restricted access Experimental Maisie: Zolien Naturalism and the Compulsion to Convert


This essay considers Zola’s treatise Le roman expérimental and, more broadly, French Naturalism as constitutive of the educative process and epistemological conditions of What Maisie Knew. Through an analysis of formal repetition in Maisie’s education, particularly her acquisition of the French language, I argue that James’s experiments with Naturalism in such novels as The Princess Casamassima and The Bostonians were far from being flirtations with a popular literary mode. Rather, Zolien scientism, with its emphasis on verifiability based on repetition, its tension between linear progress and circularity, and its conversion of observed external phenomena into knowledge, is incorporated into the formal strategies (and in doing so come to inform the epistemological determinants) of James’s late fiction.