion exact very high
prices behind Victorian reticence and
avoidance. The narrator [of The Sacred Fount)
wonders in his menta:l sleuthing just how much
men and women gain or lose in their intimate
relations. How costly is the sacrificeif it
is a sacrifice? In this brief novel, James
seems to have been extending his idea of "what
Maisie knew" into his own adult knowing. (507)
1. Henry James, What Maisie Knew (New York:
Penguin Books, 1985) 74. All textual references
are to this edition.
2. The Oxford Universal Dictionary on
Historical Principles. 1964 ed., 1902. In
definition 1.1. of "Sir" the societal status of
Sir Claude is seen: "The distinctive title of
honour of a knight or a baronet, placed before
the Christian name." In this same word, however,
we see James's brilliant use of androgyny in
"Sir," for it also is used "(Il.l.b.) with
contemptuous, ironic, or irate force" (late ME);
significantly it is "applied to women" (II.4.),
dating from 1578.
3. The Facts on File Dictionary of First
Names, 1983 ed., 51-52. "Claude": "Latin
Claudius. name of two famous Roman clans,
presumably deriving from claudus 'lame.' Used
from the 1870s onwards to some extent, but has
now acquired an unfortunate reputation as being
both effeminate and foolish. Claude, used in
France as both a male and female name." The
Oxford Universal Dictionary on Historical
Principles. 1964 ed., 1101: "Lame: ...imperfect
or defective" (def. 1.2.). "Claude," then,
signifies the name-bearer to be androgynous--
"both a male and female," "effeminate and
foolish," "imperfect or defective." Through the
course of this thesis it becomes obvious that the
name "Claude" exactly defines the character of
4. "Androgyne," Oxford Universal Dictionary
on Historical Principles. 1964 ed., 65. All
textual word definitions are taken from this
edition; hereafter to be referred to as PUD.
5. Ephraim Chambers, Cyclopaedia, Or
Universal Dictionary of the Arts and Sciences, as
cited in an illustration in the Oxford English
Dictionary. 1989 ed., under the word "androgyne."
Ephraim Chambers wrote the first scientific
"cyclopaedia" in English. This illustrates that
the belief that Adam was androgynous has long
been held in Great Britain.
6. Tannahill quoted the words of Mrs. Sarah
Ellis from John W. Dodd's The Age of Paradox: A
Biography of England 1841-1851 (72) [no other
publishing data available].
7. "Nurse": "A woman employed to suckle, and
take charge of an infant, a wet nurse; also, one
who has general charge of a young child or
children, a dry nurse. One who takes care of,
looks after, or advises another. That which
nourishes or fosters some quality, condition,
etc. A person, usually a woman, who attends or
waits upon the sick. Entomology: a sexually
imperfect member of a community...upon whom
devolves the care of the young brood. Zoology:
an individual in the asexual stage of
metagenesis. (Verb) To foster, tend, cherish; to
promote the growth or development of. To cherish
a feeling, etc., in one's heart. To bring or
rear up with care. To hold caressingly or
carefully, especially in the arms or on the lap.
To sit close to, as if taking care of a fire. To
assist so as to prevent bankruptcy. Billiards:
to keep the balls together in, or to make a
series of, cannons." OUD, 1564.
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