F.W. Dupee observes that "it is not unusual in James for the overtones of one novel to become the themes of the next." He notes that Mrs. Wix in What Maisie Knew is "almost diabolical" in her effort to protect her charge from the sinister forces around her; we lose the "almost" when Mrs. Wix becomes, in the following year, the governess. Both books present "a strange medium of exasperated curiosity" which explores "unknowable sexual relations."
In his notebook on December 22, 1895, James wrote, "It takes place before Maisie--EVERYTHING TAKES PLACE BEFORE MAISIE." The wonderful 1913 Sargent portrait of Henry James at seventy (in which James saw himself as "all large and luscious rotundity") was, while on exhibition the following year in the Royal Academy, slashed by a suffragette. The Penguin edition of Maisie uses as "cover art" a detail from Sargent's masterpiece, "The Daughters of Edward D. Boit"--the little girl, with that great gorgeous vase behind her, does indeed look like our Maisie. And we can see Maisie, exactly, and her predicament, exactly, in a New Yorker cartoon. It shows a cocktail party, and the little girl (seven years old? eight?) is serving hors d'oeuvres. She stands with her tray before a seated lady who asks her--the caption could be the epigraph to the novel--"And whose little marriage are we?"