Reading the Unknown/Speaking the Unspoken—An Analogy between Henry James’ What Maisie Knew and the Oscar Wilde Trial: Did James Really Know What Maisie Knew?


  • Dr. Michael R. Catanzaro Assistant Professor of English Department of Languages, Literature and Philosophy Tennessee State University Nashville, TN



explicit and implicit communication, immoral activity, language manipulation


The explicit and implicit language in Henry James’ novel, What Maisie Knew, reveals that the act of censoring was not exclusive to writers, since moral attitudes affected every aspect of society; consequently, people developed a means of communication via looks, gestures, and intonation that gave significant meaning to ordinary words and phrases, if one was part of the group “in the know.” This coded means of communication resulted from the anxiety of being accused of immoral activity by the political and religious regulating mechanisms, especially in a volatile society where many feared the outcome of a nation that was changing so rapidly. It was a means of protection. When writers could not provide graphically specific language and details, they would manipulate words to create a desired effect that relied on the readers to draw on their personal knowledge and experiences to supply meaning to the text; therefore, the interpretation was affected by the relationship between the reader and the subject matter.